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Celebrate Rotaract: Strength in Numbers

Rotaract members gathered in Copenhagen, Denmark, for the Run-Clean-Dine project. During their run through the park, they picked up trash along their way and ended by having lunch together at a local restaurant.

The call went out from New Zealand, and Rotaractors in places as far away as Denmark, Jamaica, Mexico, and Uganda answered. Over 30 days in October and November, they took part in relay races, practiced yoga on the beach, danced, and did pushup and squat challenges, raising awareness — and about NZ$7,000 — for a project to vaccinate 100,000 children in nine countries and territories against three deadly pathogens.

“They were inspired by our story to say, ‘We want to be involved in this. We want to help see these illnesses erased,’” says Becky Giblin, a member of the Rotaract Club of Auckland City, New Zealand.

The goal of Give Every Child a Future (GECAF), a project organized by Rotary clubs in New Zealand and Australia, is to vaccinate every child in nine Pacific countries and territories against rotavirus, pneumococcal bacteria, and human papillomavirus (HPV). Rotavirus and pneumococcal bacteria vaccinations can reduce illness and deaths from gastroenteritis, pneumonia, meningitis, and bacteremia. For adolescent girls, HPV vaccination can prevent cervical cancer later in life.

The World Health Organization reports that diarrhea and pneumonia are leading causes of death in children under five. And in the Cook Islands, Kiribati, Nauru, Niue, Samoa, Tokelau, Tonga, Tuvalu, and Vanuatu, where cervical cancer rates are high, “they don’t have the treatments we do in the U.S., Australia, and New Zealand,” says Jackie Hinchcliff, a member of the Rotary Club of Auckland who is spearheading the vaccination effort.

Hinchcliff was impressed by the Rotaractors’ commitment to the project, noting that the idea to get involved came from them. “I think what they’ve done is absolutely amazing. And they weren’t approached by our committee or anything like that. It wasn’t like we said, ‘Hey, you need to do this.’ This was a grassroots project that pulled at their hearts. And they said, ‘This is what we want to do.’”

By the numbers

  1. 512

    Rotary districts (98%) have at least one Rotaract club.

  2. 342

    Rotary districts are members of a multidistrict information organization. 

  3. 66%

    of districts with at least one Rotaract club are members of an MDIO.

  4. 87%

    of all Rotaractors are members of a Rotary district that is part of an MDIO.

  5. 78%

    of MDIOs provide leadership training to Rotaract clubs; 83% provide training to district Rotaract leaders.

  6. 74%

    of MDIOs organize multidistrict service projects. The most popular causes are protecting the environment, ending polio, and supporting education.

The vaccination project, which has received an additional NZ$4,000 in corporate grants because of the Rotaractors’ efforts, also commemorates 100 years of Rotary in Australia and New Zealand, an anniversary being celebrated in 2021. The Rotaractors organized Move for GECAF, a campaign encouraging physical activities to create buzz on social media for the vaccination effort.

By sharing photos and videos of their physical feats on social media, Rotaractors amplified their message about the need for vaccines and exemplified how they are reaching across clubs and borders to connect with one another and support each other’s projects. Those efforts were accelerated by COVID-19 lockdowns that prompted many clubs to meet and discuss their goals via social media and Zoom.

As in New Zealand, Rotaractors in countries including Brazil, Germany, India, and Turkey also have mobilized the Rotaract network in support of projects. One example is the Treety of Generations, a Rotaract initiative to reforest the world. The tree-planting mission was started in March 2020 by the Rotaract Club of Nürtingen, Germany, which is working with two partner clubs, the Rotaract Club of M.O.P. Vaishnav, India, and the Rotaract Club of Cumbayá, Ecuador.

“We motivate clubs around the world to plant trees in cleared areas, and we provide them with everything they need,” says Nürtingen Rotaractor Dominik Huhndorf. So far, about 2,000 trees have been planted in countries including Germany, Ecuador, India, Mauritius, and Sierra Leone.

A compelling need and an effective solution — like creating a more green and sustainable world by planting trees — will help attract other clubs’ interest, Huhndorf says, and social media is a good way to find partners. “Club websites, and social media like Instagram, are good platforms for determining whether the interests of a club fit those of your project,” he says.

He believes any well-thought-out project will find support. “All you need for a collaboration is a good, rational, solid concept, and high motivation to get it done,” he says.

Rotaractors in District 2420 in Turkey, meanwhile, have been reaching out to other clubs to expand an ongoing project. For more than five years, they have been working to increase awareness of the importance of self-exams and of early detection to fight breast cancer within their district. In 2019, the Rotaractors decided to expand the project and are now cooperating with 13 Rotaract clubs in Turkey as well as two clubs in Ghana and Brazil.

In October 2019, the Rotaractors conducted four seminars that reached 397 people with information about the importance of self-exams. They also provided information to 256 people using a breast model and brochures.

Expanding their project’s reach had its challenges, says Burak Kucuk, a member of the Rotaract Club of Istanbul-Sisli and the District 2420 Rotaract representative for 2019-20. “It took work to find our partners in the project and learn how to work with them. We missed opportunities to partner with other big institutions and NGOs because we reached out late. We had to work hard to contact the right people and achieve our goals. We put in a lot of effort to overcome this challenge.”

But they learned some important lessons along the way. “This project showed us that we are very strong together,” says Kucuk, who notes that Rotaract multidistrict information organizations (MDIOs) are a good way to connect with country representatives in other countries.

For the Mega Cloth Donation Drive, more than 500 Yes Bank branches served as drop-off points. Rotaractors collected the clothes from the branches.

In India, Rotaractors were involved in 2020 in what they called the Mega Cloth Donation Drive sponsored by their regional MDIO, the South East Asian Rotaract Information Center (SEARIC). They partnered with Yes Bank, a local banking institution. “Diwali, one of the biggest festivals of India, was just around the corner and we wanted everyone to be in clean clothes for the day,” says Srijita Neogy of the Rotaract Club of Calcutta. “Heaps of clothes were donated and collected at the Yes Bank branches across the country. The closest Rotaract clubs and bank branches were mapped. Rotaractors then collected the clothes from the branches and donated them in areas with people most in need.”

Rotaractors have long come together for fellowship as well as for projects. When the pandemic hit, many met up virtually through World of Rotaract, a social media initiative that includes a Zoom meet-ing space where members from across the globe have been able to hang out, play games, host speakers, organize parties, and share experiences of COVID-19 in their own countries.

The Zoom meeting space also allowed Rotaractors to share ideas and promote their projects. Move for GECAF in New Zealand got a boost from the platform’s worldwide reach. “World of Rotaract was an incredible network for us to put our message out there,” Giblin says.

Philip Flindt, president of the Rotaract Club of København Nord, Denmark, agrees. “World of Rotaract created the foundations for lots of international friendships,” he says. “Even though I’ve never met Becky [Giblin] in real life, I have talked to her for hours, serious talk, as well as joking around, and she is a dear friend now.”

So when Giblin asked for help with Move for GECAF, Flindt didn’t hesitate to rally members of his club to run in a park to support the vaccine project; the club raised about NZ$2,500. “Becky’s call was an opportunity for us to show how much Rotaractors can make happen in a short time,” he says, “and how Rotaractors and Rotarians can support each other in their projects.”

This story originally appeared in the March 2021 issue of Rotary magazine.

World Rotaract Week is an annual celebration of the success and importance of Rotaract in communities around the world.