Chicago Rotarian Xavier Ramey says the key to creating an equitable society is understanding where we’ve been
By Mina Chiang, Rotary Global Grant Scholar to University of Sussex, 2017-18
I will never forget the miracle that changed my life. I call it a miracle because the sheer chance of it happening is close to zero.
I was living in Bagamoyo, Tanzania, at the time supporting the establishment of a new science university for a local Catholic church. There was a small museum next to the university that tells the story of the town’s role as a major port and central hub during the slave trade centuries ago. I have always had a passion for helping the vulnerable and deprived, and had secured master’s degree offers from some of the best International Development programs in the world. But my family and I lacked the resources for me to pursue an advanced degree.
Some 10,000 kilometers away, a Rotarian in Taiwan replied to my email seeking help obtaining a scholarship. It had been forwarded several times. He said that he was impressed by my experience and dream, and would assist me in finding a potential scholarship. Tears were in my eyes when I read his words.
Within a few weeks of receiving the email, I received a Rotary Global Grant Scholarship, covering not only tuition fee but also cost of living. Grateful is not enough to describe my feeling at the time. I thanked every Rotarian who made my Master’s degree possible, and I thank God for the miracle.
I started my master’s degree in Development Studies in the world’s best-ranked program, the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) at the University of Sussex. With classmates from more than 50 countries, this diverse and inclusive environment constantly blew my mind and widened my horizons. The experience transformed me, and gave me global skills that I am confident will help me contribute to making the world a better place.
While I was pursuing my degree, my knowledge about Rotary grew. I met the kindest and most inspiring individuals in my sponsor and host club. They are able to balance their career and home life all while living life to the fullest. After volunteering on several service projects, I saw how they dedicate their time to the community and good cause and knew I wanted to be a Rotarian one day.
Ending modern slavery
After graduation, I started working as an independent consultant for organizations like the International Labor Organization and Seafood Slavery Risk Tool, specialising on ending modern slavery. Modern slavery is an atrocity that I believe the world has the moral duty to fight against. Unfortunately, it doesn’t get the attention it needs. There are a whopping 40 million people today in modern slavery, including situations like human trafficking, forced labor, and forced marriage. I worked with government agencies, NGOs, and academia, contributing to the investigation of human slavery and helping shape policy. I also founded a consultancy company that is a social enterprise, Humanity Research Consultancy, aiming to train and bring more consultants from developing countries to work on this issue.
Rotary Action Group Against Slavery (RAGAS) was the natural place for me to connect with others passionate about this issue. When I first learned about the group, I thought about the verse in the Bible (Romans 8:28) that says God works all things for good. Rotary not only provided the scholarship to empower me with skills and knowledge that I use, but it’s also one of the pioneers on fighting against modern slavery. How amazing.
In 2020, I started to serve as a coordinator and board member for RAGAS, and it has allowed me to stand with a group of beautiful human beings who are also passionate about this cause. Collaboration is what makes us stronger, and I believe that ending slavery is a milestone that Rotary can help achieve, together.
By Marty Peak Helman, Rotary Zone 32 Innovative Club Associate
The Rotary Club of Boothbay Harbor, Maine, in my district has held an annual fundraiser every summer, selling donated items during a live auction the first weekend in August. With the COVID-19 pandemic, the club, like many others, faced a problem:
How can a club hold a fundraiser during the pandemic, when traditional sponsors are facing economic hardship, community members have little extra to share, and social distancing alters the rules of what is possible?
During a typical year, the club stores donated items – furniture, boats, cars, bric-a-brac, tools, and books – in a barn until the auction, when members rent trailers and use sweat equity to move it all to a playing field where the items are sorted and priced. The top 200 items are sold by a professional auctioneer while everything else is sold tag-sale-style. The club typically nets over $50,000.
But when the pandemic began in March, the club stopped accepting donations. By May, it was clear the auction and flea market couldn’t take place. Then the club had an idea, and their experience holds a lesson for us all.
Club members realized that they could turn the storage barn into a sales venue, with appropriate masks and social distancing. Tentatively at first, the barn became the scene of an ongoing fundraiser every Saturday morning, averaging $2,000 to $4,000 in profit every week.
“We’ve always gotten calls for donations all year long,” club president Irene Fowle explains. “But now, we tell our donors that we can’t pick up until we sell enough to have space in the barn to take the new stuff.”
Because the donations are coming in more slowly, club members have a better opportunity to value and price the items.
“For example, we were donated two mid-century bureaus by a woman whose mother is moving into a nursing home,” club member Mike Pollard said. “I sent pictures of them to a dealer whom I’ve met through the auction, and we ended up selling them to her for $200 apiece.”
In the live auction, they would have gone for a fraction of that price since it was unlikely two bidders would be present who appreciated that style of furniture.
Other specialty items have sold on Facebook Marketplace and other online venues.
How can your club follow their example?
The first step, club members say, is to think beyond the logistics of the event to determine what makes your traditional fundraiser a success.
Is it the spirit of community the event engenders, or the thrill of finding a bargain? Is it the excitement of the venue itself? Once you’ve decides what makes the event tick, then you can think about how to duplicate that feeling in a virtual world. For example:
- A sporting event that includes a shot-gun start (golf tourney, 5K walk or run) can be rethought to take place at specified times over a two or three-week period.
- A spectator sport (duck race, polar plunge) can be moved to Facebook Live or videotaped and replayed later on the club or district website.
- A fundraising dinner can morph to take-out only, or maybe eat-in-your-car in a parking lot or town park, perhaps with piped-in music or other entertainment displayed on a big screen or building wall.
- An indoor event can move to a larger venue; tickets can be sold for specific entry times, or the event can be re-run multiple times for smaller audiences.
If none of these ideas “fit,” club members can think of new fundraising activities that by definition require social distancing: A road rally (where participants remain in their own car); a scavenger hunt (where participants move about in their own “pod”).
By mid-September the Boothbay Harbor club had met and exceeded the highest net that it had ever made at the one-day event, and the club plans to continue barn sales through Christmas. “This is so much better,” auction co-chair Laurie Zimmerli said. “We’re not hauling all that furniture to the schoolyard and back, and we’re getting better prices. We’re never going back to the old auction.”
Participating in the online giving phenomenon makes altruism simpler.
By Maria Elena “Marilen” Tronqued-Lagniton, past president of the Rotary Club of Cubao Edsa, Quezon City, Philippines
I shall pass this way but once. Any good that I can do or kindness I can show let me do it now.
But what if today was the last day of your life? Would you be fulfilled with how you have invested your time? Would you have any regrets? Time is the currency we begin each day with. It is our most valuable and most limited asset.
Rotary has taught me how fortunate I am, and how blessed I am to be able to make and deepen friendships by working alongside others in service. It is like sunshine on a rainy day. And as Rotarians, we need to share our story with others, so they, too, can see that sunshine and join us.
I was urged to join Rotary by family members. Like many, I approached Rotary with some hesitation. Too much was going on in my world as senior vice president of two major hospitals in the metro area. Rotary was at the bottom of my priority list. That is until my eyes and heart were opened.
The chair of the Board for the hospitals I worked for was Robert Kuan, past governor of Rotary District 3830. He had none of that hard-hitting, arrogant harshness that clouds power and success. This man was at his best and most inspiring when he talked about Rotary. From Banaue, the mountains in the northern Philippines to Korea to China – it seemed like all he ever did was Rotary. But no, it’s just that ALL he ever wanted to talk about was Rotary.
Medical mission opens eyes
One day, I took part in a medical mission to a province north of Metro Manila to feed a group of indigenous people. They had to travel all night from their homes in the mountain just to have access to care. This level of effort was more than I could comprehend.
As the children started chasing balloons around an open hall, I was struck by how simply things like a napkin or a glass of drinkable water, were an extravagance for them. As a breeze carried the stench of garbage from down the street on this humid summer day, I wondered how they could really get used to that smell.
I knew then why I needed to go on that medical mission. Even though I work at a hospital and see people in need, I still find myself irritated by simple annoyances, like a cup of coffee gone cold, or a computer that freezes up on me.
As I began to take part in my Rotary club’s service projects in poor areas of our city, I increasingly saw how often I take for granted basic necessities — a roof above my head, a refrigerator to keep food cold, and clean running water. Things like air conditioners, smartphones, cars, even hepa filters to purify our air during this pandemic, are luxuries that simply don’t exist a few short miles away.
Telling your Rotary story
I met past district governor Lyne Abanilla when I was a new Rotarian. Neither of us knew at the time how our careers would intertwine. She was vice president of a national English-language newspaper and I was a frequent source for healthcare reporters – not because I knew so much but because I was accessible and willing to return phone calls. I also met past governor Chit Lijuaco, editor of a popular magazine. Through Rotary, both these relationships became deeper and stronger as we served together.
Lyne, Chit, and I get invited to speak at many workshops on public image, because of our background in storytelling. We know the work that goes into doing it well. So we frequently encourage other members to tell their Rotary stories.
By sharing your Rotary story, you might be bringing sunshine to someone’s stormy day. And maybe that’s just what they need to begin a journey in Rotary that will change their perspective on life.
Hunger and malnutrition unleashed by COVID-19 could carry the impact of the pandemic far into the future.
By Su Boertje, membership and PR chair, Rotary Club of Westville, South Africa
In April, I learned that the Baby House in Westville, South Africa, a safe house for abandoned babies, desperately needed basic supplies. Due to the country-wide lockdown, donations had all but dried up, and the two house mothers and 10 babies (aged 1 week to 23 months) needed help.
”Not all super heroes wear capes,” I thought to myself, “some wear Rotary badges!” So I contacted our club treasurer to see if I could spend some of my PR budget to assist and they agreed.
I managed to shop (masked and sanitized) successfully for all of the items on their list in varying quantities. As the mom of a youngster, I added a few treats at my discretion – some biscuits, custard, marked down marshmallow Easter eggs that I clearly remember my son smearing all over his face (ok, sorry house moms – I perhaps shouldn’t have done that!) and the obligatory bag of Flings (a South African puffed maize snack).
Super hero mindset firmly in place, I made the drive across Westville, determined to deliver. This despite sensationalist media reports about people being locked up for being out of their homes, for daring to place a toe on beach sand, for not having permits to travel (unless it was for essentials or medical reasons), etc.
I didn’t consider the consequences of not having a travel permit. So imagine my absolute horror as I crested the hill 200 meters from my destination, to find the street lined with police vans and other official looking vehicles. “That’s it, they’re going to lock me up” I thought as my super hero bubble got thoroughly pricked and my very real South African fear of authorities kicked in.
My heart was thumping as I slowly continued down the hill, imagining the worst and expecting any minute to be stopped and interrogated. I gingerly turned into the driveway of the Baby House, masked up, got out of my car and rang the bell. I consoled myself with the fact that although I may have to sit in the Westville Police Station for a few hours, at least the babies would have their goods!
A very weary looking House Mom came to the gate in her slippers. I explained who I was and what I had brought. She was jubilant and my heart warmed even as I cringed at the prospect of being noticed by the authorities. I asked the second House Mom to take a quick photo with my phone – not anticipating her eagerness to be in the picture. “Hey,” she shouted to the nearby policewoman, “Come and take a picture!”
A policewoman and another female official came toward us. After a quick conversation in Zulu, that I didn’t understand, we were shooed together by the amateur photographer (as far as social distancing norms would allow) and voila! – a photo was taken. Another swift exchange in Zulu and the official and policewoman wandered away.
As the weary House Moms started picking up the parcels, I asked “What was that about?” It turns out the officials and police were on the street to screen and test residents for COVID-19 and had no interest in me or my lack of permit at all! What incredible relief!
It may have shaved a few years off my life, and caused a couple more grey hairs for my hairdresser to hide when he is finally able to see me again. But this wanna-be super hero in a Rotary “cloak” was and still is exceptionally glad to have been of service to such a worthy cause!
The idea that Rotary should own its headquarters dates back at least to the 1920 convention, when RI President Albert Adams said that he hoped to someday see the headquarters in a beautiful building of Rotary’s own.
By K.R Ravindran, Chair, The Rotary Foundation
Giving Tuesday has grown into a global movement of generosity. It is a giving day recognized around the world that empowers us all to give back to our communities through service, kindness and financial support – all beliefs that Rotary values deeply.
Every act of kindness makes a difference, and no gift is too small. This Giving Tuesday, I ask that we all find opportunities to help communities both close to home and around the globe. One easy way to take action is to make a gift to The Rotary Foundation’s Annual Fund SHARE, Rotary’s primary way of making sustainable projects possible both on a local and global level.
The Annual Fund’s SHARE system empowers Rotarians close to home and around the world to use these funds to create lasting change where our help is needed most. Last year, the Foundation awarded 490 district grants and 1,359 global grants as a result of Annual Fund SHARE contributions made by our generous donors during our Centennial year back in 2016-17. What will be possible in the future for communities around the world will be determined by the action you take right now. I would like to ask every member of a Rotary or Rotaract club to contribute a gift of any size to our Annual Fund SHARE this Giving Tuesday.
I thank you for being part of the Rotary family, for your service, and support. Let’s all take action this Giving Tuesday and together, we can keep Doing Good in the World.
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