Shubhaarambha of Rotary International District 3292

Keynote Address by

Kul Chandra Gautam

Kathmandu-Nepal, 3 April 2009

It is a great honour for me to address this first shubhaarambha conference of Rotary International District 3292. This is a doubly happy occasion, as it is not only the auspicious shubhaarambha of Nepal being an independent Rotary district, but also a punaraarambha, or a moment of renewal, as this year marks the golden jubilee of the establishment of the first Rotary Club in Nepal 50 years ago.

May I add, that it is actually a triply happy occasion, because this year also marks the 20thanniversary of women being admitted as full members into Rotary International globally, and very significantly, the admission of the first Nepali woman, Ms. Ambica Shrestha as a full-fledged member of Kathmandu Midtown Rotary Club in 1989.

Congratulations, Ambica Didi, and more power to all the women Rotarians of Nepal. We need your leadership in the new democratic and inclusive Nepal.

Overall, Rotary in Nepal has a glorious history of which we can all be very proud. In preparing for my remarks today, I read through your very impressive report prepared on the occasion of Rotary International’s Centennial celebration in 2005. I commend this book to all new Rotarians and friends of Rotary.

It chronicles how Rotary has evolved from a small single club in Kathmandu in 1959, to the establishment, 18 years later, of a second club in Biratnagar in 1979. From this slow start, there was a spectacular growth of Rotary clubs in the 1990s, eventually reaching over 70 clubs in 18 districts with total membership of over 2000 at present.

More importantly, the book describes vividly an impressive array of welfare and development activities that the Rotarians of Nepal have carried out over the past 5 decades.

These range from support for children’s orphanages to old age homes; from dental care to mental health; from blood donation drives to eye camps; orthopedic centre to cancer hospital; from helping individuals with physical disabilities to providing relief during major natural disasters.

In the field of education, Nepal’s Rotary clubs have provided support for vocational training and adult literacy programmes; language labs and career counseling; training of ANMs, provision of scholarships, youth leadership awards, and support for a pioneering computer education programme to bridge the digital divide.

Rotarians of Nepal have also helped to combat poverty by supporting big and small development programmes, ranging from bee-keeping to micro-credit; from micro-hydel projects to solar energy initiatives, and drinking water projects for deprived communities.

Beyond Nepal, our Rotarians have been great supporters of the highly successful global polio eradication effort.

Congratulations, my friends, for living up to Rotary’s ideals of service above self, and pursuing all 4 avenues of service prescribed for all Rotarians – club service, community service, vocational service and international service.

I am very impressed to note that Rotarians of Nepal have also encouraged and inspired our younger generation to be involved in social service. Rotary in Action or Rotaract are service clubs for youth between the ages of 18 and 30 years. Rotaract clubs were started globally in 1968, and Nepal initiated its first Rotaract club in Birgunj in 1991. Today there are nearly 50 Rotaract clubs with over 500 young members in Nepal.

Members of Rotaract follow its motto – “fellowship through service”. Besides providing service to others, they try to acquire professional skills and leadership qualities for their own growth and development.

I often wonder how marvelous it would be if instead of joining the YCL and Youth Force and other destructive and disruptive youth gangs, more youngsters of Nepal joined and worked in the spirit of Rotaract clubs.

Mind you, this is not an invitation for YCL and Youth Force and others to infiltrate Rotaract, but to be inspired and transform themselves in the spirit of Rotaractors!

I would also like to commend the Inner Wheel Clubs run by the “Wives of Rotarians” who started their own club in Nepal in 1967, before women were allowed to join Rotary as full-fledged members. These clubs have done a great job in social welfare, health, education and support for the elderly, and for physically challenged women and children. We owe much gratitude to these dedicated women for their selfless community service.

It is sometimes said that “Rotary is a rich man’s club”. But the activities and achievements of Rotary in Nepal that I just summarized, indicate that Rotary is actually a club of highly motivated and successful people in different walks of life who are not just talkers but doers dedicated to many worthy causes.

Let us recall that when Rotary was established in 1905, its visionary founder, Paul Harris and other leaders outlined its objectives as fostering the advancement of international understanding, goodwill and peace through a world fellowship of business and professional persons united in the ideal of service.

To ensure that they really live up to such ideals, Rotarians are expected to subject themselves to 4 key tests in judging the appropriateness of their actions:

  • Is it the truth?
  • Is it fair to all concerned?
  • Will it build goodwill and better friendship?
  • Will it be beneficial to all concerned?

Imagine what a peaceful and equitable world it would be, if all of us – especially our political and business leaders, and bureaucrats – subjected their actions to such test everyday!

To its great credit, with its 1.2 million members, in 32,000 clubs, in 200 countries, Rotary International has done a commendable job in bringing together business and professional leaders to provide humanitarian service, encourage high ethical standards in all vocations, and help build peace in the world.

Having devoted all of my professional career in the service of the United Nations, I can testify, based on first-hand experience of working closely with Rotary International in many countries in many projects, that among non-governmental service organizations in the world, Rotary International truly exemplifies the humanitarian spirit of “service above self”.

Like the Red Cross, UNICEF, and other organizations, Rotary took part in providing emergency relief to the victims of conflict during and after World War II. It did so with great courage.

The Nazis in Germany suppressed Rotary clubs and persecuted many Rotarians forcing many clubs to disband or to go underground. Other authoritarian regimes have also tried to suppress Rotary. Under Communist regimes, Rotary Clubs were disbanded from Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union throughout the Cold War period.

Notwithstanding such difficulties, Rotary persisted to be guided by its noble founding principles.

Many Rotarians were involved in the founding of the United Nations, and many leaders of the UN have been Rotarians. Rotary International is accredited to the UN Economic and Social Council and is considered a very special partner in the UN’s work for peace and development.

Perhaps the most well-known of Rotary’s partnership with the UN involves the global campaign to eradicate polio.

In 1985 Rotary International launched PolioPlus, perhaps the most ambitious project undertaken by any service organization in human history.

The original goal of PolioPlus was to immunize all the world’s children against this dreaded disease and to eradicate it from the face of the earth as part of Rotary’s centennial celebration in 2005.

Rotary’s commitment inspired the World Health Organization to officially declare polio eradication as a global goal. It also led to the establishment of a strong international polio eradication partnership with Rotary International, WHO, UNICEF, and the US Centres for Disease Control (CDC) as key partners, supported by many others.

Although the complete eradication of polio has not been achieved yet, the success so far is stunning. Rotary Clubs have raised over half a billion US dollars, mobilized thousands of Rotarians, and helped immunize over 2 billion children.

When this campaign started in the late 1980s, nearly 1000 children used to be infected with polio everyday; there were over 350,000 cases of polio in 125 countries.

Today polio cases have been reduced by 99 percent. Last year we had less than 2000 cases in the whole world, largely confined to 4 endemic countries.

We are hopeful that polio will be eradicated from the face of the earth in the next 2 to 3 years. And when that happens, it will be a great triumph for humanity, just as when we eradicated smallpox which used to kill 5 million people every year.

It is not just the polio endemic countries and communities that will benefit from the eradication of this disease, but the whole world will benefit.

At present, although they have no cases of polio, industrialized countries spend hundreds of millions of dollars every year to vaccinate their children, because until polio is eradicated everywhere, children are not safe anywhere.

Remember, in this rapidly globalizing world, diseases, environmental degradation, and poverty do not need any passport or visa to travel. If we do not tackle them in the poorest countries, not even the richest countries will be safe.

In the field of education, the Rotary Foundation partners with 8 universities around the world and has created Rotary centres for international studies in peace and conflict resolution.

Rotary also sponsors the world’s largest privately-funded international scholarship programme, investing some $26 million for 1200 scholarships in 64 countries every year. Indeed, cumulatively, over 37,000 men and women from 100 nations have already studied abroad under Rotary’s Ambassadorial Scholarships.

Rotary’s contribution to peace and development through such international, as well as local community-based efforts, have been widely recognized, praised and honoured in the world.

Dear friends,

As Rotary enters its 2nd half century and its existence as an independent district in Nepal, it would be very timely for us to rethink what should be its main mission and vision for Nepal, while reaffirming our commitment to Rotary International’s global values and principles?

In your centennial yearbook, editor Bishwa Keshar Maskay notes that while all activities supported by Nepal’s Rotary Clubs are individually very valuable, collectively they are seen as rather scattered, uncoordinated and lacking a special focus. Thus their impact has not been very visible or widely acknowledged.

In its first 50 years, Rotary in Nepal was known for collaborating with others in many micro projects, responding to the wishes of Rotarians and the needs of local communities. For the next 50 years, Rotary might wish to be a lead provider of some selected services in some sectors, and seek the collaboration of others to take Rotary-assisted services directly to the door-steps of ordinary people throughout Nepal.

That would be a rather ambitious dream. But as Bishwaji argues, and I agree, the hallmark of a truly successful organization is to dream a bright future, and to build upon it. So I too would call upon our new Rotary District 3292 to be a “dream factory” – sharing dreams of hope, and of peace and prosperity with fellow Nepalis, and within its means, offering services that are responsive to the needs of the community and of the country at large.

With that in mind, I would recommend 4 types of activities for Rotary Nepal in the coming years:

  1. As Rotary consists of many members who are professionals in a variety of fields, and are prepared to offer their expertise, local Rotary clubs should be able to help worthy causes in their communities as they see fit, and as they do at present.
  1. But the Rotary District as a whole, and the larger and more affluent clubs, should try to pool some resources to launch one or two major nation-wide service projects with the ambition of helping achieve some of the Millennium Development Goals, especially in areas that Rotary International has identified as its global priorities, and which are also relevant for Nepal. These could include, for example, the 3-H programme of enhancing health, alleviating hunger, and improving human development through such activities as drinking water and sanitation, women’s literacy and income generating activities. Rotary Nepal can also seek matching funds and support for such projects from the Rotary Foundation and from other interested sister clubs abroad.
  1. Besides these local and national projects, Rotary Nepal must continue to show its solidarity and participate in some of Rotary International’s flagship global service projects, such as the polio eradication campaign in the whole world.
  1. And finally, my pet suggestion – It would be marvelous if Rotary Nepal could aim to be an exemplary District in the whole world by enlisting, nurturing, supporting and empowering a large number of women members in all of our clubs. In an informative article on Women’s Involvement in Rotary, in your centennial book, Dr. Sushila Malla recounts the history of how women’s role has evolved over time in Rotary, both globally and in Nepal. There are now over 120 women Rotarians in Nepal, and there have already been some 9 women presidents, 1 district secretary, 4 district officers in Nepal’s Rotary movement. Building on this good start, and following the great example of the Biratnagar and Jawlakhel clubs, I would urge our District 3292 to set a goal of having 1/3 women among its members in the next 10 years.

How well can Rotary achieve such ambitious goals, will depend partly on the overall situation of Nepal. We are all hopeful that after decades of violence and suffering, peace and prosperity will come to Nepal soon. But that continues to be our cherished hope rather than an assured outcome.

The people of Nepal are now busy drafting a new national Constitution through our popularly elected Constituent Assembly. We all hope this will finally bring not just a progressive democracy but lasting peace and prosperity to this country.

But we as citizens must continue to be vigilant. In this context, let me repeat what I said last year at Rotary’s peace and development conference. Let us all – as citizens and voters – ask our leaders exactly the kind of questions that Rotarians are supposed to ask.

Do the actions and approaches being proposed to solve this nation’s problems by our political parties and leaders pass the following tests?:

  • Are they really telling us the truth?
  • Are their proposals fair to all concerned?
  • Will their recommended actions build goodwill and harmony in the country?
  • And, will these actions be really beneficial to all concerned?

Let us not accept superficial answers and ideological clichés to these profound questions. Let us not be satisfied with empty slogans and grandiose promises.

Let us demand that our parties and leaders outline for us the specifics of their plans and programmes that demonstrate how we can build a peaceful, prosperous and egalitarian Nepal.

As our dear President, Right Honourable Dr. Ram Baran Yadav, always reminds us, we must seek solutions that are good for all Nepalis, not just for some ethnic groups, some geographic regions, or certain religious communities, but for all Nepalis.

Let this be the occasion when in this land of Lord Buddha, Nepalis repudiate forever the culture of violence and intolerance that has been introduced into Nepal’s body politic in recent years.

Let this also be the occasion when we embark on a peaceful and democratic path to ending centuries of injustice and inequality, so that these evils are not invoked again to justify violence and undermine democracy and universally agreed human rights.

Let us remember that two wrongs do not make a right. As we end one form of authoritarianism, let us guard against some other brand of authoritarianism creeping in.

We count on Rotary, with its glorious history and noble principles, to be a strong partner, as Nepal enters an era of peace and development – with justice and equity – that our people so desperately need and richly deserve.

Thank you.

(Mr. Gautam, a citizen of Nepal, is former Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations, and Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF)