District Governor 2000-2001

My Dear Action Presidents, Club Secretaries and Rotary Leaders,

In the May issue of The Rotarian magazine, President Frank once again urged Rotarians to continue to bring in new members with fresh vision and energy. His forceful message should dispel the myth that life for a Rotary leader ends on 1 July and that because there are only a few weeks to the end of the current term, the current leadership should step aside and leave the work to the next crop of leaders.

While our term may end, our responsibility towards our fellow human beings or mankind will never end. Economic growth and technological advancement have improved the livelihood of many in affluent economies including ours, but we would not be fulfilling our responsibilities to humankind if we continue to turn a blind eye and a deaf ear to the plight of the millions in yet to be developed economies. Past President James Lacy introduced the Children Opportunities Grant when he was president. He spoke passionately of the millions of children who roamed the streets every night looking for food and shelter. Now we also learn that many of these children might never taste clean water in their lives, might never wear shoes or clean clothes and might never have any chance to be educated.

Some sociologists and social activists are quick to attribute the seemingly inequitable wealth distribution to corruption in governments and even in relief agencies, to technology and to globalization. While Rotarians are non-political and would endeavour to distance ourselves from these issues, we ought not distance ourselves from the people who are caught in these issues. These are the people who need us most. It was against this background that I have been asking each and every member in the District to make it a habit to contribute to the Rotary Foundation, and specifically to contribute US$100 per year per member. I am glad that the Council on Legislation, which just ended, has passed a resolution that would encourage clubs to move towards this direction. It is worth repeating that without contributions on a continuing basis, the Rotary Foundation would find it hard to continue with its many educational and humanitarian projects.
Talking of humanitarian projects, at the International Convention in June in San Antonio, President Frank would present RI’s highest honour, the Rotary Award for World Understanding and Peace to Dr. Pramod Karan Sethi, a retired orthopedic surgeon from Jaipur, India. Dr. Sethi developed the “Jaipur Foot,” an artificial limb that has transformed the lives of millions of landmine and polio victims in India and other developing countries. In announcing the award, President Frank talked of the great admiration of the members of Rotary, as fellow humanitarian activists, for Dr. Sethi’s dedication to helping the poorest of the poor. Noting that Dr. Sethi had abandoned a practice that caters to the rich, President Frank went on to say, “To him, ethical and humane services have been the basis of the medical profession. He has consistently practiced and advocated values that keep the patient, particularly the poor, at the center of medical concern.”

Not all of us have the brains and adroitness of Dr. Sethi, but it is possible for the average service-minded Rotarian to emulate his spirit or to contribute to the Rotary Foundation which has funded many matching grants in support of the preparation and distribution of artificial limbs to victims, including of course the “Jaipur Foot,” particularly if we consider the vast disparity in National Income between Hong Kong and India.

There is actually plenty of scope for developed economies to help developing and less developed countries. It also makes a lot of economic sense. The agenda for the 21st Century may now appear to be heavily biased towards information technology, innovation and technology or biotechnology, hence the pre-occupation on the digital divide and the perceived urgency to narrow the gap. However, the single most important item on the agenda would perhaps be the creation of awareness that all human beings, all nations and all economies are interdependent. The sooner we are able to develop action plans to create such awareness; the better it would be for the human race and mankind as a whole. I therefore see a big role for volunteer organizations and service organizations such as Rotary to take the lead to create awareness and take action to create a better world for everyone – a world with a new order where people are encouraged to understand each other and treasure peace. Service-minded Rotarians with their professional knowledge and business experience in particular can help the poorer nations to grow out of poverty and savour economic prosperity. With this objective in mind, the motivation to recruit more service-minded people can never be greater.

Talking of volunteers, earlier this year, President Frank spoke at the 16th IAVE World Volunteer Conference held in Amsterdam in January. The United Nations had proclaimed the year 2001 as the International Year of Volunteers and the conference was the first in a series of international events. President Frank stressed that Rotarians were all volunteers and that Rotarians work in partnership with both public and private organizations to serve their communities better. President Frank went on to say that volunteers were the backbone of all non-governmental organizations and that in this International Year of Volunteers, “let us create awareness of the contribution of our volunteers and take action to celebrate, stimulate, and demonstrate solidarity with the dynamic volunteer movement.”

In Hong Kong, the Agency for Volunteer Service organized an International Year of Volunteers Steering Committee involving professional bodies, business sector and welfare agencies. Our District is also represented on the Committee. Which sent a delegation of 16 volunteers and volunteer administrators to the January Conference. The delegation reported on their visit last month during which the Steering Committee also unveiled the revised Universal Declaration on Volunteering. (See page 4 for full text.)

Talk to you soon.