Promoting Peace in Uganda

by Divya Wodon, Naina Wodon, and Quentin Wodon

“I have been a mediator for the past 15 years so the concept of reducing conflict through mediation appealed to me.” Phil Reynolds from the Annapolis Rotary Club took over from a fellow Rotarian as lead international club contact for the Uganda peace project about six months before it started. When he heard about the project and that someone new was needed, he volunteered right away: “The project was natural for me (…) I helped the United Nations Development Program set up an electoral assistance program, so the Uganda project, which focused on electoral hot spots, drew my attention”. With his years of experience in UN projects, Phil was able to refine the grant application and the activity plan.

May Issue - Uganda

The goals of the project are to create an early conflict warning system and mediation tools that can be used by local communities to facilitate conversations within youth groups and bring children from different tribal backgrounds together. The project will also help create a truth and reconciliation program initially in four of districts, with the possibility of an expansion later.

The project has had many successes thanks in part to the efforts of the Uganda Joint Christian Council (UJCC) in executing it. Phil was inspired by “the courageous and effective evaluation carried out by the UJCC on its own nine months into the project”. He was excited when results of the projects came back and there were encouraging examples of conflicts in the four pilot districts that had been resolved by the local project personnel. Phil hopes that in the future the peace project will be able to expand to other districts in Uganda.

There were of course challenges. For example the communication was not always as reliable as it should have been between the US and Uganda teams. Phil is convinced that “project plans must be specific and time-bound,” but he quickly adds “with a human face)”. And “as a French colleague once said, you must leave room for some unanticipated successes”.

Note: This story is reproduced with minor changes from a book published by the authors entitled Membership in Service Clubs: Rotary’s Experience (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014).


Literacy in Ecuador

by Divya Wodon, Naina Wodon, and Quentin Wodon

“When you work on a future vision grant, you confront the issues faced by fellow Rotarians overseas. You form a bond. You learn what matters in life and the balanced approach needed to have an impact. You learn to appreciate the beautiful work that comes to fruition when everyone is working together with respect and trust.” Rachael Blair, former Rotarian from the Annapolis Rotary Club, knows what she is talking about. She has led several international projects, including a recent Ecuador literacy project that produced a book of stories from its beneficiaries.

May Issue - Ecuador

This was Rotary’s first collaboration with the Organization of American States. The OAS requested a project for early grade reading. With the help of a former Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar, Amber Gove, the team found a willing partner in the University of Andina Simon Bolivar. The Rotary Club of Quito Occidente was also an ideal partner since a previous project – a water grant for three schools – had worked very well.

Rachael visited the literacy project sites three times: “I was very moved by the response of the teachers. They could not believe that Rotary clubs would take such an interest in their professional development, especially clubs from overseas. I was humbled by their discipline and motivation. They reminded me that when you nurture and support others, they shine and bring their very best skills and talents to the table. They do this because of their support network. That’s what Rotary is, a support network of like-minded people who want to have a positive impact based on mutual and creative collaboration.”

What is Rachael’s advice to Rotarians? “You need to understand the project scope and Rotary rules and regulations. You need to be patient. You need to persevere. You need to be culturally sensitive. You need to accept the fact that one person will have to move things along with diplomacy and understanding.” As to her advice to the Rotary Foundation: “These projects require many people in the Rotary hierarchy to be on board for their approval. I spent a lot of time getting people on board for signatures. Raising funds was a big issue and very time consuming. I would want to see Rotary restructure the funding aspect of global grants.”

Note: This story is reproduced with minor changes from a book published by the authors entitled Membership in Service Clubs: Rotary’s Experience (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014).

Rebuilding Together

by Divya Wodon, Naina Wodon, and Quentin Wodon

“The families are thrilled with what we do, we walk away feeling so much gratification knowing that we have just turned this person’s life around by helping them keep their independence and improved their lifestyle which they’ll never forget, and that’s what Rotary is all about.”

March Issue - Rebuilding Together

As liaison between her club and Rebuilding Together Sue Weber from the Annapolis Rotary Club puts together once a year a team of volunteers to help renovate the home of a low income local family or individual in need. Whatever needs repairs is done, whether it is about fixing the plumbing, painting the walls, or replacing windows. Once “a veteran was disabled and we needed to build a ramp so he could get out of his house.” Sue explains that “all materials are donated by local stores or sponsors, and it’s a wonderful project to be a part of because the whole community comes together to revitalize neighborhoods”.

Sue started to be involved in this project for a few reasons. “You feel good before, during and after you meet and help the family in need. In one day, you give some sweat and tears all for a good cause and you see the immediate results and impact before you go home.” Although the project helps the families and the volunteers are great, there are challenges: “Finding the qualified people who have the skills mastered can be difficult. For example if there is a problem with plumbing, we need to find a volunteer who is a master plumber, although they do get many helpful hands.”

Oftentimes challenges arise on the rebuilding day itself: “Usually it happens that you pull something a part, and then you see that it’s ten times worse than what you were originally anticipating”. But although there are challenges, there are great rewards as well: “The Rotary has touched the lives of a local family by stabilizing their home and positively impacting the local community permanently.”

Note: This story is reproduced with minor changes from a book published by the authors entitled Membership in Service Clubs: Rotary’s Experience (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014).

Helping Others to Serve through the Court Appointed Special Advocates

by Divya Wodon, Naina Wodon, and Quentin Wodon

Rebecca Tingle from the Annapolis Rotary Club is Executive Director of Anne Arundel County CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates), a nonprofit that advocates for and supports abused and neglected children involved in juvenile court proceedings. The organization is made up in a large part by qualified and trained community volunteers who are called CASAs. CASAs are considered “Officers of the Court” and ensure that needed services are delivered to families and children in a timely and effective manner. Volunteer child advocates keep children from “falling through the cracks” and work to ensure that each child has a safe, stable, permanent home.

CASA volunteers make a long-term commitment to conduct an independent, comprehensive study of a child’s situation; maintain contact with parents, foster parents, attorneys, teachers, therapists and social workers; monitor the child’s situation by visiting regularly; write formal court reports with recommendations and provide direct testimony to the Court; and advocate for the child’s developmental, educational, and psychological needs.

When asked what she found was most inspiring in her work, Rebecca told stories about volunteers who have created deep connections with the child to whom they are assigned. One volunteer assigned to a teenager who was completing high school and wanted to go to the Prom bought him a suit and chauffeured him and his date to the event. They both continue to have a close relationship and to visit each other. “The volunteers develop a relationship with these children, and almost take on a [parental] role, teaching them life skills the children have not yet learned […]. Everything about this organization inspires me. It’s amazing what our volunteers do for these children. The CASA role is such a unique volunteer role; it’s a role that carries with it a high level of responsibility and credibility. Every experience, to me, is amazing.” Rebecca has dedicated the last eight years to CASA. As she puts it, “There isn’t a day that goes by when I’m not talking about CASA, it’s my life.”

Note: This story is reproduced with minor changes from a book published by the authors entitled Membership in Service Clubs: Rotary’s Experience (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014).