Rotary looks to the future
Stephen Lewis, co-director of the advocacy organization AIDS-Free World, talked about the heartbreaking impact of HIV/AIDS at the fourth plenary session at the RI Convention.
Rotary Images/Monika Lee
Literacy, health, and the future of Rotary were in the spotlight 18 June at the fourth plenary session of the RI Convention in Los Angeles.
Dolly Parton, appearing via video, talked to Rotarians about her Imagination Library program, which mails a new book every month to children under age five and which Rotary clubs have been helping expand.
"We’re active in the USA, Canada, and the United Kingdom, and my hope is that every single child in all three countries will be guaranteed that they can have a house full of books," said the country music singer.
Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty took the stage to speak about illiteracy. Noting that 800 million people in the world are unable to read, he stressed the need for Rotarians to continue their work in this area. "Illiteracy not only comes at a high cost for the individual,” he said, “it comes at a great cost to our society as a whole."
In a powerful speech, Stephen Lewis, co-director of the advocacy organization AIDS-Free World, saluted Rotarians for their indispensable role in polio eradication but reminded them that HIV/AIDS is "taking an indescribable toll, especially in Africa."
Today, 33 million people worldwide are living with AIDS, he said, 23 million of them in Africa. Lewis, a former Canadian ambassador to the United Nations and UN special envoy on HIV/AIDS in Africa, called the failure to halt HIV infections during childbirth "heartbreaking. We have drugs that the mother can take to prevent transmission of the virus, but half a million children are still born HIV-positive every year."
Drugs commonly used in the United States, meanwhile, can cut transmission by up to 99 percent. "Why is it that the life of an African child is worth so much less than the life of a Western child?" he asked.
"There’s something wrong with the world’s moral anchor," he concluded. "But there are moments of hope and optimism, and Rotary International is one of those moments."
William Asiko, president of the Coca-Cola Africa Foundation, spoke about the importance of partnerships in combating AIDS in Africa. "We [at Coca-Cola] have long been advocates of public-private partnerships," he said. "And our partnership with Rotarians for Fighting AIDS [a Rotarian Action Group] ... is one of which we are particularly proud." He stressed that these partnerships must also address local needs and involve local partners.
The Rotary Foundation
The goals of The Rotary Foundation for 2008-09 were addressed by Jonathan Majiyagbe, chair-elect of the Foundation Board of Trustees. In addition to keeping their promise to the children of the world to eradicate polio, Majiyagbe said, Rotarians need to support the Foundation’s Annual Programs Fund and Permanent Fund .
"To refuse to support [the Annual Programs Fund] is like refusing oxygen to a living being," he said. "If every Rotarian gives at least $100 every year, this translates to more than $120 million annually -- money that will allow us to provide clean water, alleviate poverty, and fight hunger and illiteracy."
Majiyagbe also asked club and district foundations to partner with The Rotary Foundation by committing at least 10 percent of their funds to help fully endow the Rotary World Peace Fellowships program .
RI President Wilfrid J. Wilkinson concluded the session by speaking about the future of Rotary. "Each year," he noted, "hundreds of thousands of young people around the world participate in our youth programs , developing a relationship with Rotary that we must foster, in the hope that some of them, if not all of them, will one day become Rotarians and be the very future of Rotary."