Why is November “Foundation Month”?

Klinginsmith_RayRay Klinginsmith, Trustee Chair 2015-16

It is well-established that The Rotary Foundation is the focus of attention in the month of November, and we try our best to publicize our Foundation programs and to raise money to fund the programs during the entire month! But why November?

The idea started in May 1956 when the RI Board designated the week of 15 November as Rotary Foundation Week. The designation was firmly in place by 1961 when I was a Rotary scholar in South Africa, and most of the southern African clubs featured programs about the Foundation that week. I also observed the same focus when I returned home and joined the Rotary club in my hometown of Unionville, Mo.

November-2015-2Many of our clubs at that time scheduled low-cost meals at their meetings during Rotary Foundation Week and donated the savings to the Foundation. It was a good way to produce Foundation funds at a time when most contributions were still made by clubs, not by individual Rotarians. But why did the RI Board select the week of 15 November in 1956 and then expand it in 1982 to the whole month of November, starting in 1983-84?

My speculation is that the initial decision in 1956 was based on the realization that many clubs in the Northern Hemisphere, particularly the large clubs, were not fully active during their summer months of June, July, and August. Therefore, it was best to wait and give time for the clubs to educate their members each year about the Foundation. And since the Foundation contributions were coming from the clubs, it gave the clubs time to raise the money, but still send it to the Foundation in the first half of the Rotary year for investment purposes. It was a win-win situation for both the clubs and the Foundation!

Regardless of whether my speculation has merit, Rotary Foundation Month has been, and will continue to be, a critical factor in the success of our Foundation. It is the month that our clubs and districts continue the tradition of educating our Rotarians about the amazing quality of our Foundation programs and seeking the needed contributions to make the world a better place.

Our Foundation is a premier organization, and it owes its success to the support of Rotarians, many of whom have gained their appreciation of Foundation programs during the traditional emphasis on such programs in November. The importance of Rotary Foundation Month should not be discounted, and I hope that all of our clubs will feature the Foundation during the month of November. It is a significant and productive tradition, and I encourage all Rotarians to take the time to attend their club and district Foundation events this month. Embrace the tradition! Celebrate the Foundation!

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Fight not with violence but education, understanding, and peace

KR-Ravindran-120pxK.R. Ravindran, President 2015-16

One sunny morning at the end of June 1991, a van drove through the busy, rush-hour streets of Colombo, Sri Lanka. Winding through traffic to a northern suburb, the van arrived at the Forward Command Headquarters of the Defense Ministry. Security guards stopped it for inspection. When they did, the two suicide bombers driving the van detonated their cargo: thousands of kilograms of plastic explosives.

The roof of the building was blown off completely. Debris was strewn for blocks. In total, 21 people were killed and 175 people injured, among them many pupils of the girls’ school next door. More than a kilometer away, the blast shattered every window in my home. My wife raced toward the sound of the explosion – toward our daughter’s school.

Our daughter was then nine years old. That morning, she had forgotten her pencil case at home. At the moment of the blast, she was coming out of a stationer’s shop, admiring her new pencils. Suddenly her ears were ringing, the air was filled with sand, and everywhere around her people were screaming, bleeding, and running. Someone pulled her into the garden of the badly damaged school, where she waited until my wife arrived to bring her back to our home – its floors still covered with broken glass.

Sri Lanka today is peaceful and thriving, visited by some two million tourists every year. Our war now is only a memory, and we as a nation look forward to a promising future. Yet so many other nations cannot say the same. Today, more of the world’s countries are involved in conflict than not; a record 59.5 million people worldwide live displaced by wars and violence.

Construction of new Sri Lanka Defence Headquarters

Construction of new Sri Lanka Defence Headquarters

In Rotary we believe, in spite of all that, in the possibility of peace – not out of idealism, but out of experience. We have seen that even the most intractable conflicts can be resolved when people have more to lose by fighting than by working together. We have seen what can happen when we approach peace-building in ways that are truly radical, such as the work of our Rotary Peace Fellows. Through our Rotary Foundation, peace fellows become experts in preventing and resolving conflict. Our goal is that they will find new ways not only to end wars but to stop them before they begin.

Among the hundreds of peace fellows who have graduated from the program, two from Sri Lanka, one from each side of the conflict, studied together. In the first weeks of the course, both argued passionately for the rightness of their side. Yet week by week, they grew to understand each other’s perspective; today, they are good friends. When I met them and heard their story, they gave me hope. If 25 years of pain and bitterness could be overcome by Rotary, then what, indeed, is beyond us?

We cannot fight violence with violence. But when we fight it with education, with understanding, and with peace, we can truly Be a Gift to the World.

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Polio: It is your Rotary story; write it well

KR-Ravindran-120pxR. Ravindra, President 2015-16

Last month, after confirming a full year without a single case of wild poliovirus, Nigeria was removed from the list of the world’s polio-endemic countries. It was the last polio-endemic country in Africa. Today, only two countries – Afghanistan and Pakistan – harbor the world’s final reservoir of endemic poliovirus. As this issue of The Rotarian goes to press, global cases of polio in 2015 number only a few dozen.

The scale of this achievement can hardly be overstated. Polio has existed for millennia; it has plagued humanity since our earliest civilizations. Today, because of Rotary’s work and that of our partners, the end is in sight. We are counting down not in years, but in months.

polio-web-81-300pxAnd yet, our success is as fragile as it is monumental. We are moving forward, slowly, steadily, inexorably – thanks to colossal efforts that never cease. We continue to vaccinate hundreds of millions of children in vast synchronized campaigns; we constantly monitor environments to prevent new outbreaks. The sheer scale of the effort – the coordination, the cost, and the commitment – boggles the mind.

Some ask why such high levels of immunization and surveillance are still needed to combat a disease that is almost gone. The answer is simple: It is the only way forward. If we did anything less – if we allowed the virus any quarter – years of work would be undone. We know too well how easily polio could spread again. We know how quickly our decades of progress could be lost. And this is why the months ahead are so tremendously important. We need your voice – to raise awareness, to raise funds, and to keep the momentum going. We need your strength to help fight this war until we have won.

On 24 October, we mark World Polio Day. I hope that on that day, all of you will take part in some way in our work to eradicate polio. I know that many of you intend to publicize this event on the club or district level; for those who have not yet made plans, there are still many ways to participate. Visit endpolionow.org for ideas, tools, sample press releases, and ways to donate. You’ll also find the link to our livestream event; be sure to join in, and share it on social media.

This war of ours – which started as a war against polio but is also a war against hatred, against ignorance, against fear – this war will be won. It will be won soon. And when it is won, all of Rotary will have a story to tell – to the children, and the grandchildren, who will never see a leg brace or an iron lung, or know a world with polio in it.

Whether you are a Rotarian in Kano or Peshawar or Swat, in Seoul or Madrid or Chicago – you are a part of this story. Your part in it is one that only you can write. I ask you all to write it well – so that the story you will one day tell is one of which you will be proud.

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2016-17 is The Rotary Foundation’s Centennial Year: Begin Plans Now

Klinginsmith_RayRay Klinginsmith, Trustee Chair 2015-16

The 2016-17 Rotary year will be the centennial year for The Rotary Foundation, which started at the 1917 Rotary convention in Atlanta. This issue of The Rotarian magazine is filled with information about the exciting 2016 convention to be held in Seoul, 28 May-1 June – and part of the excitement is due to the kickoff activities for the Foundation’s centennial celebration.

The Foundation has a Centennial Celebration Committee, which is chaired by Past Trustee Stephanie Urchick, and the committee has comprehensive plans for a full year of celebratory events, which will culminate in a giant celebration at the 2017 Rotary convention in Atlanta. The Foundation trustees, Rotary International directors, and Rotary-Foundation-PromoRotary staff members are all committed to a successful recognition of the Foundation’s anniversary because of the Foundation’s significant role in helping our clubs and districts to conduct service projects around the world. The Rotary Foundation clearly has been a tremendous force for Doing Good in the World!

And as we contemplate our high-level plans for the centennial, we once more pause to recognize and appreciate that the totality of what happens in our clubs and districts is far bigger and longer-lasting than what happens in Evanston and at the conventions. As a result, the true success of the centennial celebration will depend on the quality and quantity of the celebratory events in our clubs and districts. The big question is whether our Rotarians around the globe will embrace the Foundation’s centennial and undertake their own centennial projects and celebrations. So please do your part to stimulate the interest and involvement of your club.

The Rotary Foundation has been highly successful in assisting our clubs and districts to promote international understanding, goodwill, and peace in the world – and therefore, it is appropriate that all of our clubs and districts should participate in the centennial celebration. As usual in Rotary, there is no prescribed way in which the clubs and districts should join the celebration, and I hope our clubs and districts will be as creative in their celebratory activities as they have been in their myriad humanitarian projects throughout the years. This is the right time for all of us to express our appreciation for The Rotary Foundation!

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When Polio Walked the Earth: Notes on a forgotten disease


Editor’s Note: Permission to post the following article has been received from Peter Kavanagh, Random House of Canada Ltd. and The Walrus magazine.


It’s hard to capture the sense of panic that once gripped cities and towns in North America during “polio season”—summer and early fall. Parents kept children indoors, public places were deserted, quarantines were put in place, and victims were isolated from the healthy. Every year for forty years, from 1910 to 1950, an outbreak of polio took place somewhere in North America, as well as in Europe and in huge swaths of Asia and Africa. The 1953 epidemic was the peak of a new series of infections that had begun in 1949. During those five years, 11,000 Canadians came down with polio, 9,000 in 1953 alone. Newsreels and newspapers depict a country in panic. The medical system was overwhelmed and there was a severe shortage of doctors, nurses, and therapists to deal with the tsunami of cases. City and town councils argued with school officials and public-health officers about whether schools should be opened and pools kept closed, and sometimes vice versa. In big cities, those who had the means fled to cottages and resorts deep in the woods, away from population centres. In a recent Discovery Channel survey of the ten worst epidemics to affect humans, polio still gets top billing, over the 1918 Spanish flu, the Black Death,HIV/AIDS, and malaria.

Polio is a devastating disease, highly infectious, easily transmitted, and with no known cure. The disease attacks the spinal cord and the nervous system, and depending on the severity of the infection and the location on the spinal cord, it can paralyze muscles and tendons.

There are three basic classifications of paralytic poliomyelitis: spinal, bulbar, and bulbospinal, which are simply markers of the region of the central nervous system affected and the amount of inflammation and damage that result. The most common form, spinal, attacks motor neurons associated with the movement of muscles; while it can occasionally affect muscles on both sides of the body, it is usually asymmetrical. About 21 percent of all cases of paralytic polio are bulbar or bulbospinal, and these cases dramatically affect the ability to breathe. When you hear polio and you think iron lung, it is patients with these forms you are picturing.

My parents and their generation were no better equipped to deal with polio than their parents or grandparents had been. Polio was first identified in 1840 and the virus isolated in early 1908, but there is clear evidence stretching back at least as far as ancient Egypt of periodic outbreaks and documented occurrences of the disease.

When I was born, contracting polio was truly a crapshoot. The disease was almost Biblical in the sense of a plague sent down by God and touching houses seemingly at random. My mother and father, like any affected parents in 1953, would have been bewildered as to why their house was targeted and not the family two doors down. Doctors weren’t of much comfort, lacking any explanation for why some caught the virus and others didn’t.

Much of what we now know about polio was just conjecture in the year I was born. Research has proven that polio is transmitted orally from person to person through exposure to fecal matter, which goes some way to explaining why children not yet fully toilet trained are such a prime target. Places where people gather and the virus can easily spread—swimming pools, for instance—are probable hot zones.

Polio is a disease rife with truly tricky numbers, almost inexplicable. For every thousand children under the age of five infected by the virus, only one will show any symptoms; the other 999 move about as normal, except that each is a carrier. The incubation period between infection and the appearance of symptoms is anywhere between three and thirty-five days, and everyone is most infectious in the ten-day period before symptoms can appear. The numbers are crueller for children older than six, and adults, with one out of every seventy-five showing symptoms. The majority will experience what is called “abortive polio” or “non-paralytic polio,” whose symptoms include “fever, sore throat, headache, vomiting, fatigue, back pain or stiffness, neck pain or stiffness, pain or stiffness in the arms or legs, muscle spasms or tenderness, and meningitis.” The unlucky few, just 1 to 3 percent of those who show any symptoms at all, contract paralytic polio and experience loss of reflexes, severe muscle aches or spasms, and loose and floppy limbs, often worse on one side of the body. The onset of the actual paralysis will be sudden and is most often irreversible.

Because polio most often and most seriously affected the young, the disease was commonly referred to as “infantile paralysis.” In the year I was born, little was certain about the disease other than that name, which was enough to chill the soul of even the most devout Catholic.

I was infected at the height of the polio season, in August 1953, just around the time Jonas Salk was performing his trials. His modern medical miracle, however, arrived too late for me. As was the norm at the time, after I fell ill, my family was quarantined. I was isolated in hospital for a year while my parents worried and prayed at home. Isolating polio victims to stem the spread of the virus was known to be futile by 1940, but the practice continued simply to calm the public by creating a sense that something was being done.

The first signs my parents noticed—a high fever, my obvious intense discomfort and stiffness—had them panicked. All babies display a range of behaviours, but this was late summer and polio seemed to be everywhere. I turned out to be one of the lucky ones, because the damage could have been much worse. It is true that my left lower leg didn’t function as such, and this would have serious ramifications over time, but at two months old at least I was alive, and I wasn’t so damaged that I needed to be confined to hospital for years, as was the case with other children. My parents were forced to stay in Deep River, Ontario, my father for work, my mother to care for my siblings. I was entrusted to the staff at the Deep River Hospital and then at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children for a year, with my parents visiting when they could.

At the hospital, the staff first examined my stool, then took a throat swab and subjected me to a spinal-tap procedure. These were the only tests available for a relatively quick diagnosis. The gold-standard test involved a long needle and a tricky procedure. In the spinal tap (a lumbar puncture, to use the correct medical terminology) a needle is inserted into the lower part of the spinal cord and cerebrospinal fluid is drawn out and examined for increased white blood cells, higher-than-normal protein levels and the presence of the polio virus. If all three are present, odds are you have paralytic polio. In my case, all three were present.

The procedure is painful for adults and arguably horrific for children. The patient is positioned on his side with his knees drawn up to his chest and his back and neck straightened. The patient must be kept perfectly still, rigid even. For a number of reasons, I would undergo spinal taps at numerous points in my life, and each and every time one was ordered I experienced the closest thing I can imagine to primal dread. Even writing the words spinal tap causes my skin to crawl and my nerves to cringe. In some of the accounts I have read of the panic of the triage rooms in hospitals during the polio epidemics of the 1940s and ’50s, the eeriest reports are those of babies and toddlers moaning as the procedure is performed. I may not remember my first lumbar puncture, but at my core is a clear, affective account of the experience.

In addition to taking the necessary diagnostic steps, the nurses fed me, tried to manage my fever and aches and pains, and, with the doctors and therapists, attempted all the latest treatment fads. This meant immobilizing my left leg, massaging the affected limb, and trying to exercise the other limbs. The muscles in my left leg were paralyzed and immobilizing the limb was believed to be a way to prevent further damage and possibly give the muscles time to heal. The argument over the question of immobility versus exercise went to the very heart of medical authority. I don’t know how my parents reacted to the choice of treatment options at the time, but the way they responded to later medical quandaries and dilemmas, issues I was more aware of and involved with, provided me with some clues. My mom the nurse and my dad the authoritarian were each in their own ways respectful of authority. When faced with conflicting ideas, they would have been worried, panicked, and at a loss as to what was the right thing to do, before finally deciding that leaving the decision to the doctor was both the best and the wisest course of action.

As a baby, not only did I lack the means to tell nurses or doctors what or how I was feeling, but also it wouldn’t always have been clear how I was responding to the various types of treatments and exercises I was being given. Fixing my limbs and moving my limbs would have involved a lot of guesswork and day-to-day adjustments. As a growing baby, my development was soon completely out of whack. At a point when you might expect spontaneous turning and rolling and crawling, I was doing none of that, and no one was quite sure when, how, or if I might start.

I can never be certain how much of my time as an infant being treated in hospital for polio was centred on the Kenny method, named for a world-famous Australian nurse, Sister Elizabeth Kenny. During the 1930s she rebelled against the conventional wisdom of immobilizing, insisting that the best treatment for polio was heat wraps and active and passive exercising of the affected limbs and muscles. It is clear from contemporaneous documents that, as much as possible, nurses and physiotherapists were intent on finding ways to get bodies and limbs moving, and where that wasn’t possible, they put in place the aids and tools necessary to help those who had been paralyzed by polio to adapt.

In my case, at the age of fourteen months, that meant some tendon surgery, where damaged tendons are supplemented by the transfer of healthy ones to weaker areas in the body. You can still see a small scar that travels down the inside of my left leg where an attempt was made to try to repair or supplement the tendons that worked to raise and lower my foot. It didn’t work, but it is my understanding that it was a faint hope anyway. The doctors, the nurses, and my parents all understood that walking was going to be a problem, but they decided to give every option a go before sending me home. As a consequence of the tendon surgery, and in an effort to provide some stability to a baby who had truly limited use of one leg, the doctors put my left leg in a cast, an early version of what we now call a walking cast. The nurses and doctors knew that, once we were home, my learning to walk was going to be a family undertaking. My parents would supply the patience and guidance while I, not yet a year and a half old, would have to supply the stubbornness.

themanwholearnedtowalkthreetimes-220Excerpted from The Man Who Learned to Walk Three Times. Published by Alfred A. Knopf Canada, a division of Random House of Canada Limited. Copyright 2015 by Peter Kavanagh. All rights reserved.

Peter Kavanagh published The Man Who Learned to Walk Three Times in April 2015. Michael Byers (michaelcbyers.com) has contributed to Variety, the New York Times, and the Wall Street 

For your further enjoyment:

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RI Quietly Launches ‘Rotary Global Rewards’ Program

KR-Ravindran-120pxK.R. “Ravi” Ravindran, President 2015-16

There was once a strong young man who was offered a job as a woodcutter. He set about his task with energy: The first week, he turned 18 trees into firewood. The second week, he worked just as hard, but was surprised to find he had chopped only 11 trees. The third week, despite working nonstop from morning till night, the number was six, and he went despairingly to the foreman to offer his resignation. “I am losing my strength. I can no longer cut as many trees as I once could.”

The foreman looked at the young man, who seemed to him in fine health. “Have you thought of sharpening your ax?” he asked.

“Sharpen my ax? Who has time to sharpen an ax?” the young man asked indignantly. “I have been too busy chopping wood!”

When we aren’t making the kind of progress we feel we should be making, the natural response is to redouble our efforts. Sometimes, though, the better response is not to work harder, but to work smarter. Look at your tools. Analyze your processes. Are you directing your resources in the most effective ways? Or are you pouring all your strength into chopping wood with a dull ax?

For the last 20 years, we have relentlessly beaten the drum of membership in Rotary. We set goals and launch campaigns, all focused on bringing in more and more members. And yet, our overall numbers remain the same.

It is time to sharpen our tools. Instead of focusing on the question, “How can we bring more members into Rotary?” we should be asking ourselves, “How can we add more value to Rotary membership, so that more will join and fewer will leave?”


One way we are doing that is with the new Rotary Global Rewards program, which launched in July. This innovative program allows Rotarians to connect with, and receive discounts and concessions from, businesses and service providers around the world. Individual Rotarians may submit their own business to be included alongside those with which Rotary has already negotiated relationships; the most appropriate offers will be added to the listings. We have also created the option of allowing businesses to return a percentage of their profit on each transaction to our Rotary Foundation, and several companies have already been locked into this part of the scheme. Each month we will update the list with additional offers that we may receive. I urge all of you to try it out by signing up on My Rotary at Rotary.org now. The more Rotarians participate, the stronger, and more beneficial, the program will be.

Much more than another loyalty program, Rotary Global Rewards is a new way to benefit from being a Rotarian, and being part of the Rotary network. It is another way to combine business and service. And it is yet another way to add value to Rotary membership. We cannot forget that our potential members will be asking themselves, “What’s in it for me?” We need to demonstrate the value of Rotary by showing that becoming a Rotarian will enrich their lives, as it has ours.


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Rotarians Urged to Promote Rotary’s Role in the Eradication of Polio

Klinginsmith_RayRay Klinginsmith, Trustee Chair 2015-16

Rotary and its partners have developed an endgame for the final eradication of polio, and the plan is working successfully. No one can predict the last case of wild poliovirus, but if our progress is sustained, it may come before the end of this Rotary year. What a victory that will be for Rotary and its partners – and for the children of the world!

Rotary also has a plan to publicize and gain recognition for its vital role in the eradication of polio. Rotary started its first immunization campaign against polio in 1979, when there were still 500,000 cases of paralytic polio every year. Its success led Rotary to launch PolioPlus in 1985, with the goal of immunizing all the world’s children against polio. It raised US$247 million for that purpose in the first three years, and it then joined forces with the World Health Organization, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and UNICEF in 1988 to eradicate polio. When the partnership was formed, a truly epic battle was joined, and Rotary was the catalyst.

polio-web-81-300pxNow we are in the final days of this heroic effort, and it is important for Rotary that the entire world is made aware of its contributions as a major partner in the eradication battle. Rotary International and The Rotary Foundation will do everything they can to publicize Rotary’s role, but that is only one piece of the puzzle. Every Rotary club needs to learn the history of the PolioPlus campaign and publicize the news in their local communities. We need the active involvement of every Rotary club in the world to spread the news around the globe.

Download the marketing tools available at endpolio.org, and read Rotary and the Gift of a Polio-Free World, now available at shop.rotary.org. Share information about Rotary’s role in the fight to end this disease with your social networks online and offline.

World Polio Day is observed every year on 24 October, and it is critical that every Rotary club schedule an event on or around 24 October this year to spread the word in their local communities about Rotary’s role in the campaign to eradicate polio. Use the live-streamed updates from endpolio.org as a key element of the program. This is a great time to start our local publicity efforts for World Polio Day 2015. We are so close to our goal – don’t let us down! Your club needs to start spreading the outstanding news about PolioPlus!

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