Jerry Stepaniak and I recently had the pleasure of attending the Rotary International Convention in Atlanta. For those of you have yet to attend a convention, this was five days full of workshops, plenary sessions and meeting and engaging with Rotarians from around the world. Some of the highlights:
First, the opening ceremony is always moving as students—with great pomp and circumstance—present the flags representing the 200 countries in Rotary.
On day two, Bill Gates took the stage. Bill pledged the continued very generous support of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation toward the eradication of polio. Beginning July 1st, the Gates Foundation will match Rotary’s commitment to raise $50 million a year over the next three years, two-to-one. That means another $450 million will go to eradicating the disease by 2020. With this commitment, the two organizations will have together raised nearly $1.6 billion to fight polio since 2007.
“The vision of eradicating polio began with Rotary, and its support of that effort has been unwavering for more than 35 years,” said Gates. “Rotary’s commitment to raise $150 million over the next three years to end polio forever is a testament to the compassion, generosity, and kindness of more than a million Rotarians around the world.”
And Bill Gates takes this commitment quite personally. He checks his email every day to see if there is a new case of polio reported around the world. At the time of the convention only five cases had been reported in 2017. However, in recent days there were 17 cases found in Syria at least four in Congo. In both countries, health officials are working with the Global Polio Eradication Initiative to respond immediately to the outbreak.
Nevertheless, my most memorable experience was one I did not expect. On the last day, I attended a session called “Hepatitis Zero: The World Eradication Project.” Here I met Rotarians committed to identifying patients with viral hepatitis, guiding them and directing them to treatment as well as raising awareness of the disease to the general public.
I learned that more than a half a billion people worldwide have either hepatitis B or C and that viral hepatitis kills twice as many people as HIV/AIDS.
Most people do not know that they have the virus…but it can result in death. And it is 100% curable if diagnosed and treated. What are Rotarians doing about this?
A small group gathered for the first time at the Sao Paulo Convention in 2015. At this meeting in 2017, the committee leadership presented a strategy and business plan. And over the course of just 30 minutes, a dozen Rotarians from Africa and Asia stood up and described what their clubs had done since 2015 to address hepatitis issues in their communities.
I witnessed Rotarians learning about a problem and taking action to address it. Of course, there is much work yet to do but I saw the power and magic of Rotary.
The 2018 Convention will be held next June in Toronto. I hope you’ll consider attending.
Past President John Bernaden, Mary McCormick and Jerry Stepaniak at Rotary’s Convention in Atlanta.