The importance of volunteering
Participants work on a project during the Spouses Service Project at the 2009 International Assembly. Rotary Images/Monika Lozinska-Lee
Two Rotarians who have improved the lives of children in India and Afghanistan provided spouses of incoming district governors at the 2009 International Assembly with a powerful reminder that individuals can make a difference in the world through their connections to Rotary.
Deepa Willingham, from the Rotary Club of Santa Ynez Valley, California, USA, implored her audience not to ignore the existence of extreme poverty, but to light small flames that can come together to create a much bigger bonfire of service.
She discussed her involvement with PACE Universal (Promise of Assurance to Children Everywhere), which provides education, nutritional counseling, and basic health care to young girls in the slums of Kolkata, India, and other areas around the world. (Willingham also will be a speaker at the 2009 RI Convention.)
Fary Moini, a member of the Rotary Club of La Jolla Golden Triangle, California, who has helped establish a school for refugee children in Afghanistan, said sending money, food, and medicine is not enough. People in other parts of the world "need us -- you and me -- to be physically present."
The motivational speeches were delivered 23 January at the assembly, held in San Diego, California, during a spouses plenary session, which was just part of the program for the wives and husbands of incoming district governors.
Earlier in the week, the spouses took part in a cultural exchange highlighting clothing and customs from their respective countries. During a spouses service project, they assembled kits for disadvantaged children entering kindergarten in San Diego.
Spouses service projects are designed to be replicated. Spouses in District 5400 (Idaho; Oregon, USA) did just that after last year's assembly, where they created sample newborn literacy kits for clubs in their district.
During her remarks, Willingham reminded her audience of the tremendous struggles associated with poverty. "The most important thing to remember about them, our fellow human beings who are living in extreme poverty, is that they live with no hope in their hearts," she said. "They have no voice in their destiny, and they have no ability to determine their future."
Moini shared how she discovered new meaning in her life after watching a program about women and children affected by the war in Afghanistan. After traveling to refugee camps near Peshawar, Pakistan, she came up with the idea for a school for refugee children. Today, the school has 3,500 students in grades 1 through 12.
"I am profoundly grateful to be a Rotarian, which gives me the chance to serve as a passionate volunteer," she said.