R. I. President and Trustee Message


RI President 2021-22 Shekhar Mehta- Sep 2021

Dear Fellow Rotarians, Rotaractors, and friends,

I am sure you are having an enriching experience as you Serve to Change Lives. One of the ways you can make the greatest change in a person’s life is to help them learn to read. Literacy opens up the world to us. It makes us better informed about life in our own communities and opens vistas to other cultures. Reading and writing connects people and gives us another way to express our love for one another.

September is Basic Education and Literacy Month in Rotary. Enhancing literacy skills is critical in our pursuit of reducing poverty, improving health, and promoting peace. In fact, if all students in low-income countries left school with basic reading skills, it would result in a significant cut in global poverty rates.

Without education, illiterate children become illiterate adults. Today, 14 percent of the world’s adult population — 762 million people — lack basic reading and writing skills. Two-thirds of that group are women. Literacy and numeracy skills are essential to obtaining better housing, health care, and jobs over a lifetime.

Especially for girls and women, literacy can be a life-or-death issue. If all girls completed their primary education, there would be far fewer maternal deaths. And a child is more likely to survive past age 5 if he or she is born to a mother who can read. Improving outcomes for more people worldwide is possible only if countries remove barriers to education for girls. The economic argument for doing so is clear: In some countries where schooling is geared toward boys, the cost of missed economic opportunity is more than $1 billion per year.

Empowering people through education is among the boldest goals we have as Rotarians. We don’t have to travel far from our homes to encounter those whose lives are being curtailed because they struggle with reading, rely on others to read for them, or cannot write anything more than their own name.

Starting this month, consider how your club can Serve to Change Lives through literacy: Support local organizations that offer free programs to support adult literacy or local language learning, or that provide teachers with professional development centered around reading and writing. Become literacy mentors, or work with an organization like the Global Partnership for Education to increase learning opportunities for children around the world. Have conversations with local schools and libraries to see how your club can support their existing programs or help create needed ones in your community.

In India, the TEACH program, a successful collaboration between the country’s Rotary clubs and its government, has demonstrated how to scale up literacy efforts to reach millions of children. And at a time when schools across India were closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the program’s e-learning component reached more than 100 million children through national television.

Literacy is the first step out of poverty. As Nobel laureate Malala Yousafzai has noted, “One child, one teacher, one book, and one pen can change the world.”

Shekhar Mehta
President 2021-22

Trustee Chair's Message - September 2021

John F. Germ
Trustee Chair 2021-22
Chattanooga, Tennessee

Trustee chair's message

Malala Yousafzai is a young Pakistani activist for the education of girls and women. As a teenager, Malala, whom the world knows by her first name, courageously spoke out for the rights of girls to learn. Extremists in her country disagreed with Malala, and she was shot by a Taliban gunman on her way home from school.

But the attack didn’t dissuade her; it made her more determined. As soon as she recuperated, she resumed her mission of education activism. Today the Malala Fund supports education through projects around the world.

Not only is Malala an inspiration for Rotary members, we also have some commonalities: a drive to do what is right, a passion for literacy, and the power to transform dreams into reality.

One of my life mottos is: If you can dream it, you can do it. This applies to everything Rotarians do, particularly with The Rotary Foundation. We literally make our dreams happen.

Like Malala, we know that literacy is, for many, the first step out of poverty. To put our vision into action, we first understand a community and the unique problems of its members, and then form a partnership with them. Next we join forces with others — exchanging ideas with clubs in other districts, and working with people and organizations outside of Rotary.

Our solution, in the form of a district grant or global grant, will be tailored for that community. And if it’s a Rotary grant, you can bet it will be well-planned, strategic, and most of all, sustainable. We want that gift of literacy to not be a one-time book donation but a plan to transform a community over time.

Over the years, I have seen countless literacy efforts in Rotary, from national programs to local projects. When the global COVID-19 pandemic hit last year, many clubs took action to help communities adjust to online schooling, including providing laptop computers. Rotary’s solutions are endless, our volunteers tireless. And if I know Rotarians, I know that more solutions are being created as I write these words.

Rotary’s passion for literacy and education projects is well-known. So is our commitment to make them happen. You, through Rotary, are a big part of helping people take their first step out of illiteracy, out of poverty, and into something much better. Remember, if you can dream it, you can do it — just like Malala.


John F. Germ
Trustee Chair 2021-22

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