She was amazed to learn all this. Formed in 1905, Rotary International is the oldest service club in the world. As we have thrived for more than a century, our nonpartisan reputation has earned us a seat in the U.N. General Assembly because of our nonpolitical approach to helping humanity wherever the need arises.
More than 20 years ago, Rotary created the initiative to eradicate polio from the globe. When we started, nearly 1,000 cases of the disease were reported every day, all over the world. After 10 years of progress, the World Health Organization joined our fight. Within the past five years, we have gotten the total number of polio cases reported in an entire year down to fewer than 2,000 - and now polio exists in just four countries: Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nigeria and India. Seventeen years and $800 million in small donations into our ardent initiative, Microsoft founder Bill Gates was so impressed with the progress of polio elimination (Polio Plus, as we call it) that he joined our effort and donated $630 million to help us finish the job.
Rotarians also dig wells in sub-Saharan Africa and in India, collect medical supplies for remote villages in the Andes and the Philippines, bring disaster relief to earthquake and flood victims, build self-sufficient energy units in remote areas, help feed refugees when wars erupt from Bosnia to Palestine to Nigeria and Afghanistan, build bridges and shelters for villagers, offer microloans to people too poor for banks to acknowledge, and invest $26 million dollars every year to send 1,100 college scholars to study all over the world - more than the Fulbright and Rhodes scholarship programs combined.
Our motto, “Service Above Self,” says much and has inspired almost 2 million people in the world to join Rotary to help in their communities and make their part of the world a better place.
At the end of my sessions with the five classes of third-graders, I started to walk out of the school, now close to lunchtime. A boy eyed me suspiciously as we walked toward each other in the hallway. As we got close, he pointed up at me in sudden recognition and said, “You’re the man who gave me my dictionary two years ago! Thanks - I still use it!”
• James B. Morris, a member of the Rock Creek Rotary, is a writer living in Montgomery County.