Month: May 2020

Watch: Italian clubs aim to protect hospital workers responding to COVID-19

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Italian clubs aim to protect hospital workers responding to COVID-19


Rotary clubs in districts across Italy worked together to procure state-of-the-art equipment needed to combat the deadly coronavirus disease for 26 hospitals around the country.

The pandemic has devastated Italy, with more than 32,000 deaths and nearly 226,000 confirmed cases by mid-May. The Italian Rotary club project, funded by global grants, is providing thermal scanners, COVID triage units, and bio-containment stretchers that allow medical staff to safely assess, monitor, and transport patients. Valued at more than $1.4 million, the equipment will address current urgent needs and be useful for the future, helping to reduce the spread of disease and protect public health.

Rotaract rising

At midnight on 30 June, hundreds of Rotaractors will ring in the new Rotary year together. They’ll also be celebrating Rotaract’s ongoing evolution, including the expansion of Rotary membership to include Rotaract clubs.

Interota 2020 will be held from 27 June to 1 July in Hong Kong. Interota is a triennial Rotaract event, organized by Rotaract members with support from Rotary International, that includes workshops, discussions, and speakers as well as cultural activities. Learn more at

A countdown celebration is scheduled for the last night of Interota 2020, Rotaract’s triennial convention, which will be held in Hong Kong next month.

“It’s really exciting,” says Ignacio González, a member of the Rotaract Club of Oriente de Talca in Chile. Until recently, Rotaractors have been considered Rotary program participants. “Now,” says González, who serves on the Elevate Rotaract Task Force, “we are a part of Rotary. It’s a new era for Rotaract.”

Rotary President Mark Daniel Maloney and President-elect Holger Knaack, strong champions of Rotaract, will be at Interota this year. It may be the first time a presidential changeover ceremony has taken place at a Rotaract event.

Rotaract’s elevated status within the organization was approved by Rotary’s Council on Legislation in 2019 as part of an ongoing effort to make Rotary more appealing and welcoming to young professionals. “We keep telling Rotarians to find a way to bring in young people, when we have them already and we seem to forget them,” says 2018-19 Rotary President Barry Rassin. It was Rassin who formally proposed expanding the definition of Rotary membership to include both Rotary and Rotaract.

Rotary programs include: Interact, Rotary Youth Exchange, Rotary Youth Leadership Awards, New Generations Service Exchange, Rotary Peace Fellowships, and Rotary Community Corps

After the Council approved revising the RI Constitution and Bylaws to include Rotaract as a membership type, the Elevate Rotaract Task Force — made up of both Rotaractors and Rotarians — was formed and began surveying members to come up with policy recommendations for the transition. “We’re hearing from Rotaractors all over the world,” says David D. Stovall, RI treasurer and chair of the task force.

On the advice of the task force, the RI Board of Directors in October approved several changes to Rotaract — the most notable being the removal of Rotaract’s upper age limit. As of 1 July, members of Rotaract will no longer be required to leave their club when they turn 31. Clubs will still be able to set their own age limit, if they wish.  

Elyse Lin, a member of the Rotaract Club of Taipei Tin Harbour in Taiwan who is also on the task force, says the age limit was an obstacle for Rotaract members who wanted to stay involved with Rotary but either didn’t feel ready for a traditional Rotary club or found the expense of joining one out of reach. “Once those members leave, it’s very hard to get them back into the Rotary family,” Lin notes. Although some Rotaract alumni continue to participate in Rotaract events, she says, they often no longer feel like a true part of the organization. With the rules change, she predicts some recent alumni will rejoin Rotaract. 

Rotaract clubs will be able to take advantage of products and services such as new leadership development resources from Toastmasters International, updated online goal-setting tools, and an improved online club administration experience.

Other changes: New Rotaract clubs won’t have to rely on a Rotary club to sponsor them; they can now sponsor themselves or choose another Rotaract club as their sponsor. And Rotaractors are now eligible — and encouraged — to serve alongside Rotarians on district and RI committees. “Elevate Rotaract is really a call for a closer partnership between Rotary and Rotaract,” explains Clement Chinaza Owuamalam, a member of the Rotaract Club of Apo, Nigeria, who serves on the task force. 

Rotaract clubs will also gain more support from Rotary International, including access to administrative tools on My Rotary and the option to subscribe to the digital edition of The Rotarian magazine. As the transition from Rotary program to membership type gets underway, the Trustees of The Rotary Foundation also plan to discuss whether Rotaract clubs should be eligible to apply for Foundation grants. 

Rotary has a new alliance with Toastmasters International, and Rotary’s online learning center will host a curriculum created by Toastmasters that will help members improve their leadership and communication skills. To learn more, visit

One thing Rotaractors are looking for, says Ronald S. Kawaddwa, a member of the Rotary Club of Kasangati, Uganda, is more professional development opportunities. To meet this demand, a leadership training program Rotary is rolling out with Toastmasters will also be available to Rotaract members. “At age 30, you are launching your professional career,” says Kawaddwa, who is on the task force. “If Rotaract provides a better package in terms of professional development, that adds value.”

In 2022, annual dues of $5 per person for university-based Rotaract clubs and $8 for community-based clubs will be introduced to cover the cost of additional support for Rotaract clubs. RI will work to develop and promote alternative funding sources to help Rotaractors pay dues, including fundraising opportunities.

Kawaddwa says that shifting the public perception of Rotary is particularly important to attracting more young people in his region. “On the African continent, most of the population is below the age of 30,” he says. “If Rotary remained the way it was, it would soon become irrelevant.”

Letting Rotaract members stay in their clubs longer gives them more time to learn about Rotary, Kawaddwa adds. “We hope that these changes will produce stronger Rotarians, members who have served longer and gotten more experience and mentorship while in Rotaract.”

Kenyan Rotarians take action to prevent spread of COVID-19&nbsp;

Rotary clubs in East Africa are forging partnerships to provide hand washing stations and food in areas where social distancing is a luxury that few can afford

by Arnold R. Grahl
, Rotary International

Almost 80 percent of the population in Nairobi, Kenya, lives in informal settlements where it’s not unusual for families of day laborers to live together in one house. Surviving day to day on the meager wages they typically earn as shop clerks, construction workers, or domestic employees, as many as eight people cook, do homework, eat, and sleep in these tight quarters.

In short, social distancing is a luxury that many poor Kenyans can’t afford.

“If the [COVID-19] pandemic hits here, like it has in North America and other places, it will be just catastrophic” because of the inability to social distance, says Geeta Manek, a Rotary Foundation trustee-elect and member of the Rotary Club of Muthaiga, Kenya. “We’re working very hard, through preventative measures, desperately trying to keep this thing away from us.”

Shortly after the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic, Joe Otin, governor of Rotary District 9212 (Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, and South Sudan), formed a districtwide response team. Chaired by Nairobi-East Rotarian Joe Kamau, the team is working with clubs across the district to provide hand washing stations, deliver food to families who have lost jobs, and raise money for personal protective equipment.

“The world needs Rotary more now than ever before.”

The 100-liter tanks rest on metal stands and have brass taps at the bottom and ledges for soap.

“When [Kamau] asked what we wanted to do first, we said let’s go with hand washing stations,” says Manek, a member of the response team.

Manek led a fundraising effort in Ethiopia and Kenya that raised more than $21,000 within 20 days. Prime Bank in Kenya offered to match all contributions 1-to-1. The team used the money to purchase 100 water tanks and then persuaded the supplier to donate an additional 100. The 100-liter tanks rest on metal stands and have brass taps at the bottom and ledges for soap. The response team has distributed these hand washing stations in Kilifi, Mombasa, and Nairobi and is now working with national health departments to decide who to help next. The tanks are being refilled by trucks, but local authorities are also discussing ways to pipe in water.

The Rotary Community Corps, groups of non-Rotarians who work alongside Rotary members on service projects, are teaching people effective hand washing techniques, counting the number of times people come back to wash their hands, and collecting other data. Clubs are also partnering with Shofco, a grassroots organization that provides critical services, advocacy, and education for girls and women in Kenya’s urban slums, to monitor the stations.

The response team is also using the stations to ask people coming to wash their hands for information about families who are short of food. Manek says work-from-home orders made it impossible for day laborers to earn a living. Clubs have distributed packages of sugar, maize meal, rice, lentils, salt, and soap.

Clubs have distributed packages of sugar, maize meal, rice, lentils, salt, and soap.

Purchasing personal protective equipment for frontline health care workers has been more difficult. Manek says they’ve been able to negotiate with vendors and donors to get some surgical masks and gowns, but supplies are scarce and much of it is available only by airlift, which makes it too expensive.

If there is a positive side to the crisis, it’s been the way it has energized Rotarians and attracted the attention of partnering organizations.

“We’ve been the first ones on the ground,” Manek says. “We’re getting invitations from corporate partners like banks and insurance companies who are seeing what we’re doing and want to work with us.”

  • $21000.00

    Amount Manek raised in 20 days in Kenya and Ethiopia

  • 200.00

    Initial number of tanks distributed

  • 100.00

    Liter capacity of water tank

Manek has been most involved in her home country of Kenya, but she says Rotarians have been active in Eritrea, Ethiopia, and South Sudan as well.

“Through this initiative, we’ve come across so many partners we didn’t know existed, or if we knew they existed, we would just have let them do their thing and we do our thing,” Manek says. “Now, people are coming to us. They want a credible partner. They don’t want to give money to a big pot and not know where it’s going. All these values we have been sharing with the world are paying off.”

Says Otin, “the embodiment of Rotary clubs and their ultimate purpose is to embrace and support communities in need, and thus the world needs Rotary more now than ever before.”

Italian club uses expertise to aid in coronavirus fight

Members help launch site so merchants can sell goods, organize supplies to make sanitizer, and provide food to health care workers.

by Ryan Hyland, Rotary International

While Italy has been largely locked down to fight the coronavirus, members of the Rotary Club of Morimondo Abbazia have galvanized support — and a measure of hope — for people and businesses reeling from the effects of the pandemic.

Their efforts are addressing both immediate and long-term needs: donating meals to health care workers, organizing a supply chain to get the ingredients for liquid sanitizer, and helping businesses that depend on in-person commerce move their operations online.

We are obviously in an unprecedented time. In the spirit of Rotary, we again used our network and expertise to help communities.

– Pier Metrangolo, member of the Rotary Club of Morimondo Abbazia, Italy

Italy has been hit hard by COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus, with more than 183,000 cases and 24,000 deaths, mainly in its northern region. The government took sweeping action in early March, essentially prohibiting all movement of people in the northern region and closing all nonessential businesses. Soon after, it expanded those restrictions to the entire country.

Italy’s economy will be badly damaged, with small and medium-sized businesses affected the most. Club members in Morimondo, a town in northern Italy near Milan, wanted to help shops and merchants through the crisis.

Delivering lifeline for businesses

Club member Davide Carnevali, co-founder of an information technology firm, proposed an initiative that would involve the club and the company, Mitobit. They would work together to create an e-commerce platform where small and medium-sized businesses could promote, sell, and deliver their products.

In Italy, where only 10 percent of all businesses sell goods online, the website gives these merchants an important boost now and in the future. “We want to change their whole approach to their business that will be sustainable long after the shutdown,” Carnevali says.

The club and Mitobit launched the site, Consegnacasa, meaning “home delivery,” during the second week of March. Mitobit developed and designed the site, and the club members handled legal support, communication, and promotion. The site offers merchants free advertising to showcase their goods and offers customers an easy online payment system and delivery service.

One of the biggest challenges for Italy is what happens after the pandemic ends … We wanted to do our part in setting them up for success when things get back to normal.

– Rotaractor Alina Dorosenco

Carnevali says the first deliveries began in early April. The club outlined safety measures for merchants to take during deliveries, including wearing masks and gloves and, if possible, avoiding in-person contact with customers.

Members also worked with the Rotaract club that Morimondo Abbazia sponsors to contact businesses that already had some online or social media presence, such as a Facebook page, even though the companies weren’t conducting business online. Rotaractors developed a social media strategy to communicate directly with these merchants. The club also created social media lessons to help business owners learn more about advertising on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and other channels.

“One of the biggest challenges for Italy is what happens after the pandemic ends. No one really knows what the future holds for businesses. We wanted to do our part in setting them up for success when things get back to normal,” says Alina Dorosenco, president of the Rotaract Club of Morimondo Abbazia. “We don’t have much money, as a Rotaract club, but we have social media and technical skills that will help shops modernize their business.”

About 20 merchants have started using the site so far — businesses from Morimondo to Milan to nearly as far south as Rome. “We don’t have a limit,” Carnevali says. “We want this to grow to help as many businesses as possible. This is just the start.” He estimates that 60 percent of the merchants on the site will be food-related, 20 percent will be personal goods like clothing, and the rest will be other businesses like pet stores and jewelers.

Supporting frontline medical workers

The Rotary club of Morimondo Abbazia has been supporting health care workers as well as businesses. Member Pier Metrangolo, a professor of chemical engineering at the Polytechnic University of Milan, learned that the university was going to produce desperately needed hand-sanitizing liquid and he looked for ways the club could help. It was difficult, because of the shutdown, to find the ingredients that the World Health Organization suggests using. He and fellow club members contacted their business associates and acquaintances to create a network of manufacturers that help supply the ingredients and distribute the product.

“We are obviously in an unprecedented time. In the spirit of Rotary, we again used our network and expertise to help communities,” Metrangolo says.

The club also donated money to help the university continue producing sanitizer. The school makes up to 5,000 liters (1,320 gallons) of the liquid each day and distributes it to local hospitals, the Red Cross, police officers, and a prison. Metrangolo says the university recently received a license to produce masks. “Our club will continue to help in any way we can. This emergency needs Rotary,” he adds.

At a local nursing home, health care workers made what Metrangolo called a heroic decision, opting not to go home but to stay at the facility to try to stem the spread of the virus and keep caring for patients. The club donated nearly $3,000 to help feed the staff until it’s safe for workers to go home. Once a week they buy pizza for the staff and residents. When the Rotary Club of Helsinki –Finlandia Hall, Finland, a twin club of Morimondo Abbazia, learned about the initiative, it donated $550 toward future meals.

Members of the Morimondo Abbazia Rotary club admit that not meeting in person has been difficult, but the energy and resourceful spirit of the club have not waned. Carnevali says most of the club’s 40 members attend the weekly online meetings.

“We miss seeing each other in person, but there is a lot of enthusiasm during our online meetings because we know we have to help bring hope to those suffering,” Carnevali says. “This is a dark time for Italians, but we will persevere.”

Never too young to lead

Never too young
to lead

Six Rotarians reveal the secrets of balancing family and work that allowed them to take on the role of district governor before turning 50

by Kim Lisagor Bisheff
Illustrations by Viktor Miller Gausa

As an active member of the Rotary Club of Hampton Roads (Norfolk) in Virginia, Clenise Platt had been a club president and taken on some leadership roles in her district. Even so, it came as a complete surprise when Mary Landon, the club’s 2016-17 president, approached her at the end of a meeting and asked if it would be OK to nominate her for district governor.

“I thought one day I might place my name in the hat to become a district governor,” says Platt, 48. “But truth be told, I thought ‘one day’ was years away.”

Moved by the request, she asked for a few days to think it over. She consulted with friends and family, researched the job requirements, and did some soul-searching. “I determined that it was important to me that if I agreed to be nominated, it would be because I believed I could bring a fresh perspective to the role,” she says. “Becoming district governor would not be a résumé builder or an item to check off on a to-do list.”

Decision made, Platt accepted the nomination and later learned that she would become the first African American woman to serve as governor in District 7600’s history.

Platt may be part of a growing trend within Rotary. In recent years, an increasing number of young Rotarians have accepted district-level positions that had traditionally been held by older members. On 1 July 2019, Rotary inaugurated 36 district governors under age 50. They are midcareer professionals with demanding jobs in medicine, education, tech, finance, and broadcasting. There’s an architect, an advertising executive, a legislator, a lawyer, a veterinarian, and a soy sauce manufacturer. They all have families and friends; some have young children. Yet each of them managed to find the time to take a top leadership position in their districts. Here’s how six of them make it work.

Shia Smart

District 9810, Australia | 41 clubs; 1,128 members

Shia Smart joined Rotary when her son, Flynn, was four months old. “So effectively he’s only known Rotary,” she says. “He’s been brought up with it.” Now 15, Flynn travels with his mother to district functions and has logged more meeting hours than many adult Rotarians.

During the same period, Smart, who lives about 15 miles east of Melbourne, was developing her career as an IT business analyst. “I’ve always worked for other people,” she says. “I’ve had flexible working arrangements, but I’ve never been in a position where I control what I do or where I’m going.”

So how did a working mom become a Rotary district governor? Club culture played a significant role, says Smart, 49. She’s a charter member of the Rotary Club of Mont Albert & Surrey Hills, which enacted policies that encouraged working parents to rise through the Rotary ranks: They welcomed children at meetings, relaxed attendance requirements, and scheduled board meetings outside business hours.

That culture empowered Smart to shape her year as district governor to accommodate her job and her responsibilities as a parent. Her first move upon learning that she would become DG was to get her son’s school calendar so she could schedule club visits and meetings accordingly. And when she got a new job just before the start of her term, she set her schedule to make it work. “I said, ‘I need all these days off for Rotary,’ ” and her new employer assented. “I have been very lucky that Rotary is so structured and organized.”

Every step of the way, Smart says, she has made an effort to communicate with colleagues, friends, and family about her Rotary life. “It’s amazing how accommodating people can be when you explain things,” she says. “Take people on the journey with you, and you will find they are very supportive.”

Santhana Naidu

District 6580, Indiana | 32 clubs; 1,515 members

Santhana Naidu explains the strategy that helps him manage his roles as husband, father, district governor, and associate vice president of marketing and communications at Indiana State University in Terre Haute. It can be summed up in one word: compartmentalization. “I set aside two workday evenings and weekends for Rotary business,” he says. “I don’t generally take [Rotary-related] calls or emails during workdays unless it’s an emergency.”

Of course, that approach depends on the cooperation of all stakeholders. ISU lets him work remotely when needed, and his wife, Amy, “has been pulling my share at home when I’m away,” Naidu admits. “I couldn’t do this without a supportive employer and family.”

The district’s clubs have also lent their support. About two-thirds of them have held joint meetings or socials so he wouldn’t have to travel on his workdays. “At the social events, several people have told me how much they’ve enjoyed interacting with a DG,” he says. “I see that as a win.”

In recent years, the district has developed a culture of supporting young leaders, Naidu says. “Past district governors have been instrumental in resetting expectations for younger Rotarians and working professionals.” That included hiring a district administrator to help with day-to-day office duties. The result: At 42, Naidu, a member of the Rotary Club of Terre Haute, is the district’s youngest-ever DG, and the next in line is a working mother of four.

“I truly believe Rotary leadership is possible while working full time,” Naidu says, “and you can do a good job on both fronts.”

“I truly believe Rotary leadership is possible while working full time.”

Anna Tumanova

District 2223, Russian Federation | 77 clubs; 1,107 members

When your district spans all of Russia, visiting each of its clubs can be a challenge. Consider this: Flying east from St. Petersburg on the Gulf of Finland to Vladivostok on the Sea of Japan — more than 4,000 miles — takes about 12 hours. That’s why Russia’s District 2223 has initiated a six-year pilot program that divides the district into five regions, each of which has its own director. “I hope that all these regions in six years can be separate districts,” Anna Tumanova says. “We have huge potential here. Of course, we still have a lot of work to do.” Tumanova, 43, is no stranger to work. She has been an active Rotarian and full-time financial consultant since 2005, when she and her husband, Vladimir Rtishchev, chartered the Rotary Club of Ulyanovsk, a city on the Volga River about 500 miles east of Moscow. When Rtishchev died of liver cancer in 2015, Tumanova didn’t step back from Rotary. She leaned in. Rtishchev had hoped to become a district governor one day. In taking on that role, Tumanova has fulfilled his dream. “It helped that I had Rotary friends all across Russia,” she says. Everywhere Rotary takes Tumanova, her daughter, Varvara, goes as well. “Now she also has friends all over the country,” Tumanova says. “Rotary kids.” Varvara, 12, plans to launch an Interact club with her Rotary friends from across the region so they can more easily keep in touch. She gets straight A’s in school, where she is allowed to do homework via the internet when she is on the road. And she and her friends have learned to enjoy one of the perks of Rotary trips: “Rotarians travel not like tourists but like real guests,” Tumanova says. “I hope that Varvara and her friends will grow up as people of the world. They have no borders in their minds, and that’s very important.” 

“It helped that I had Rotary friends all across Russia.”

Igor Lenin Peniche Ruiz

District 4195, Mexico | 78 clubs; 1,170 members

In a typical workday, Igor Lenin Peniche Ruiz drives an hour from his home to his family’s 3,000-acre ranch in the Yucatán jungle, where he and his 10 employees are raising about 500 beef cattle. As general manager, he observes the animals, talks with his team, takes notes on the cows, bulls, and calves, and monitors their feed, which they grow on-site. It’s a demanding job, and the only one he has ever known: The ranch belongs to his 79-year-old father, who has worked alongside him for years.

That routine changed significantly when Peniche Ruiz became a Rotary district governor. At the start of his term, he was traveling for Rotary five or six days a week. His father, his sister, and his workers — some of whom have been with the ranch for 30 years — picked up the slack. “My Rotary team is really good, but my work team is even better,” he says. “I trust in my team, I trust in my family, and they allowed me to do this work.”

Peniche Ruiz, 49, says his employees are happy to pitch in because they’ve seen how Rotary has helped people in their communities. “They already live the magic of Rotary,” he says. In one instance, his club, the Rotary Club of Mérida-Itzaes, sponsored a medical clinic in a nearby town. Doctors diagnosed life-threatening conditions in time to save two patients’ lives.

At home, that magic has spread to each of his five daughters. Four have participated in Rotary Youth Exchange, three have been Rotaractors, one was a Rotaract club president and district representative, and one was an Interact club president. “My wife, Norma, is the main key to keeping every-thing in balance,” he says.

When Peniche Ruiz joined Rotary 20 years ago, his oldest daughter was 10. His youngest is now 18, so he and his wife decided that this was the right time for him to take on the role of DG. As always, he has Norma’s full support. “That’s the only way you’re going to be a successful person,” he says. “Family is the most important thing.”

Clenise Platt

District 7600, Virginia | 62 clubs; 2,508 members

Clenise Platt’s first Rotary leadership role was chairing her club’s dictionary project, a fitting assignment for someone who had written a children’s book. When club members found out about the book, Keep Your Chin Up, they asked her to read it to local third graders when she delivered the dictionaries. A few years later, the club began donating copies of the book along with the dictionaries; since then, about 2,000 students have received her book.

“I am so appreciative of the way my club engaged me as a young leader,” Platt says. “I think their willingness to make space for me to be a leader in the club, and the way they asked to include my book in the program for the third graders, helped me to feel engaged and an important part of the club.”

The experience led her to pursue increasingly influential roles within her club and her district. Along the way, she learned to integrate her service life with her job by being clear about her priorities. On her first day as the staff development coordinator at the Virginia Beach Public Library, Platt told her co-workers that she was a Rotarian and hoped to become a district governor one day. “I had no idea that I would be on the pathway to governor less than a year later,” she says.

To maximize time with friends and family, Platt has looked for opportunities to include them in Rotary functions. Her parents, Clinton and Hattie, have attended meetings, fundraisers, club visits, installation ceremonies, and international conventions, and they have volunteered at a district conference. “They have fans who ask about them when they aren’t at an event,” she says. “I made my parents Paul Harris Fellows because they were the first people who taught me the meaning of Service Above Self.” Her brother, Gabriel, will soon become a Paul Harris Fellow as well.

“Rotary has been a complement to my family,” she says. “I have found that incorporating my personal and professional life with Rotary has enriched my experience as a district governor in a number of ways.”

Jaco Stander

District 9370, South Africa and Lesotho | 88 clubs; 1,446 members

Jaco Stander may be one of the oldest of the 36 younger DGs — he turned 50 about halfway into his term — but like others in his cohort, he has embraced Rotary as a family affair. His wife, Lisa, a pharmacist, is also a Rotarian. In the year leading up to his term, she traveled with him to all of his training sessions so, he explains, “we could share our Rotary journey together.” They planned their visits to the district’s clubs in a way that allowed them to keep tabs on Stander’s two gas stations and block out time for family and friends.

“Both my wife and I planned our working environment to commit to the DG year,” he says. Stander trained two managers to oversee his business. (He adds, “I’m also fortunate to still have my parents, who are able to assist where needed.”) So she could have more flexibility, Lisa became a locum pharmacist, which means she’s employed on a contractual rather than full-time basis. It helped that their children — Christopher, 24, and Brigitte, 22 — had finished or were about to finish college. “The timing made sense at that stage,” he says.

The process that led to Stander taking on the DG position started years earlier, when he became a Rotarian. “My club encourages young and new members to play an active role in club leadership,” he says. “I had the opportunity to lead a wide range of portfolios.” (Stander is a member of the Rotary Club of Klerksdorp, a city about 100 miles southwest of Johannesburg.) His district took the same approach, pulling him into a district youth committee, a term as assistant governor, and various training events early in his Rotary career. And when he completes his term as governor, he will lead his district’s 2020-21 youth services committee.

Those experiences encouraged him to aim higher. “I wanted to be part of district leadership and be more involved in the management of Rotary,” he says. The final nudge was a phone call from Bruce Steele-Gray, a past district governor, who asked him to apply. Stander also received support and encouragement from what he calls his “close group of PDG friends.”

“Becoming a district governor is an amazing opportunity to experience Rotary at a totally different level,” he says. Stander also recommends diving into district activities early and often. “It’s a way to acquire knowledge and experience,” he says, “as well as an opportunity to contribute new energy and views that will help bring Rotary into the modern era.”

“My club encourages young and new members to play an active role.”

In our February issue, Kim Lisagor Bisheff wrote about how to spot fake news.

• This story originally appeared in the May 2020 issue of The Rotarian magazine.

Nature &amp; Nurture

The midmorning sun beats down on the García sisters as they smile and pose next to a colorfully painted sign that says Hogar de Mariposas: Home of the Butterflies. Karen McDaniels, a visitor from the United States, snaps their photo. “We’ll use these in your brochure, OK?” she says, before climbing a flight of earthen steps and walking a muddy path to see the butterfly sanctuary.

A member of the Rotary Club of Denton, Texas, McDaniels has come to Mollejones to inspect firsthand the impact of a Rotary Foundation global grant championed by her club in partnership with the Rotary Club of Cartago, Costa Rica. The grant has three components that address business training, aquaponics, and an eco-hotel. Among other things, the grant provides support for the García sisters and other local women who recently launched a tourism cooperative to attract visitors to experience the area’s rainforests, waterfalls, butterflies, and birds, as well as its traditional way of life. Rotarians partnered with the Tropical Agricultural Research and Higher Education Center; based in Turrialba, the organization, known as CATIE (pronounced “KAH-tee-ay”), has been working with the women for years.

At the sanctuary, hundreds of butterflies flutter about. Like a suitor trying too hard, they’re almost aggressively friendly, landing on visitors’ shoulders, hands, and bags. A gaudy orange and black butterfly even latches on to the lips of Eliécer Vargas, a professor of sustainable tourism at CATIE. “She fell in love with me!” he jokes as the butterfly gives him a kiss.

According to town leaders, until the late 20th century, Mollejones was a coffee and sugarcane town. But when commodity prices began to plummet two decades ago, half of its population left to find new ways to make a living. That’s when the idea for community-based tourism took root. The village lies near the Río Pacuare, where you will find some of the planet’s most celebrated whitewater rapids. In 2011, Mollejones hosted the World Rafting Championships, and the following year, a few of the residents went to CATIE for help strengthening their tourism industry. Soon after, Vargas and his students became involved.

Full of ideas, energy, and one-liners, Vargas is the primary conduit between the Rotarians and the women. He’s the perfect complement to the more reserved and no-nonsense McDaniels. Born in Saudi Arabia, McDaniels was educated in Switzerland and the United States. She spent most of her career working around the world for 3M; after retirement, she founded two nonprofits — one in Cambodia and another in Indonesia — to help the people she had met while living in those countries. When the children of the waste pickers she was working with in Indonesia grew sick from drinking tainted water, she struggled to find assistance for them. Someone suggested she contact a Rotary club there. The Rotary Club of Jakarta Cilandak stepped in, and McDaniels was hooked. 

In 2017, McDaniels joined the Rotary Club of Denton, where she spearheaded the ecotourism global grant. Vargas, who had never worked with Rotary before, wasn’t sure what to expect. He didn’t even know if the Rotarians would follow through on their promises. “Then I met Karen,” he says. “She demands, and she delivers. She walks the talk. And after meeting the Rotary team, I realized that she pulls in people who want to make a difference.”

The Rotary Foundation global grant has three components that address business training, aquaponics, and an eco-hotel.

Angie Montoya Fernández’s father had been a coffee picker, but that’s a seasonal job. He didn’t want to travel  to work in the capital city of San José, a couple of hours away, because he wanted to remain with his family. Instead, he and his wife learned English and became tour guides. “When I grew up, I wanted to be a tour guide too,” Montoya says.

As she talks, Montoya stands at the entryway to Guayabo National Monument, Costa Rica’s largest pre-Columbian archaeological site. A map of the landmark stands behind her, and to her side, the path to the ruins runs through a rainforest filled with ferns, vines, and epiphytes.

About 20,000 people visit the monument annually, and Montoya and her family are some of the freelance guides who show them around. To support other small, local entrepreneurs, Montoya’s mother, Rosa Fernández, had the idea to offer those visitors things to do while they’re in the area. Now, when people call to arrange a Guayabo tour, they also have an opportunity to book other options, such as a farm tour, lodging, or a cooking class. “I love the pre-Columbian history, but we need to move people to other places, too,” Montoya says.

That’s where the women’s tourism cooperative, called RETUS — Red de Emprendedoras del Turismo Sostenible de Turrialba, or Network of Women Entre-preneurs of Sustainable Tourism in Turrialba — comes into play. “The challenge for big tour operators is to trust a small tour operator or small provider,” Vargas says. “With RETUS, we hope this will give the local women a chance.”

The tourism cooperative got its start as an outreach project with Vargas’ graduate students at CATIE. “I wanted my students not just to read about sustainable tourism, but to do it,” Vargas says. He didn’t have money in his budget for outreach, but he could muster up some for research. So his students, who are studying at the center through a joint master’s program with the University of North Texas in Denton, began working with people who lived in the surrounding towns and villages. In Mollejones, for example, they held workshops where residents talked about what is unique about their community. The students transformed those conversations into experiential tour ideas that showcase the community’s heritage.

Vargas identified six women who were already working in tourism. “I call them the madrinas,” he says — the godmothers. These were women who may have been single mothers, or who raised a group of kids, or who learned English even though they had no education. Like Rosa Fernández (one of the madrinas), they went on to greater achievements and served as examples of what other women could accomplish.

Vargas told the madrinas that he wanted to help them form a tourism network, but it was up to them to choose the women who would be part of it. He told them to think of themselves as businesswomen and to envision what they wanted to happen in their communities and how they could help make that dream a reality. “I told them bring the women, but don’t tell them this is a project,” Vargas says. “Tell them this is a movement: ‘Don’t be a part of RETUS because you want to help yourself. Be a part of RETUS because you want to help women just like you.’” Three of the original madrinas decided they wanted to be involved, and they ended up with 18 women participating in some of the early phases of the tourism cooperative.

What those women were most eager to learn were business skills, things like administration, accounting, and marketing. Exactly the kinds of things Rotarians are experts in.

Club banner exchanges showcase local flair, global friendship

One of Rotary’s most colorful traditions is members’ exchanging club banners. Clubs display their own decorative banners at meetings and district events, and Rotarians who travel to other countries often take these banners to exchange with the clubs they visit. 

The banners often include symbols or images of a club’s town, region, or country. Some represent local cultural traditions or artistry by featuring leatherwork, weaving, embroidery, or hand-painted designs. Many of the banners are works of art in themselves.

Exchanging banners became so popular that the Rotary International Board of Directors was concerned that the practice would place a financial burden on clubs. In 1959, it urged members to “exercise discretion, moderation, and measured judgment in making provision for such exchanges.”

Today, the tradition continues as a way for clubs to express their friendship.

The approximately 20,000 banners in Rotary’s archives reflect clubs’ hometown pride and their connection to Rotary International.

Hacking a solution to the COVID-19 pandemic

Rotarians in Lithuania and the United States promote the use of bubble helmets to help patients avoid mechanical ventilators

by Arnold R. Grahl

Rotarians in Lithuania and Chicago, Illinois, USA, are using their influence to promote the use of “bubble helmets” and potentially lessen the need for mechanical ventilators for COVID-19 patients who struggle to breathe on their own.

The Rotary Club of Vilnius Lituanica International, Lithuania, participated in Hack the Crisis, an online event in March that brought together innovators in science and technology to “hack,” or develop solutions to, issues caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Members of the Lithuanian club, along with members of the Rotary Clubs of Chicago and Chicagoland Lithuanians (Westmont), joined a team to brainstorm ways to help COVID-19 patients breathe without using mechanical ventilators.

Bubble helmets come in various designs and are noninvasive, supplying oxygen without the need for intubation.

“Traditional ventilators used with intubation are a painful intervention into the body and require trained medical staff,” says Viktorija Trimbel, a member of the Vilnius Lituanica club, who was a mentor during Hack the Crisis. “There’s also a shortage of the drugs used for sedation. But you don’t have to be sedated with helmets.”

Bubble helmets are noninvasive and supply oxygen without the need for intubation, a procedure where a tube is inserted down a patient’s throat. A helmet fits over a patient’s head with a rubber collar that can be adjusted around the neck. The collar has ports that can deliver oxygen and air.

Before the pandemic, doctors typically used noninvasive devices to help patients breathe if their oxygen levels dropped below a certain level. If the noninvasive devices don’t boost those levels enough, mechanical ventilators are used to push oxygen into the lungs through the tube at a preset rate and force.

But some critical care physicians are becoming concerned that intubation and mechanical ventilators are being used unnecessarily on COVID-19 patients and suggest that more patients could benefit by remaining longer on simpler, noninvasive respiratory support. connects researchers, manufacturers, medical professionals, and funding sources to increase the supply of bubble helmets.

“Being a Rotarian, I have in my network people from all over the world,” adds Trimbel, governor-elect of the district that covers Lithuania. “This pandemic has moved like a wave, first in Asia, then Europe, and then the United States. Yet countries like Mexico, Brazil, and India aren’t yet as impacted. We’re trying to get word out in time for the information to help.”

Beginnings of an idea

The idea to promote helmets actually began around a kitchen table in Chicago three days before the hackathon when Aurika Savickaite, a registered nurse and member of the Chicagoland Lithuanians (Westmont) club, discussed the crisis with her husband, David Lukauskas, who is Trimbel’s brother. Savickaite recalled a clinical trial she participated in that involved the helmets a few years earlier.

The three-year study found that using these kinds of helmets helped more patients with respiratory distress avoid intubation than masks, another noninvasive method. The patients’ overall outcomes were also much improved. The helmets can be used in any room equipped with a wall oxygen supply, not just an intensive care unit.

“You want to avoid intubation for as long as you can, because generally the mortality rate on intubation is fairly high,” said Savickaite.

“Through Rotary, we’re able to connect so many people around the world. It’s a great way to collaborate in this battle.”

Lukauskas was surprised that more people weren’t talking about helmets and called Trimbel, who had already signed up as a mentor for Hack the Crisis. Together they enlisted more than a dozen Rotary members from their clubs to explore noninvasive ventilation options and how to expand the use of helmets.

The group worked with intensive care unit clinicians, healthcare leaders, helmet manufacturers, technology professionals, and marketing managers. They developed a short questionnaire for clinicians and hospital leaders worldwide, gathered practice-based knowledge on noninvasive ventilation for COVID-19 patients, devised an online platform to connect suppliers with demand, and pursued funding to finance the production of more helmets.

Spreading the word

Trimbel, her brother, and Savickaite launched their website to encourage collaboration and link manufacturers, clinicians, and funding sources. Trimbel says they’ve also spoken with media outlets in the United States.

The website posts news such as the mid-April announcement by Virgin Galactic that it was teaming up with the U.S. space agency NASA and a U.S. hospital to develop their own version of bubble helmets to supplement scarce supplies of ventilators in hospitals in southern California and beyond.

“Because of trade restrictions and borders being closed, most countries are on their own,” says Trimbel. “There’s a Facebook group where people are designing their own helmets using balloons and plastics. Some may think it’s funny, but it’s also inspiring. The helmet part is not rocket science, as long as it works with the connectors. We believe this has very big potential.”

The problem-solving team also worked on how to improve the isolation of patients who think they may have the virus, and how to match the supply and demand for medical equipment with available funding. Another team at the hackathon developed a digital platform that helps family physicians find up-to-date medical information on the virus for their patients.

Savickaite feels Rotary is in a strong position to find solutions to problems caused by the pandemic.

“Through Rotary, we’re able to connect so many people around the world,” she said. “It’s a great way to collaborate in this battle.”

Check out the COVID-19 page for the latest information and resources for the Rotary community.


Rotary clubs help fight the COVID-19 pandemic

Rotary monitors the coronavirus outbreak

How to engage members during the coronavirus pandemic

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