The '09 R. I. Conference Closing Plenary Speakers

Mia Farrow

Farrow speaks out on polio, Darfur

Actress Mia Farrow, UNICEF goodwill ambassador, gives the keynote address 23 June during the third plenary session at the 2009 RI Convention in Birmingham, England. Rotary Images/Monika Lozinska-Lee

Actress and UNICEF goodwill ambassador Mia Farrow said she understands the devastation of polio and the importance of eradicating the virus. Farrow survived polio as a child and adopted a son from India who had contracted the disease.

"Polio is a terrible, terrible disease. We are right to be pushing for the end of it," Farrow said during the third plenary session of the 2009 RI Convention on 23 June. "We are almost there, we just have to push a little further."

She focused the second half of her address on promoting the health and safety of children -- a message that dovetails with RI President Dong Kurn Lee's emphasis on reducing child mortality -- and the need to protect the people of Darfur, Sudan.

She recounted how in 2004 a woman in Darfur gave her a protective amulet to wear around her neck and asked her to tell the world about what was happening there. The woman said, "Please go out and tell the world. Tell them we will all be slaughtered." Farrow said meeting that woman changed her life. "That's the whole of what I do now. I try to fulfill my promise."

Toward that promise, Farrow showed Rotarians slide after slide of victims of the atrocities in Darfur -- men who had had their eyes cut out by marauders; a woman who had been shot through the back, which killed the child she was carrying; an infant dying of malnutrition; and entire villages burned to the ground.

"After six years, what message have we sent to Darfur?" Farrow asked. "Only that they are dispensable. If we look back and realize we failed the people of Darfur, we will not only have failed them, but we will have failed ourselves."

In a press conference after the plenary session, Farrow said it will take the will of the people to move governments to act. "There is undeniably genocide that has occurred and will occur," she said. "The defining moment for all of us is what are we going to do about it?"

Farrow talked about the good work of Rotarians and how they are an amazing group of people who are capable of doing whatever they set their mind to accomplishing. She urged Rotarians not to give up fighting against polio. "Yes, it costs money," she said. "But we won't have to do that once we have eradicated polio. Then all that money can go to something else.

"I do think Rotarians are unusual in that they are so galvanized to action," she said. "All of them are committed to helping other people, and they are able to galvanize other people to help. "I love Rotary," she added. "It is the best thing that has ever happened.


Dr. Jane Goodall

Goodall finds common ground with Rotary

Dr. Jane Goodall, the renowned primatologist and humanitarian, addressed the fourth plenary session of the 2009 RI Convention in Birmingham, England, on 24 June, stressing the potential for using the common ground her organization shares with Rotary to effect change.

Goodall, the founder of the Jane Goodall Institute for Wildlife Research, Education, and Conservation and a United Nations messenger of peace, greeted the audience "in chimpanzee," imitating the vocalizations of the animals she studied for years in Gombe, Tanzania. She said her research revealed a common bond that humans share with animals and the environment. An awareness of this bond can lead to the development of holistic community service projects that involve the community members themselves in problem solving, she said.

The institute's Lake Tanganyika Catchment Reforestation and Education (TACARE) scholarship fund provides family-planning instruction from peer educators who live in poverty near Gombe. "The [young women] have their own lives now. They look forward to a future where their children will not have to suffer the way they did as young people," said Goodall. "Rotarians in Tanzania have helped us with this project, just as Rotarians have helped us in other parts of the world."

Goodall also stressed the common ground that her institute's Roots & Shoots program shares with Rotary youth programs such as Rotaract . Roots & Shoots is a community-based program targeted at young people that involves tens of thousands of participants in 111 countries. She asked Rotarians, who share many of her concerns, for continued collaboration. Read more about Roots & Shoots in a Q&A with Goodall .

"That's what Rotarians are all about: seeing that appeal for help and doing something about it. We need teamwork, we need a network -- that's what you have, that's what we have," she said. "Let's put the networks together, and together make this a better world. Together, let's create the change we must create if we care as we do about our children and grandchildren and theirs."

Further call to action came from Deepa Willingham, of the Rotary Club of Santa Ynez Valley, California, USA, who discussed the problem of extreme poverty during the plenary session.

"Currently, half the human population is living on less than [US]$2 per day and that, my friends, is something we should be concerned about," said Willingham. She went on to describe the three broad categories of poverty: extreme, moderate, and relative.

Willingham discussed a project she initiated that focuses on a community in India living in extreme poverty, with no access to clean water or sanitation resources. Inspired by the 2003-04 RI theme, Lend a Hand , Willingham developed Promise of Assurance to Children Everywhere (PACE Universal), which helps educate 130 young girls who might otherwise become part of the sex trade.

The session closed with a preview of the 2010 RI Convention in Montréal, Québec, Canada , slated for 20-23 June. Robert S. Scott, chair of the 2010 convention committee, and Linda Bradley, chair of the Host Organization Committee, addressed the audience in French and English, waving Canadian flags and accompanied by Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

Source: Rotary International News


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