GARY C.K. HUANG
In Rotary, we have the opportunity to build bonds of friendship with fellow Rotarians around the world. And once a year, at our international convention, we have the chance to get together with all of our Rotary friends, to share new ideas, plan new service, and just have fun.
What better way to celebrate the end of the 2014-15 Rotary year, and Light Up Rotary with your friends, than to travel together to the 106th annual Rotary International Convention in São Paulo, Brazil? Whether you have never been to a convention before or are an experienced convention goer, this will be one you won't want to miss. Preregistration pricing ends on 31 March, so plan now for the biggest Rotary party of the year.
The convention will begin on Saturday, 6 June, and after the opening ceremony there will be a traditional Brazilian Carnival party and a Samba School Parade at the Anhembi Sambadrome. Even if you think you have no rhythm or can't carry a tune, you will find yourself dancing, singing, and laughing all night long. The party and parade will feature the bright colors, feathers, and sequins of Carnival costumes as well as the sights and sounds of samba, the Afro-Brazilian music and dance, and the delicious food and drinks of São Paulo.
On Monday night, Ivete Sangalo, winner of two Latin Grammy Awards, will entertain Rotarians. And every evening of the convention, Rotary Restaurant Nights will let you enjoy discounts in the culinary capital of Latin America. Savor fish from the Amazon, sushi with a Latin flair, Brazilian beef, and other offerings from some of São Paulo's 30,000 restaurants and bars. Admission to several museums in São Paulo, including the excellent soccer museum, will also be free with your convention badge.
Brazil reflects a diversity almost as great as Rotary's: Paulistanos, as the people of São Paulo are known, have created a lively culture with influences from all over the world. One of the highlights of any Rotary convention is always hospitality night, where you can get to know local Rotarians. Monday night is your chance to experience the paulistano lifestyle with the Rotarians of Brazil – but be sure to book early, as numbers are limited.
In Rotary, service and friendship go hand in hand. As you focus on the work of this Rotary year, I ask you not to lose sight of the importance of international friendship, and to register for the São Paulo convention now, at www.riconvention.org.
As president of Rotary, it's my job to encourage and inspire Rotarians wherever I meet them. It's also my job to listen to what they have to say. Whether it's a successful project or a challenge to overcome, a great Rotary Day or a new idea, I want to hear what Rotarians are thinking, doing, and planning. So whenever I travel, I ask my hosts to talk to me about their clubs. What's going well, where do they see a need to improve, and what can we at RI headquarters do to help?
The answers are always interesting and often surprising. Sometimes I have a suggestion or an idea to contribute; sometimes I am able to make a connection that will move a project forward. Often, I go back to Evanston with ideas and insights that help guide us in our decisions. But what I value most about these conversations are the stories I hear – the stories that, taken together, tell the story of Rotary.
In Atlanta, I attended a Rotary event honoring teachers and heard story after story about the gift of literacy and how it transforms lives. In Istanbul, I attended a wheelchair race and learned how Turkish Rotarians are working to improve the lives of people with disabilities. In Lima, Peru, I talked to a former Rotaractor who waited nearly 20 years to be invited to join a Rotary club, and heard about how returning to Rotary has transformed her life.
I've heard stories that have made me laugh, and stories that have moved me to tears. I've heard stories of how our service changes the lives of others, and how it changes us as Rotarians. When I hear these stories, I can't help but wonder: How many other lives could we change for the better by bringing more people into Rotary? And how many more people could we bring into Rotary simply by sharing our own Rotary stories?
In this Rotary year, I ask all of you to do just that: Share your Rotary stories. Tell them to your friends, on social media, and through Rotary.org. Our Rotary stories are what inspire us, and what encourage others to join us; they help light up our service, as we work to Light Up Rotary.
At the beginning of this Rotary year, I asked Rotarians everywhere to Light Up Rotary by holding a Rotary Day. How you do this is something I'm leaving up to you: It can be a full day or just a few hours. It can be organized by your club, by your district, or even across your entire country. It can be a service project, a festival, or any kind of event you want. As long as it's open to the community, embraces the whole family of Rotary, and is fun, it's a Rotary Day.
The goal of a Rotary Day is to shine a light on Rotary. For many years, we in Rotary felt that it wasn't appropriate to boast about our good work. We felt it was best to serve quietly and let our work speak for itself. But today, in many communities, people aren't even aware that they have a local Rotary club. Not because the clubs aren't strong, or because they aren't serving well. They are. But if Rotarians don't talk about their work, people will never know about it.
It is time for us to Light Up Rotary and let people know what we are doing. In the first half of this Rotary year, I've been thrilled to see how many Rotarians have taken up my Rotary Day challenge. I've attended Rotary Days in so many places, including the Philippines, Korea, China, the United States, Turkey, India, Taiwan, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh. Every one has been different, and every one has met the challenge to Light Up Rotary in its own way.
If you've organized a Rotary Day in your community, tell us about it: Email details and photos of your event to firstname.lastname@example.org, with "Rotary Day" as your subject line. We'll do our best to feature as many Rotary Days as possible in the coming months.
And if you haven't planned a Rotary Day yet, why not? It's a great way to share your love for Rotary with your community. When we tell others about Rotary and let them know how membership can enrich their lives, we share a gift that was given to us when we were invited to join our clubs. By passing that gift on, we help ensure that Rotary, and its service, will endure for generations to come.
If you take a look at the Rotary calendar, it's easy to see where our priorities as an organization lie. The Rotary year begins in July; in August we mark Membership Month, in September we celebrate New Generations, October is for vocational service, and so on, turning our attention to different topics that are important in Rotary.
It's a great idea to do this, because it reminds us to talk about subjects that we might otherwise overlook during our busy Rotary year. But we all know that every topic on our calendar – from fellowship to our Foundation – is important. All of them are part of what makes Rotary what it is, and what makes all of us Rotarians.
In Rotary, December is Family Month. Looking back on my years as a Rotarian, I have seen how important family is in Rotary – and how important Rotary can be to our families.
My wife, Corinna, chose to join Rotary just a few months ago, after many years as a Rotary spouse. All three of our children are also Rotarians. All of them joined their own club, in their own time. All of them have found unique interests in Rotary. As we have watched them find their own paths, we have been struck by how wonderful it is to have so many members of our family involved in Rotary service.
Rotary gives us something good that we can all do together. With Rotary, we always have interesting things to talk about at dinner. We are all involved in different service, in different clubs, so when we sit down together, we are talking about humanitarian needs of every kind, in every part of the world. There is always something new to learn.
Our conversations are also a wonderful way to teach our children, through our own actions, what is really important in life. They learn about what life is like in different parts of the world, and how all of us have an obligation to help others when we can. I can think of no better lessons to teach our families than the lessons of Rotary service.
I hope that in this Rotary year, many of you will encourage your family members to join Rotary, Rotaract, or Interact. Bringing your family into Rotary doesn't just Light Up Rotary – it lights up your own lives as well.
Four months into this year of working to Light Up Rotary, I am more excited about Rotary than ever before. I've been to 22 countries, visited dozens of cities, and met thousands of Rotarians. I've seen amazing projects and been inspired over and over again by the terrific work Rotarians do all over the world. And I've been privileged to be part of all kinds of Rotary events, from club meetings to Rotary institutes, from Rotary Days to Foundation dinners.
Every event is memorable. I feel especially honored when I am invited to share in club celebrations. To me, taking part in a Rotary club celebration as Rotary International president is like being invited to a family event as an honored guest. Indeed, Rotary is the biggest family in the world.
You could say that Rotary is built of service: Each project is another brick in the big building that is Rotary. If our service forms the bricks, then there is no question that friendship is the mortar that holds those bricks together. I see this every day, but nowhere more clearly than at some of the most special Rotary club events: their centennial celebrations.
Being president of Rotary International in its 110th year, I've been lucky to take part in a number of these. It is natural, when visiting long-serving clubs, to want to know what their secret is – because I have always noticed that the longest-serving clubs are also some of the most productive. They are large, they are active, and they do great work. Not only that, but they have a great time doing it.
Of course, that is their secret: In Rotary, strong friendships and great service go hand in hand. When we enjoy our work, we want to do it. We want to work harder, and we want to work better. We look forward to Rotary meetings. Even when our lives are busy, we make Rotary a priority – because we want to see our friends, and we want to serve.
That is why Rotary is still here, after more than 109 years. In Chinese, we say:
A life without a friend is a life without sun.
Our Rotary friendships give light to our lives, and it is Rotary friendship – as well as service – that lets us Light Up Rotary.
In October 1914, Jonas Salk was born – a man who would change world history by inventing the first effective vaccine against polio. When the vaccine was introduced in the United States in the 1950s, polls indicated that polio was one of the nation's two greatest fears, second only to the fear of atomic war. And with good reason: In the 1952 U.S. polio epidemic, 58,000 cases were reported, with 3,145 deaths and 21,269 instances of permanent, disabling paralysis. Globally, polio paralyzed or killed up to half a million people every year.
Soon after the Salk vaccine was created, Albert Sabin developed an oral version, allowing tremendous numbers of children to be immunized quickly, safely, and inexpensively. In 1985, Rotary's PolioPlus program was born, with a simple goal: to immunize every child under age five against this crippling disease. Thanks in large part to the initial success of PolioPlus, in 1988 the 166 member states of the World Health Assembly unanimously set the goal of global polio eradication.
At the time, the idea was breathtakingly ambitious, and many called it impossible. Today, we are closer to this goal than ever before, with only a few hundred cases of polio reported per year, and just three remaining endemic countries. We are on track to achieve full eradication by 2018 – if we can keep up the momentum that has brought us this far.
And this month, we will mark World Polio Day on 24 October, and celebrate the 100th anniversary of Dr. Salk's birth.
I ask you all to Light Up Rotary this month by doing whatever you can to shine a spotlight on our efforts to eradicate polio. Call your government officials and let them know that polio eradication matters to you. Go to endpolionow.org for inspiring stories about Rotary's work, and share them on social media. And make the best investment you'll ever make, by donating to polio eradication right on the endpolionow.org website and earning a two-to-one match on your contribution from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
When we eradicate polio – and we will – we'll have brought the world into a better future, and Rotary into a better future as well. We will have proved ourselves, as an organization, capable of great things. And we will have given our children and grandchildren a gift that will endure forever: a polio-free world.
One of the great privileges of being president of Rotary International is having the chance to visit so many parts of the Rotary world. Usually I travel to participate in Rotary events; speak at Rotary clubs, conferences, and institutes; and encourage Rotarians in their service. But as president, I am responsible for all branches of the Rotary family. This means that it is also my privilege to support the service of Rotary's youngest generations: our Rotaractors, Interactors, Rotary Youth Exchange students, and Rotary Youth Leadership Awards participants.
When I see the work Rotarians do, I am always impressed, always excited, and always inspired. When I see the work of our New Generations, I am all of this – and frequently I am surprised as well. Not by the quality of their work – for I have learned to expect great things from them – but by the creativity and ingenuity of their thinking. I look at what they have done and think not just "What a great job!" but "What a great idea!" Because every generation sees the world in a unique way, and every individual has a unique point of view. Faced with the same problems, we arrive at different solutions. This is why, in Rotary, our diversity – of culture, language, expertise, gender, and age – is our strength.
In Rotary, we try to take the long view in our service. We aspire to serve in ways that will make a lasting difference, that will continue to have an impact after our participation ends. Our younger generations, in my experience, share this sentiment, and apply it globally, by focusing on environmental issues in new and innovative ways. When I became a Rotarian, environmental issues were barely on our radar. To young people today, these concerns are front and center. Their perspective is a valuable contribution to the world of Rotary service, and it is one that we should all encourage and support. Just as they are learning from us, so should we be learning from them.
The young people who are serving in Rotaract and Interact, and participating in Youth Exchange and RYLA today, are the Rotarians of tomorrow. When we support them, we are supporting the future of our entire organization. We are helping to train the men and women who will be the club presidents, district governors, RI directors, and RI presidents of tomorrow.
In Rotary, we mark August as Membership and Extension Month. There is a good reason why we remind ourselves of the importance of membership early in every Rotary year: because the job of growing our membership is one that we can never begin too soon. It is also a job that we can never stop working on. In order to keep serving, Rotary always needs to be growing!
We have talked for many years about the importance of the family of Rotary. In this Rotary year, I want to make not just the family of Rotary, but our own Rotary families, a priority in our membership. After 37 years of following me in Rotary, my wife, Corinna, finally became a Rotarian last year. We attended the chartering of a new club in Taiwan together, and she said, "It's time for me to become a Rotarian too!" So she joined that club. And soon, so did a lot of other people. Now that club has 102 members, and it's the second-largest club in Taiwan.
Inviting our spouses into Rotary isn't just about getting our numbers up. It addresses the reality that Rotary still has far more men as members than it does women, and that is something we need to work on. When we bring more women into Rotary, our clubs become more appealing to prospective female members – and become more productive as well.
This year we are going to have something new in Rotary: a membership support team pin. This means that if you invite a new member into Rotary, you get a special pin to wear with your Rotary gearwheel. But we all know that the job of growing membership doesn't end when a new member joins. It ends only when a new member is enjoying being a Rotarian and never wants to leave! And making sure that our clubs are enjoyable places to be is a key part of growing membership.
People come into Rotary for all kinds of reasons, but they stay because Rotary is fun to be a part of. So I want to remind all of you to have fun in your clubs and your districts. Rotary is based on the idea that our service is more effective when we serve together with our friends. So let's enjoy our Rotary service, share it with others, and Light Up Rotary together!
I find many traditional Chinese values reflected in Rotary: values of service and responsibility, of respect for family and for others. Sometimes I call Confucius the world's first Rotarian, because even though he died 2,500 years before Rotary was founded, his ideas are very much Rotary ideas. And one of the things he said was: 與其抱怨，不如改變.
In English, you say, "It is better to light a single candle than to sit and curse the darkness."
I think that one line sums up the way we in Rotary approach the problems of the world. There is so much difficulty. There are so many people who need help. Many people look at this and say, "There is nothing I can do." So they do nothing -- and nothing changes.
But this is not the Rotary way. The Rotary way is to light a candle. I light one candle, you light one candle -- and so do 1.2 million other Rotarians. Together, we can do so much more than we could ever do alone. Together, we can light up the world.
In 2014-15, I am asking each of you to light your own Rotary candle -- and Light Up Rotary together.
There are so many ways to Light Up Rotary. I hope many of you will choose to host a Rotary Day, to show your community what Rotary is and what we do. I hope you will involve your Rotaract and Interact clubs in your service, to bring the new generation of the Rotary family closer to Rotary membership. And I hope you will keep Rotary strong by inviting new members into Rotary – including your own spouse and family.
Perhaps the most important thing we can do to Light Up Rotary is to finish the job we've been working on for more than a quarter of a century: the eradication of polio. We are so close to our goal. But we will get there only if we keep up the fight, keep up the momentum, and close the funding gap for the polio endgame plan.
Light Up Rotary is our theme for this year, but it is more than just a theme. It is how we in Rotary see the world and our role in it. We believe that no one should sit alone in the darkness. Instead, we can come together, all 1.2 million of us, to Light Up Rotary. This is our goal -- and my challenge to you.