True to their motto “Service Above Self”, Rotary International (RI) for over a century has brought together business and professional leaders in order to provide humanitarian service to advance goodwill and peace around the world.
Recently, selected RI President, Shekhar Mehta of India paid a visit to Ethiopia to have talks with government officials as well as interact with Rotarians within the country. A Rotary member since 1984, Mehta has served Rotary as director, member or chair of several committees, zone coordinator, training leader, member of The Rotary Foundation Cadre of Technical Advisers, and district governor. He is also the chair of Rotary Foundation (India). As a strong proponent of Rotary’s strategic plan, Mehta says he will encourage clubs to use action plans and reinforce the core values of Rotary. Capital sat down with the RI president for a share of his views as Rotarians prepare to conduct Polio National immunization days in the coming few weeks. Excerpts;
Capital: What is the purpose of your visit?
Shekhar Mehta: As president of Rotary International, I chose Africa as the first continent to visit. The idea is to insure that we grow more and do more as Rotary International in Africa. To me Africa is the huge treasure of rotary. There is so much scope both as membership as well as doing meaningful work. I am trying to meet these countries heads of state discussing how rotary is helping in their countries. In my visit in Ethiopia I had the privilege to meet the president and the deputy prime minister and had detailed discussions.
Capital: Rotary is known for its works in Polio eradication, what is the current status of polio in the world?
Shekhar Mehta: Rotaries started their journey on Polio eradication 75 years back. Throughout those years we have reached millions of children in 135 countries.
This year, of the last seven months there has not been a single case of polio around the world. The only two countries that are left are Pakistan and Afghanistan. If the two countries do not have cases for the coming five months then we will hopefully be polio free.
Last year Nigeria was the last African country to be certified as polio free by WHO, thus the entire Africa region was certified as polio free. We consider this a big battle that continues to be won as we have given polio vaccines to more than 3 billion children, spending billions of dollars in the process.
Capital: What did you observe from your visit?
Shekhar Mehta: Firstly, I would like to say I am very happy with what I have seen. What I observed is that Rotarians are doing some very meaningful. For example, the good skill Projects worth five million dollars are in the pipeline. Moreover, the Rotarians here have a good connectivity with the government which is impressive.
Capital: During your visit you have met with the president and deputy prime minister. What was the discussion about?
Shekhar Mehta: We had fruitful discussions which flowed both ways. The discussion from their side was full of praise for the Rotary for its works in Polio eradication. Likewise from our end, we convinced them that we are ready to upscale our work on: Literacy, water sanitation, health issues and other initiatives to enhance the capacity and ability of government.
Capital: What’s your overall take on government’s support?
Shekhar Mehta: It is excellent. Both the president as well as the Deputy Prime Minister expressed deep interest and said they are very happy to support rotary. As earlier mentioned, they are full of praise for the work of Rotary with regards to Polio eradication. I am sure Rotary Ethiopia will enjoy fruitful relationship with government for many years to come.
Capital: Government is currently working on literacy. So, how do you see Rotary club aligning itself to this?
Shekhar Mehta: As I said, when I explained to the Deputy Prime Minister about the program on e-learning, he showed his interest that they would like to have a look at that and see whether that is something that they can work in. If it can work, then we will tweak it to make it usable.
Capital: As part of its peace and conflict resolution program, is there anything rotary is planning to engage in Ethiopia’s current situation?
Shekhar Mehta: Currently we have not involved ourselves in the peace and conflict resolution program for the country. But if called upon am certain that we can provide due support.
Capital: Any other new projects rotary is planning in Ethiopia?
Shekhar Mehta: Apart from the polio eradication we are working on several initiatives as rotary international, this includes: Literacy, education, water sanitation, health, economic development and environment and conflict resolution. Moreover there are project related to empowering girls. Empowering girls is a major thematic area in this. Everywhere around the world Rotarians are working in empowering girls, whether it is in education, literacy or health water sanitation. Literacy has also become a mega project because of the successes of the Polio; education similarly has a big role in nation building.
We have discussed this area with the government, especially on hygiene management, nutrition issues, education and skill development for girls. We also have lots of people who are trained in conflict resolution since there is a huge need for people who are expert in conflict resolution, we can offer our expertise in the same.
Capital: What is Rotary‘s role in coping with COVID-19?
Shekhar Mehta: We have played a role in providing masks, sanitizers and PPEs. We have done this in the past now everybody has the access so we don’t really need to do that. But the other thing we are doing is providing ventilator, oxygen making machines and so on in the world.
In Ethiopia previously we have given 20 million birr worth of PPEs to the Ministry of Health and we will continue until we have managed the Covid-19 hurdle. These are still things that we are ready to do, but purchase of vaccines have been left everywhere to governments.