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Rotary honors six members as People of Action: Champions of Impact

Members promoted mental health, protected mangrove forests, and helped Indigenous young people increase their economic opportunities


Rotary recognized six extraordinary members as People of Action: Champions of Impact in January. This distinction celebrates the honorees’ successes in projects that have had positive, long-term impact. Their work relates to several of Rotary’s areas of focus, including fighting disease, growing local economies, and protecting the environment.

  • Rita Aggarwal

    Rotary Club of Nagpur, Maharashtra, India
    Project: Wellness in a Box—Nagpur

    Rita Aggarwal has been a consulting psychologist for 35 years. In 1992 she established Manodaya, a private mental health clinic in central India. She is an officer of the Mental Health Initiatives Rotary Action Group.

    Both a community assessment by members of that Rotary Action Group and a study published in the Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine found that mental health literacy in young people in India was very low. To address the high number of students who showed signs of anxiety, depression, and other psychological problems, effective mental health services were needed.

    The Mental Health Initiatives Rotary Action Group had developed a toolkit called Wellness in a Box, and Aggarwal applied it in her hometown of Nagpur. The project created a curriculum for 14-year-olds that covered depression awareness and coping skills, which helped counter the stigma that surrounds mental health care. It also taught teachers counseling skills and established sites for fieldwork, in cooperation with the Tirpude College of Social Work. Ten teachers have completed a yearlong counseling course, and another 10 are expected to complete it in March.

    Wellness in a Box—Nagpur has trained 2,280 students and 768 parents and faculty members in the “Break Free From Depression” curriculum. One hundred young people have volunteered for further training as peer mentors.

  • Steve Dudenhoefer

    Rotary Club of Puerto Barrios, Izabal, Guatemala
    Project: Guatemalan Tomorrow Fund

    Steve Dudenhoefer founded the Guatemalan Tomorrow Fund and Asociación Ak’ Tenamit 33 years ago, after selling his business in the US and moving to Guatemala to serve as a full-time volunteer accompanying rural Indigenous Central American communities in their sustainable development processes.

    The Guatemalan Tomorrow Fund helped develop a program of work-based learning and job placement for young Indigenous people in the country. One thousand Indigenous girls and boys receive vocational training at rural residential schools. Community education promoters visited communities to recruit students and offer scholarships. Teachers were trained in improved methodologies and taught how to provide psychological support to students who had been abused. More than 4,000 students have graduated from the program, and 86% of them are gainfully employed.

    Members of five Rotary clubs in Guatemala and 36 clubs in the United States worked with Asociación Ak’ Tenamit, the Guatemalan Ministry of Education, and local municipalities to ensure the project’s long-term financial and operational sustainability. The project is now managed by a board of directors composed of Indigenous graduates of the program.

  • Amal El-Sisi

    Rotary Club of El Tahrir, Egypt
    Project: Heart2Heart

    Amal El-Sisi is a longtime Rotarian, professor of pediatrics, and a member of The Rotary Foundation Cadre of Technical Advisers. For four years, El-Sisi led Heart2Heart, which helps children in remote parts of Egypt, Kenya, Libya, and Yemen who have heart conditions. El-Sisi recruited 30 local Rotary clubs and 10 clubs in other countries to collaborate on the project. Rotary members also raised funds and secured global grants for the project and used surveys of community members and care providers to measure its success.

    Heart2Heart treats children born with heart disease through state-of-the-art, less invasive catheterization procedures. Before it was started, patients and their families in remote areas of the region had to travel to cities to get these lifesaving procedures. Those who could not make the trip faced suffering and even death. .

    Heart2Heart has used highly sophisticated catheterization procedures to treat 120 children in remote areas. It also trained 20 doctors and 50 nurses and technicians over four years. With El-Sisi’s leadership, Rotary members oversaw the monitoring and evaluation of all of Heart2Heart’s activities, including follow-up with patients and health care providers.

  • Evangeline Buella Mandia

    Rotary Club of Marinduque North, Marinduque, Philippines
    Project: Mangrove Rehabilitation and Aqua-silviculture Project

    Evangeline Buella Mandia is the club Foundation chair and a past president of the Rotary Club of Marinduque North and dean of the College of Environmental Studies at Marinduque State College, in Marinduque, Philippines. She is a member of The Rotary Foundation Cadre of Technical Advisers.

    Mandia’s project addressed the decline in mangrove populations in parts of Marinduque. This decline, caused by deforestation, pollution, and climate change, has increased coastal erosion, degraded water quality, and caused a loss of biodiversity. Rotary members raised funds to plant mangrove seedlings and rehabilitate established forests as well as train community members in mangrove propagation and aquaculture. The project also established a seedling nursery and a long-term mangrove conservation plan. Mandia oversaw daily operations, communicated with everyone who was involved, monitored progress, and ensured that the project’s objectives were met.

    Local fishers and farmers gained better job prospects and higher earnings, while the entire community enjoyed a more dependable supply of fresh, local food. The revived mangroves protect against storm surges and reduce coastal erosion. Training improved community members’ understanding of their environment and their ability to take care of it. As a result, the whole community began working together to conserve local natural resources.

  • Bindi Rajasegaran

    Rotary Club of Ipoh Central, Perak, Malaysia
    Project: National Coalition for Mental Wellbeing

    Bindi Rajasegaran is a past Rotary club president and past governor of District 3300. A member of the Advisory Council to Malaysia’s Ministry of Health, she helped establish the National Coalition for Mental Wellbeing in 2019. Rajasegaran’s project addressed youth mental health. A study found that more than 400,000 children in Malaysia have mental health problems, but many do not seek care. Family and societal pressures, bullying, and loneliness all contribute to poor mental health.

    The project helped school counselors develop their crisis management skills through a Mental Health First Aid certification course. It also showed counselors how to foster supportive and inclusive school environments that promote mental wellness and reduce stigma. A series of awareness campaigns encouraged students to discuss mental health issues and seek help when they need it. The project also developed an online platform where counselors recorded case data so the results of their efforts could be measured.

  • Walley Temple

    Rotary Club of Calgary, Alberta, Canada
    Project: Towards the Elimination of Cervical Cancer in Guatemala

    Walley J. Temple is a professor emeritus in the Department of Oncology at the University of Calgary and the Tom Baker Cancer Centre. He established a Royal College-approved training program in surgical oncology that has drawn trainees from around the world.

    Temple’s project sought to identify and treat the conditions that lead to cervical cancer, a disease that one in 33 women in Guatemala will contract in their lifetime. Cervical cancer, which is caused by the human papillomavirus, can be prevented by vaccinating girls aged 9 to 14 and screening women aged 30 to 55. The equipment that is needed for screenings is low-cost and can be carried to even the most remote communities by mobile health care teams.

    Under Temple’s leadership, teams of clinicians conducted training, did examinations, and provided treatment. Temple and his team purchased mobile screening equipment and trained nurses in its use. The project has screened more than 8,000 women, educated more than 3,000 women about cervical cancer, and trained and certified 65 health care practitioners.

Learn more about Rotary’s causes.

- February 2024