Month: October 2018

World Polio Day lauds historic partnership, success 

Rotary and GPEI have put polio on the brink of global eradication

By Ryan Hyland
Photos by Monika  Lozinska

After 30 years of bold action, historic achievements, and sometimes discouraging setbacks, Rotary and its partners in the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) have nearly brought polio to an end. 

This groundbreaking public-private partnership and its innovative strategies were celebrated Wednesday during Rotary’s 6th annual World Polio Day event, held in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA, at the College of Physicians of Philadelphia

  1. Dr. Ujala Nayyar, left, a WHO surveillance officer in Pakistan, discussed with Alex Witt about how thorough tracking of the wild polio virus will help eradicate the disease. 

  2. Ina Pinkly, celebrity chef and cookbook author, spoke about her experience of contracting polio and how she overcame obstacles to succeed. 

  3. Hundreds gathered to celebrate World Polio Day at at the College of Physicians of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA.

  4. Cable journalists Ashleigh Banfield, left, host of HLN’s “Crime and Justice,” and Alex Witt, host of “MSNBC Live With Alex Witt,” moderated the Rotary’s 6th annual World Polio Day on 24 October in Philadelphia, USA. 

Hundreds of people attended in person, including representatives of all five GPEI partners, and thousands more worldwide watched it live online. Cable news journalists Ashleigh Banfield, host of HLN’s “Crime and Justice,” and Alex Witt, host of “MSNBC’s “Weekends Live With Alex Witt,” moderated the event. 

Rotary Foundation Trustee Chair Ron Burton began the program by noting that Philadelphia is where Rotary announced, at its international convention in 1988, that it doubled its fundraising goal of $120 million and raised $247 million.

The moment showed Rotary’s strength as an organization capable of tackling the challenge of ending the disease globally and spearheading one of the most ambitious public health initiatives in history, the GPEI. The other partners of the GPEI are the World Health Organization, UNICEF, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

“We knew then that the war against polio would be long, and it would have its challenges,” Burton said. “But we knew then, as we do now, that we could do it. Thirty years ago, I was proud to be part of the organization that took on the job, and the promise, of eradicating polio.”

Since its formation, the GPEI has trained and mobilized millions of volunteers and health workers, gained access to homes not reached by other health initiatives to immunize children, brought health interventions to underserved communities, and standardized timely global monitoring for polio cases and poliovirus, a process also known as surveillance. 

The results have been monumental. Thirty years ago, the paralyzing disease affected 350,000 children in one year. Because of massive vaccination campaigns around the world, cases have dropped more than 99.9 percent, to only 20 reported so far this year. Polio, which was endemic in 125 countries in 1988, now remains so in just three: Afghanistan, Nigeria, and Pakistan. More than 2.5 billion children have been vaccinated, and more than $14 billion has been invested in the fight to eradicate the disease worldwide. 

Lea Hegg, senior program officer of the vaccine delivery team at the Gates Foundation, gave an update on polio around the world. Despite tremendous progress, challenges remain before we can claim victory, she said in a video interview with Mark Wright, news host at an NBC television station in Seattle, Washington, USA. 

“The fact is in Pakistan and Afghanistan, where we are still seeing cases, we have tremendous challenges that we’re facing: conflict and insecurity,” Hegg said. “We have to come up with new ways to solve those problems.”

Hundreds gathered to celebrate World Polio Day at at the College of Physicians of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA.

She praised the brave polio workers who go to insecure areas to vaccinate children and also noted the importance of vaccination sites at transit posts outside these areas. 

Hegg added, “We still have the tools, we have the persistence, and we’re still really confident that we’ll get there.”

In a question-and-answer session with Witt, Dr. Ujala Nayyar, a WHO surveillance officer in Punjab, Pakistan, discussed the importance of tracking the ever-circulating virus. Nayyar said that health workers need to be a step ahead of the poliovirus to interrupt its transmission. She also noted that Pakistan has the world’s largest network for environmental surveillance of polio. 

“It’s a tough job. We have a network of government, private doctors plus informal health care providers, plus community mobilizers,” Nayyar said. “We are very confident on one thing — that we are detecting every polio case.” 

 Speakers also included award-winning chef, author, and polio survivor Ina Pinkney, who talked about her experience of the disease.  Jeffrey Kluger, senior editor at Time magazine, spoke about his recent experience traveling to Nigeria with Rotary to report on polio eradication.

Entertainment included a sneak peek from Rotary’s documentary “Drop to Zero” and a showing of its latest virtual reality film, “Two Drops of Patience.” 

Banfield highlighted several End Polio Now activities that clubs organized to raise awareness of polio and funds for eradication efforts, including a rally in Delhi, India, where 2,000 members drove cars or bikes decorated with informational flags and stickers through the city. In Egypt, Rotary members hosted an End Polio Festival, which included a road race, a blood drive, and a concert that attracted thousands. 

Rotary has contributed more than $1.8 billion to polio eradication since it started its PolioPlus program in 1985. The effort got a boost in August when Rotary announced it would provide an additional $96.5 million in grants to increase immunizations and surveillance.  Most of the funds were allocated to the three countries where polio remains endemic; Afghanistan ($22.9 million), Nigeria ($16.1 million), and Pakistan ($21.7 million). The rest was spread across 12 countries in Africa that are vulnerable to polio. 

Rotary has also committed to raising $50 million a year over a three-year period for eradication activities. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will match up to that amount 2-to-1, which could bring the total as high as $450 million.

The next wave in fellowship

Love of surfing brings together more than 450 Rotary members from 20 countries

By Arnold R. Grahl

Renata Valente is trying to keep her marshmallow from falling into the fire. The Brazilian-born Rotaractor, who spent a year in Indiana as a Rotary Youth Exchange student and now attends San Diego State University, is at the beachside Crown Point Park for an event organized by Surfers Unite Rotarian Fellowship (SURF), one of Rotary’s newest fellowships. 

Rotaractors and guests roast marshmallows at a Surfers Unite Rotarian Fellowship event at beachside Crown Point Park, San Diego, in April.

Photos courtesy of Surfers Unite Rotarian Fellowship

The sun has set, but the faces of more than 30 attendees — Rotarians, Rotaractors, Interactors, and guests — glow in the light of the bonfire as they make s’mores and enjoy some music.

“It’s Friday night, and this is exactly what my friends and I wanted to do,” says Valente. “It’s exciting knowing you are going to be able to have fun and be with your friends, but also do something that impacts your community.”

Valente learned about SURF in October 2017, when volunteers from her Rotaract club traveled to Ensenada, Mexico, to help fix up an orphanage. One morning, SURF founder Brett Morey and other members of the fellowship took the volunteers and orphans surfing. Valente has been an active member ever since. 

Morey, a member of the Rotary Club of La Jolla Golden Triangle, California, grew up bodyboarding and surfing on beaches from Huntington Beach to Del Mar. Last year, he decided Rotary needed a fellowship centered on surfing. He assembled a prospective leadership team, and at the 2017 Rotary International Convention in Atlanta, he collected the necessary signatures — on his surfboard — to petition the RI Board. 

The fellowship has already grown to more than 450 members in over 20 countries. Its mission: introducing people to surfing, attracting young people to Rotary, building connections, and mentoring.

At the Standup for the Cure event, paddleboarders participate in a 5K race.

SURF members span the globe from Argentina to New Zealand, including countries that have no access to oceans, such as the Czech Republic and Hungary. Members don’t have to be near oceans or seas to capture the spirit of the fellowship, which is bringing together Interactors, Rotaractors, and Rotarians for fun events.

“The thing I think about is making Rotary relevant to this generation,” says Morey. “We talk all the time about bringing youth into Rotary. This is the type of social event that allows us to grow our Interact clubs and Rotary.” Rotarians can join SURF for $20 a year; Interactors and Rotaractors join for free. Members host events that range from surf outings to fundraisers.

“When I started to think about a fellowship, my whole vision was to take some of the things I was already doing in San Diego and bring that to a global scale,” Morey says. “Anybody who is near water can hold a bonfire event or do a stand-up paddleboard event or a learn-to-surf event. It’s all about building understanding between people. And that is exactly what the purpose of Rotary is.”

In May, SURF members took part in Standup for the Cure in nearby Newport Bay, taking to paddleboards to raise money for breast cancer research. They’ve also volunteered at Life Rolls On events, which give people with disabilities a chance to surf by means of adaptive surfboards. 

View Slideshow

At a Life Rolls On event, Brett Morey’s friend Leo Berg gets a chance to enjoy the ocean.

A Life Rolls On event in September 2017 held special meaning for Morey; a childhood friend, Leo Berg, was assisted into the water. A snowboarding accident in 1993 left Berg paralyzed from a brain stem injury. Morey recalls it as “a difficult but spiritually uplifting time” that cemented relationships with those he had grown up with as they held a bedside vigil for their friend.

Now, he says, “taking Leo and others surfing through Life Rolls On is very rewarding. It gives them an opportunity to enjoy something we take for granted.” 

At the Crown Point Park bonfire, Morey works the crowd, introducing Interact members from different schools, connecting Rotarians with Rotaractors, and otherwise playing emcee of the beach party. A Rotaractor from San Diego State who is applying to medical school and a Rotarian who is a retired orthopedic surgeon discover they have a common bond in Romania, where the student’s family lives and where the Rotarian’s grandfather came from. Before long, the Rotaractor is getting advice about navigating the medical school application process.

Johnny Lee joined SURF after moving to San Diego from Fremont, California, and attending the La Jolla Golden Triangle club with Morey.  

“I’ve done quite a few Rotary events, but this is especially fun,” says Lee. Shortly after joining, he learned to surf at one of the fellowship’s events.

“It was both harder and easier than I expected,” he says. “Harder, because I didn’t realize I would be nearly drowning a good bit of the time. But easier because, once you stay above the water, it’s not hard to ride the wave.

“As a young Rotarian, I want to do things both globally and locally. This is helping out our community, and it is creating something exciting,” he says. “Surfing is a great activity for bringing in young people.”

— Arnold R. Grahl

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Turning teens away from crime

Rotary clubs in Canada invest in the PACT program, an urban peace initiative that aims to break the cycle of youth crime

Akeem Stephenson wanted to go to jail. He believed it was the only way he could free himself from a life of crime — a life he desperately wanted to change. 

After being arrested for a fourth time more than 10 years ago, for aggravated robbery, the teenager in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, was set to go to prison. But the judge saw something in Stephenson that suggested that he could redeem himself. So he gave Stephenson a choice: participate in an 18-month youth program, or serve the six-month sentence. 

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Akeem Stephenson used the PACT program to turn his life around and launch his music career. 

For Stephenson, the choice was clear. He decided to transform his life through the PACT Urban Peace Program.

PACT, which stands for Participation, Acknowledgement, Commitment, and Transformation, is a Toronto-based, award-winning charity supported by Rotary clubs in Canada. It works with at-risk young people and those who have committed crimes to change their direction in life. Entrepreneur and Toronto Rotary member David Lockett co-founded the program more than 20 years ago. 

The intensive, step-by-step program aims to break the cycle of poverty and criminal behavior. Its goal is to determine what the participants need and develop strategies “to put them on a positive path in their life, so they can enrich not only their own lives, but their community,” says Lockett, a member of the Rotary E-Club of Social Innovators D7090. 

Lockett says PACT builds peace in urban communities. “It’s all about looking at the impact of violence and criminal behavior, and understanding the dynamics of the problem, and creating highly effective solutions to make investments for at-risk youth at an early stage,” he says. “It’s really quite simple. If you want to help at-risk youth, you really have to understand the simple needs they have.”

He acknowledges that young people who commit crimes should be held accountable, and for many of them, that includes serving jail time. But for some, those he says come from “squalid and deplorable backgrounds” with very little parental guidance, PACT is a resource that can change their lives and reduce the likelihood that they will commit more crimes. 

The organization works with the judicial system to identify repeat offenders ages 12-19 who may benefit from the program. After a young adult is convicted of a crime, the judge or judicial official refers them to PACT as part of a probation order. 

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Judges in Canada see how the PACT program can reduce youth crime and help offenders stay out of the judicial system. 

Central to PACT’s success is its LifePlan Coaching program, an intense intervention system that pairs a participant with a certified life coach. The two meet each week for 12-18 months to set goals in six key areas: education, employment, health, relationships, contributing to the community, and staying out of the criminal justice system. Life coaching is a conversational process that provides structure and acknowledgement, builds capacity and self-awareness, and fosters self-directed learning and action. This ultimately helps the young person get from where they are to where they want to be in the future. 

PACT’s LifePlan Coaching differs from the traditional model of therapy or counseling in that it does not focus on the person’s past but rather concentrates on the present and future, says Lockett. The innovative program boasts a 65 percent success rate, with success meaning that the young person completes the program without re-offending. 

It was the relationship with his life coach that gave Stephenson the insight and confidence to reshape his future. “The PACT program will change your mindset,” he says. “They’ll give you the blueprint, but it’s up to you to run with it.”

Stephenson has since obtained his high school equivalency certificate and has been working at a call center. He also honed his passion for music through PACT’s Life & Job Skills Community Service Programs, in which participants learn through practical exposure to activities like music and film production, cooking, gardening, and entrepreneurship. 

Rotary brings compassion

To date, nearly 30 clubs in the Toronto area have supported PACT, many with annual commitments of $3,600 or more to fund the program, according to Lockett. 

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PACT participants can hone their skills and passions through the program’s Life & Job Skills Community Service Programs, which gives them practical exposure to activities like music, film production, cooking, gardening, and entrepreneurship.

But Rotary clubs are also playing a more in-depth role in PACT. The two organizations created the PACT/Rotary Youth Mentoring Program, which allows members to connect directly with participants. 

Liz Bosma-Donovan, a social worker and member of the Rotary Club of Wellington in Ontario, is the first Rotary ambassador to PACT. She works with Rotary clubs to find members who are willing to become mentors. 

“After learning about PACT and working with David [Lockett] on projects, I saw there was a missing opportunity for Rotary to create a more meaningful connection,” says Bosma-Donovan. “We want to enhance their sense of belonging, to make them feel more a part of the community. Rotary is uniquely positioned in the community to bring about these connections.”

For instance, members can help a PACT participant find volunteer opportunities, get a driver’s license, or secure job interviews. 

“Our members are caring and compassionate,” says Bosma-Donovan. “Those things are crucial to bring about change and to rebuild their lives.”

How to watch World Polio Day 2018 livestream

How to watch Rotary’s World Polio Day event

How to watch the event live

On your computer on the day of the event

  • In Google Chrome, go to KUDO and complete the form, then click Submit.
  • On the next page, click Floor and select your language from the list.

On your smartphone

  • Download the KUDO app at the Apple App Store (for iPhones) or Google Play (for Android).
  • Go to KUDO and tap Open in Kudo App.
  • Complete the form, then tap Join.
  • On the next screen, tap Floor and select your language from the list.

Need help?

Contact (in English). 

For more information, check out these step-by-step instructions with screenshots (PDF, PowerPoint).

You don’t have to travel to Philadelphia to take part in Rotary’s World Polio Day event on 24 October. You can watch a livestream of the proceedings from your computer or smartphone starting at 18:30 Philadelphia time (UTC-4). A recording will be available shortly after the event on

Rotary will also stream the event in French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, and Spanish. 

This year’s event will be livestreamed from the College of Physicians of Philadelphia, known as the birthplace of American medicine. It is one of the oldest professional medical organizations in the United States.

Global health experts and Rotary’s celebrity polio ambassadors will discuss our remarkable progress toward a polio-free world. Patience Asiimwe, the protagonist of Rotary’s upcoming virtual reality film “Two Drops of Patience,” will introduce the movie. A sneak peek from Rotary’s documentary “Drop to Zero” will also be featured. Jeffrey Kluger, senior editor for Time magazine, will discuss his experience traveling to Nigeria with Rotary to report on polio eradication. And we’ll celebrate the 30th anniversary of the founding of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative.

Rotary clubs fight modern slavery with Freedom United

Fighting modern slavery

An estimated 40.3 million people around the world live in slavery involving either sexual exploitation or forced labor. A new partnership with Freedom United is giving Rotarians a chance to do something to stop it.


By Arnold R. Grahl

Dave McCleary was volunteering at a youth conference in 2012 when a young woman named Melissa explained how she had ended up in the sex trade.

She was living in a nice suburb of Atlanta, Georgia, USA, when a young man knocked on her door and offered her a job as a model. The man turned out to be a pimp, who lured her into prostitution through a combination of drugs, threats, and coercion.

“She was from my town, and was living in an apartment where my wife used to live before we got married,” remembers McCleary, a member of the Rotary Club of Roswell. “After the presentation, a member of my club gave her a big hug. I asked how he knew her, and he said she used to babysit his kids when she was 12. That’s when I realized this wasn’t someone else’s problem. This is happening all around us.”

McCleary is now co-chair of the Rotarian Action Group Against Slavery, which has been coordinating Rotary clubs’ efforts to fight slavery since 2013. A big challenge for the group has been motivating clubs to act. The immense scale of the problem can be daunting. 

The Global Slavery Index estimates that, worldwide, 40.3 million people are subject to some form of slavery: bonded labor, forced labor, child slavery, sex trafficking, or forced marriage. 

“I think many people ask, ‘What can I do? What impact can my small club possibly have?’” McCleary says.

One answer could come from the group’s recent partnership with Freedom United, a nonprofit organization that has mobilized millions of partners, activists, and advocates through online campaigns to convince governments and companies to end slavery. 

Through Freedom United’s website, Rotary clubs of any size can sign up to form “freedom rings,” which raise community awareness of slavery while sharing information with one another through an online platform. Freedom United helps the club plan a two-hour community event by arranging speakers that can include experts, survivors, and representatives of local nonprofits that are already fighting modern slavery. At the end of the event, people are invited to join the ring. The core team this creates then selects yearly projects to commit to.

“These rings are inspired out of a Rotary club but also pull from the larger community,” says Joe Schmidt, CEO of Freedom United. “We have a series of things they can choose to do. We ask them to keep it pretty simple and laser-focused on one particular project.” 

Schmidt, who advises Delta Airlines on its anti-trafficking strategy, met McCleary through Delta’s involvement with Georgia Rotarians, including during the 2017 Rotary Convention in Atlanta.

  1. Rotary and community members gather for an education and engagement event called a Freedom Forum in Raleigh, North Carolina, to learn more about fighting modern slavery.

  2. A Freedom Forum in Raleigh, North Carolina, features shrimp cocktail and an explanatory card to illustrate how modern slavery impacts everyday lives.

  3. Freedom United Executive Director Joanna Ewart-James and Advocacy Assistant Miriam Karmali hand out fliers at a flower show being held in London discussing the link between modern slavery and the sponsor of the flower show.

  4. Rotary and community members gather for an education and engagement event called a Freedom Forum in Raleigh, North Carolina, to learn more about fighting modern slavery.

“Dave and I started to talk, and we recognized that there are maybe 200 to 400 groups just in the U.S. working on modern slavery topics. However, they are all disjointed with no common platform,” Schmidt says. “It sparked in us a connection between Freedom United’s interest in taking our massive online community down to the grassroots level and Rotary’s ability to provide hundreds of groups all over the world who would be foot soldiers in this fight.”

According to Schmidt, a ring in Chattanooga, Tennessee, USA, is planning an annual gala fundraiser, and one in Raleigh, North Carolina, is working on a walk/run to raise awareness. Another ring is organizing a “red sand project,” where volunteers sprinkle red sand in the cracks of city streets to represent all the people in the world who are enslaved. 

Ian Rumbles, president-elect of the Rotary Club of Clayton, North Carolina, heard Schmidt speak at his district conference in April. His club is in the beginning stages of forming a ring.

“What resonated with me was hearing about the amount of domestic slavery and the number of people forced to work in farm fields in my own state,” says Rumbles. “The fact that people in our country were modern slaves made me think that I can only imagine the amount of slavery around the world.”

Schmidt says Rotary’s experience with polio eradication makes it a perfect partner for this fight.

Rotary’s patience in committing to a cause and its track record with polio have shown that Rotarians are willing to take mature, committed action toward long-term global change, even if it doesn’t give immediate gratifying results.

Joe Schmidt

CEO of Freedom United

“Rotary’s patience in committing to a cause and its track record with polio have shown that Rotarians are willing to take mature, committed action toward long-term global change, even if it doesn’t give immediate gratifying results,” he says. “That’s the thing missing in the fight against modern slavery: large organizations who are willing to step into this thing for the long haul and eradicate slavery once and for all.”

Rotary clubs have been supporting anti-slavery organizations for over a decade. In one of the larger efforts, 14 Rotary clubs led by the Rotary Club of Dunbar, Lothian, Scotland, opened a vocational training center for trafficking survivors in Kalimpong, India, in 2015. The project was funded in part by a Rotary Foundation grant. The group plans to add  a home for women and girls freed from slavery. 

McCleary is hoping that the partnership with Freedom United will better lead to more. 

“The great thing about Rotary is that even though we are international, we are community-based,” he adds. “So if there’s a need in a community, we have Rotary clubs there to make it happen.”

Leading Indian hotelier named Rotary International president

Leading Indian hotelier named Rotary International president 

Fourth Indian to head global membership organization

NEW DELHI, (1 Oct. 2018) — Sushil Kumar Gupta, chair and managing director of Asian Hotels (West) Ltd. and owner of Hyatt Regency Mumbai and JW Marriott Hotel New Delhi Aerocity, will begin his one-year term as president of Rotary International on 1 July 2020. 

Sushil Kumar Gupta, a member of the service organization for 41 years, belongs to the Rotary Club of Delhi Midwest, will begin his one-year term as president of Rotary International on 1 July 2020. 

Gupta, a member of the service organization for 41 years, belongs to the Rotary Club of Delhi Midwest. As head of Rotary’s global network of 35,000 clubs, Gupta aims to increase the organization’s humanitarian impact and club member diversity. 

“I’m humbled to join the distinguished ranks of those who have led this organization before me,” Gupta said. “I hope to leave a mark on Rotary that reflects selfless leadership and an unwavering commitment to service.”   

India’s 3,700 Rotary clubs and 146,000 members take action to address humanitarian challenges and implement sustainable projects that fight disease, promote peace, provide clean water, support education, save mothers and children and grow local economies. More than $221 million awarded over the past several years through The Rotary Foundation has supported these programs. 

Last month, Dakoju Ravishankar, a real-estate investor and Rotary member from Bengaluru, donated $14.7 million to The Foundation. “People support Rotary because it is a trusted organization that supports communities through tangible projects,” Gupta said. “In fact, CNBC named Rotary one of its top 10 charities in the world. In India alone, Rotary has positively impacted our communities through polio eradication, installing sustainable and safe latrines, building schools, providing potable water, and countless good deeds.”

Gupta has served as president of the Federation of Hotel and Restaurant Associations of India and on the board of directors of Tourism Finance Corporation of India Ltd. He was the president of Experience India Society, a public-private partnership between the tourism industry and the government of India that promotes India as a tourist destination. He is currently vice chair of the Himalayan Environment Trust and serves on the board of Operation Eyesight Universal in India

About Rotary: Rotary brings together a global network of volunteer leaders dedicated to tackling the world’s most pressing humanitarian challenges. Rotary connects 1.2 million members of more than 35,000 Rotary clubs in over 200 countries and geographical areas. Their work improves lives at both the local and international levels, from helping families in need in their own communities to working toward a polio-free world. 


Jyoti Rai 011-41150173,

Chanele Williams +1-847-866-3466,

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