President’s Comment – 19 Mar 17

These are great Rotary Stories below:

What has Rotaract done for me?

By Emily Wood, Rotaract Club of South-West Brisbane, Australia

I’ve been a member of RotaractRotary’s community service and professional development program for young leaders age 18-30 — for ten years. As I age out or “graduate,” I’ve started thinking about what Rotaract has done for me and how it’s shaped who I am today. A decade is a long time to stick with something. So, why have I?

Opportunity. Through Rotaract, I’ve had the opportunity to do many amazing things:

  • I’ve traveled the world to experience different cultures and participate in projects.
  • I’ve lived and studied abroad as a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar.
  • I’ve attended four Rotary International Conventions (Montreal, Bangkok, Lisbon and Sydney) where I’ve heard from and connected with some truly impressive individuals who are making the world a better place.
  • I’ve attended RYLA (Rotary Youth Leadership Award), a week-long personal and professional development program that helps you figure out what you want in life and equips you with the skills you need to achieve your goals.
  • I’ve received training in leadership, time management, project planning, event coordination, public speaking, governance, and much more.
  • I’ve served on local, national and international committees, helping shape the future of this great organisation.
  • I’ve been given free rein to develop and implement public relations, marketing and advertising campaigns for my club and district.

Experience. At the age of 23, I was invited to serve on the Rotary District 9630 Public Relations Committee. In my first year, I helped deliver new brand positioning (informed by research I undertook as part of my post-graduate degree), a bus advertising campaign, a new district website, new marketing collateral, and media and communication skills training. I will be forever grateful to the Rotarians who put their faith in me, and gave me the opportunity to test and further develop my skills. Not many people receive opportunities like this so early in their careers.

Confidence. Long gone is the girl who was terrified of public speaking — or even putting forward opinions in a meeting. Rotaract helped me overcome my fears. It’s amazing how fear slips away when you are in a comfortable, supportive environment, surrounded by people who share your passions. As president of my club, I gained invaluable people and project management skills, and developed the confidence to chair meetings, plan projects and run training sessions. I’ve since served as a keynote speaker and panelist at local, national and international conferences, speaking to audiences of 200-plus people. I’ve also established a reputation at work for being calm and confident under pressure.

Life-long friendships. Rotaract has given me the most amazing network of friends — here at home and in almost every corner of the globe. These wonderful individuals have made my life so much richer. They are passionate and talented, and make a real and tangible difference in the lives of others. We’ve shared many adventures and I look forward to sharing many more.

This week is World Rotaract Week. It’s the last time I’ll be celebrating as a Rotaractor, but not the last time I’ll be celebrating this great organisation.

If you’re a young adult aged 18 to 30 interested in helping others, developing new skills and having a great time, then Rotaract is for you. Find a club and get involved — you won’t regret it!


Being the oxygen that fuels the flame (of service)

Vasanth Kuppuswamy motivates students in Tamil Nadu, India.

By Bill Smyth, Rotary Club of Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina, USA

It’s not every day that an eighth-grade student’s essay rivets a teacher’s attention. But this one themed “The Oxygen That Fueled the Flame” got mine.

The essay, written by a student at Buist Academy in Charleston, South Carolina, USA, described his experience two summers earlier teaching English in Tamil Nadu, India, motivated by a desire to make a difference in kid’s lives. The story would have been powerful enough if the student had been of high school age, but this was the story of a 12-year-old boy.

I met Vasanth Kuppuswamy, and told him he had a wonderful story and needed to tell it. We agreed he should come to my school and speak to my seventh graders. We arranged for a lunch time presentation that January and the rest is history.

Students and Rotary clubs in South Carolina were inspired to help by Kuppuswamy’s description of crowded classrooms with no walls.

As my students watched the slideshow and listened to the story of two schools in the middle of south-central India, they were sad, disturbed, and a little mad. They had never seen or heard anything like this before, of students having to sit on the cement floor for their lessons in classrooms that held 75 children. The classrooms had no chairs or desks. There were few books or school supplies. The class was moved to raise money, which began at $300 and grew to $8,000 before the semester ended.

With the funds, the Indian school was able to purchase new desks and benches that summer. School supplies came next, then science equipment and ceiling fans. A wall was built around the school to keep animals out.  A year later, the school added a wing for eight grade classrooms. They added a generator, and hired a contractor to build a basketball court. The school even had enough money to buy uniforms for its Scout troop.

But that wasn’t all. Vasanth raised additional funds to buy a water system from Water Mission. A Rotarian shipped it to India with the help of OOCL, the company he worked for.  Villagers helped assemble the parts sent in four crates and dug a water line from the water tower to the building housing the water system. It was a lot of work, but the villagers and students wanted a clean water supply.

All of this took place between 2005 to 2007. Since then, Vasanth established an after-school exam prep program for 10th and 12th graders so they could pass their country’s national exams and go to college. He added a summer acceleration program for incoming sixth graders. He also bought four acres of land behind the school to continue adding onto the school, began a school library, and assembled a computer lab. About 40 students are now going to college every year.

Two Rotary grants enabled Vasanth to provide first aid supplies to 150 area elementary schools and feminine hygiene products for girls in all area high schools. His work has now expanded into providing healthcare for infants through partnering with Healthy Children, Brighter Futures. Four nurses visit the homes of newborns in the area to make sure every child receives the care needed for a healthy start to life. Mothers receive information about nutrition and child-rearing.

Vasanth graduates from medical school in May 2017. He will do a residency in internal medicine in the United States for three years and then establish a medical practice where the needs are the greatest. But someday he says he will return to India and build a medical clinic to serve the needs of all the people in this part of India.

Why is this project so significant? It was spearheaded by one student who cared enough to give his all, one teacher who shared his dream and became his mentor, six local schools and students in other states who raised funds year after year for each project, and eight Rotary clubs who got behind each project and made them possible. With everyone working together, these projects exceeded everyone’s expectations.

View photos of our progress at

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