At L.A. Convention, Stars Aligned to End Polio

Rotary's goals to eradicate polio and improve health and literacy seemed to become more attainable after the 2008 RI Convention in Los Angeles drew to a close on 18 June.

Literacy, health, and the future of Rotary were in the spotlight 18 June at the fourth plenary session of the RI Convention in Los Angeles.

The convention, which began on Sunday, 15 June, marked the official launch of Rotary's US$100 Million Challenge , a three-year fundraising effort to match a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. In concert with the launch were two tremendous boosts from the World Health Organization and the government of Canada.

On 17 June, Dr. Margaret Chan, director-general of the World Health Organization, announced that WHO is making polio eradication the organization's top operational commitment "on a most urgent, if not an emergency, basis." Chan praised Rotary's conviction and big thinking attitude for the reason polio eradication is within reach.

RI President Wilfrid J. Wilkinson announced on 18 June that he just received a commitment of US$60 million from the Canadian government toward polio eradication.

In a keynote speech on 16 June, Dr. Tadataka Yamada , president of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation's Global Health Program, warned Rotarians that they must not stop too soon in their efforts to eradicate polio. "If we conquer polio, no goal is beyond our reach, and no disease is beyond our capacity," said Yamada. "This is a battle we can't afford to lose."

Throughout the week, Rotary's Wide World of Books, a global literacy initiative, also put the spotlight on literacy. Rotarians from around the world were asked to donate a book. Exactly 242,624 books were collected for public elementary schools in Southern California and Southern Nevada. The response resulted in setting a Guinness world record for the most books donated in seven days.

Danny Girton Jr., an adjudicator for Guinness World Records, confirmed that Rotary now owns the record for Most Books Donated in Seven Days at the final plenary session on Wednesday. "This record demonstrated careful planning, creativity, and a true commitment from the heart," Girton told the audience. "We applaud your efforts and welcome you to the Guinness World Records family."

Ingo Werk, Project Chair, of the Rotary Club of Wilmington, CA, joined Girton on stage to thank and congratulate Rotarians for achieving such a meaningful record. "Everyone here embraced this book drive, and I could not be more proud of our Rotary clubs and more grateful for the support we received from the public," said Werk. Guinness World Records receives more than 60,000 applications a year from people hoping for recognition. Of those, only 3 percent set world records.

Literacy was also highlighted during the fourth plenary session, with a video message from Dolly Parton, country music star and founder of the Imagination Library, talked to Rotarians about her program, which mails a new book every month to children under age five and which Rotary clubs have been helping expand. In an address from Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty, he noted that 800 million people in the world are unable to read, he stressed the need for Rotarians to continue their work in this area.

Stephen Lewis, co-director of the advocacy organization AIDS-Free World, spoke passionately on HIV/AIDS at the fourth plenary session on 18 June and encouraged Rotarians to take action. Drugs commonly used in the United States, meanwhile, can cut transmission by up to 99 percent. "Why is it that the life of an African child is worth so much less than the life of a Western child?" he asked. "There's something wrong with the world's moral anchor," he concluded. "But there are moments of hope and optimism, and Rotary International is one of those moments."

William Asiko, president of the Coca-Cola Africa Foundation, spoke about the importance of partnerships in combating AIDS in Africa. "We [at Coca-Cola] have long been advocates of public-private partnerships," he said. "And our partnership with Rotarians for Fighting AIDS [a Rotarian Action Group] ... is one of which we are particularly proud." He stressed that these partnerships must also address local needs and involve local partners.

Inside the Los Angeles Convention Center, the House of Friendship provided a forum for Rotary Fellowships, Rotarian Action Groups, and club and district projects. Outside, the beautiful Southern California summer served as a scenic backdrop to the Concert under the Stars entertainment event at the Hollywood Bowl.

RI President-elect Dong Kurn Lee concluded the 2008 RI Convention by motivating Rotarians to take action in decreasing the world's child mortality rate. More than 26,000 children die each day from preventable diseases such as pneumonia, measles, and malaria, he said.

Lee told the assembled Rotarians that they are the ones who can make the difference by providing clean water to communities and delivering basic medicines and vaccines to sick children. "I will ask you all to Make Dreams Real for the world's children," Lee said. "This will be our theme, and my challenge to all of you. We will Make Dreams Real by giving children hope and a chance at a future. "

View pictures of eClub NY1's Lady Governor's convention experience here

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