Students in Ecuador read books they received through an international project sponsored by the Rotary clubs of Annapolis, Maryland, and Quito Occidente, Ecuador. The project is part of an ongoing collaboration between Rotary and the Organization of American States.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of the Rotary Club of Annapolis, Maryland, USA

Schoolchildren in Ecuador are improving their reading, and their teachers are receiving additional professional development through a collaboration between Rotary and the Organization of American States (OAS).

The effort began three years ago when Richard Carson, RI representative to the OAS, and other Rotary members met with staff at the agency to discuss a set of literacy requirements for schools. They briefed the ministers of education of Central and South American countries on an approach to improve reading skills. Ecuador adopted the plan.

“We flew to Ecuador and met with the vice president of the country, who happened to be a Rotarian, and with many different teaching professionals,” says Carson, a member of the Rotary Club of Bethesda-Chevy Chase, Maryland, USA. “It’s a very successful project involving three Rotary districts and eight clubs.”

To achieve the new academic standards, the program called for additional training for teachers, including how to incorporate new technology into the curriculum. Rachael Blair, who coordinated a global grant project for the Rotary Club of Annapolis, Maryland, USA, said she was moved by how much the teachers appreciated Rotary’s involvement.

“They could not believe that Rotary clubs would take such an interest in their professional development, especially clubs from overseas,” she says. “They reminded me that when you nurture and support others, they shine and bring their very best skills and talents to the table.”

For the past three decades, a network of RI representatives has been strengthening ties with the United Nations, its agencies, and other international organizations, like the League of Arab States and the European Union. The result is bigger projects, like the one in Ecuador.

In Lebanon, Rotary clubs have partnered with the UN’s Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia to teach high school students about the UN Millennium Development Goals, the progress Arab states have made toward reaching them, and the obstacles that remain. The aim is to better educate the younger generation on how they can help achieve the goals.

Michel Jazzar, a member of the Rotary Club of Kerousan, Lebanon, and an RI representative to the UN agency, has also been instrumental in bringing Lebanon clubs together to form a National Rotary Lebanon Fund to coordinate their efforts.

RI representatives monitor activities and advocate for Rotary’s causes within most of the major international institutions. They regularly attend functions at the White House, United Nations, the Commonwealth, and European Union, and they arrange private meetings and organize special events.


One such special event is the annual Rotary gathering at the United Nations building in New York City. This year’s event, 7 November, will celebrate 70 years of partnership and give roughly 1,000 members and guests a chance to hear from experts at the UN and exchange ideas on water, sanitation, hunger, poverty, education, and other topics. A morning youth session is open to high school students, including members of Rotary’s Interact and Youth Exchange programs.

“Just by having a presence at the United Nations building and in meetings of [nongovernmental organizations], it’s given Rotary much greater credibility,” says Joseph Laureni, the primary representative to the UN in New York. “We’re not just a name you see on a billboard.”


The roots of the RI representative network actually predate the formal chartering of the UN after World War II. In 1942, Rotary clubs from 21 nations organized a conference in London where ministers of education developed ideas for advancing education, science, and culture across nations. This meeting was the seed of what is known today as UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization.

Delegations of Rotary members helped draft the UN Charter in San Francisco in 1945 and gave the organization strong support during its early years, until the Cold War turned it into an ideological battleground. Rotary’s participation decreased over the following decades in keeping with its policy against political involvement.

The spark that restored Rotary’s interest in the UN was the launch of the campaign to eradicate polio in 1985 and Rotary’s ensuing partnership with the World Health Organization and UNICEF.


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