Rotarian John Kirkwood (right) passes out information at his Kids in Class project booth in the Houst of Friendship at the 2009 RI Convention in Birmingham, England. Rotary Images/Monika Lozinska-Lee
After a few years in his field, Rotarian John Kirkwood knew civil engineering wasn't for him.
When a recession hit England in 1975, he packed his bags and moved to Nairobi, Kenya, and became an English teacher at a school for disadvantaged children. Eventually, he moved to another school in northern Uganda, where he met student Peter Kalibbala, who was going to have to withdraw because his family didn't have the money for his tuition.
Using assets from an inheritance, Kirkwood was able to help Kalibbala and several other children stay in school. After his parents died, he sold off the land he inherited to establish the Lords Meade Vocational College, setting the stage for Kids in Class, a series of projects that give vulnerable and disadvantaged children in Uganda a better education. Supported by Kirkwood's club, the Rotary Club of Jinja, it has received grants for supplies with help from Rotary clubs in Mexico, Uganda, and the United States.
"It is really very rewarding," says Kirkwood, standing in his project booth in the House of Friendship at the 2009 RI Convention in Birmingham, England. "We have helped 1,500 children remain in school since 2000."
Kalibbala now serves as director and field officer of an educational trust that funds the school. He explains that a sister project, Orphans in Class, seeks sponsors to pledge US$720 a year to allow a child to attend Lords Meade.
"I don't know where I would be now if I hadn't met John," says Kalibbala. "Probably fathering children in the village or lying in the ground somewhere."
Other service projects at the House of Friendship include:
- The Rotary Club of Tokyo Ebisu, Tokyo, Japan, is carrying out a bio-gas project that uses human and water buffalo waste to produce power and cooking gas for poor villagers in Nepal. Outhouses and stables are connected by pipes to an underground tank that collects the waste. The waste produces gas, which is piped in to power lights and stoves. Excess waste is also used for fertilizer. The club funds the project with help from the government of Nepal as well as with the money the villagers raise by selling surplus gas.
- The Rotary Club of Middlesbrough, Cleveland, England, is working with clubs in England, France, and Uganda to treat pregnant women who have HIV/AIDS. In addition to providing education and prenatal care, the project gives the babies of HIV-positive mothers two new drugs at the time of delivery. Of the 102 babies given the drugs, 100 have been born HIV-negative. Normally, about a third of babies born to mothers with AIDS are HIV-positive. The club is seeking funds to expand the program.
- The Rotary Club of Brynmawr, Gwent, Wales, which has about 15 members, sponsors a project that has distributed 70,000 portable water filtration devices called LifeStraws to villagers in areas with unsafe drinking water. "Don't think little clubs can't do big things," says project chair David John Dutson, who travels to hundreds of clubs to raise funds for the six-year-old project.