When COVID-19 gripped the world, Rotary members took action. Now we’re looking ahead
Eighteen months ago, the world ground to a halt, and for one brief moment, Rotary paused along with it. In March 2020, the magazine stopped the presses on its May issue in order to include a newly written message from 2019-20 RI President Mark Maloney.
“Throughout early March, the news about COVID-19 became increasingly serious throughout the world,” he explained. “We asked all Rotary districts and clubs to curb face-to-face meetings until further notice and to hold virtual meetings instead.” Then Maloney kicked things back into gear: “The world is changing rapidly,” he wrote, “and so must Rotary. Our adaptability and strength will help us navigate this experience.”
Rotarians everywhere responded to Maloney’s call to action. In some cases, they had even anticipated it. By the time that May issue landed in mailboxes, many clubs had already shifted to virtual meetings, and members worldwide were providing on-the-ground support for health care workers, communities in need, and the people most susceptible to the pandemic’s reach.
In June 2020, we published our first roundup of COVID-related projects, and in July, 2020-21 RI President Holger Knaack noted in his first magazine message that “every great challenge is an opportunity for renewal and growth.” In that same issue, we showed how Rotary and its partners in the Global Polio Eradication Initiative had been drawing on their experience to respond to the pandemic, and in August, we told personal stories from 10 frontline workers around the world — nine Rotarians and one Rotaractor who, despite the grave risk to their own health, stepped forward to offer assistance, comfort, and inspiration.
Since then, we've continued to cover the nimble and creative ways clubs have found to respond to the pandemic, much of that work funded through grants from The Rotary Foundation: As of June, more than $27 million in global grant funding had gone directly to Rotary’s COVID-19 response, on top of nearly $8 million in disaster response funding.
Rotary has adapted, just as Maloney and Knaack assured us we could. And despite the pandemic, Rotarians and Rotaractors have continued to make a difference: We celebrated the end of wild poliovirus in Africa. We adopted a new area of focus, the environment. And earlier this year, we welcomed the inaugural cohort of peace fellows to the first Rotary Peace Center in Africa.
In the past year, because of everything we’ve been through together, each of us has changed, taking on new challenges and learning new skills. Rotary has changed as well, and more change is surely coming. But as RI President Shekhar Mehta reminded us two months ago in his first Rotary message to members: “No challenge is too big for Rotarians."
Five ways to help stop COVID-19 in your community
Educate people on the importance of vaccination
As of the last week of June, only 1 percent of Nigeria’s population had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine; the country has struggled with a lack of supply, receiving its first 4 million doses through the COVAX vaccine-sharing program in March. In the meantime, Rotary members in the country are using connections they have made through their polio eradication work to advocate among political leaders, health care workers, the media, and traditional and religious leaders for the importance of COVID-19 vaccinations. They are reaching the general population through informational campaigns on social media, television, and radio, as well as public service announcements broadcast in public squares.
Advocate for fair and equal vaccine distribution
The Rotary Club of Demerara, Guyana, has been conducting medical missions in remote parts of the country for decades, which has given members firsthand knowledge of the needs of the communities in those areas. In March, partnering with the country’s Ministry of Health and its Civil Defence Commission, club members traveled by boat to deliver COVID-19 vaccines to the Indigenous villages of Muritaro and Malali. Traditional leaders were among those receiving the vaccines, setting an example for their communities. “Our linkage to these communities and history with our polio efforts gave residents confidence that Rotary wouldn’t leave them behind when COVID-19 vaccines became available,” said club member Lancelot Khan.
Address vaccine hesitancy by sharing accurate, fact-based information
Singapore has been steadily vaccinating its population, but significant pockets of people remain hesitant to take the vaccine. The Rotary Club of Singapore worked with the National University of Singapore’s Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health to launch a public health ambassador program in June. In addition to organizing a webinar to answer questions from the public, the school put on a workshop directed at Interactors, Rotaractors, and Rotarians to equip them with the knowledge and skills to dispel myths and educate communities about vaccine safety.
Encourage mask wearing and proper hygiene practices
With limited vaccines available, Pakistan faced a third wave of COVID-19 cases this spring. The Rotary-supported polio resource center in Bannu is using its expertise to educate the community about hand washing and other precautionary measures against infection. More than 25 women attended a session in May led by health care workers.
Support health agencies’ vaccine distribution efforts
Rotary members in District 2060 (Italy) became critical government partners in getting vaccination sites up and running earlier this year. Within a week of an initial call for volunteers in January, more than 150 Rotarians and Rotaractors stepped forward, including doctors, nurses, paramedics, lawyers, and a notary to help with paperwork. Impressed, the medical authorities in Verona put the district in charge of all volunteer activities related to COVID-19 vaccination in the region, including scheduling patients, assigning shifts, and reporting data. By the end of May, more than 700 volunteers had participated, and more than 300,000 people in the region were vaccinated.
This story originally appeared in the September 2021 issue of Rotary magazine.