R. I. President Message


RI President 2020-21 Holger Knaack - May 2021

Dear Fellow Rotarians, Rotaractors, and friends,

For years, Susanne and I hosted many Rotary Youth Exchange students in our home. This program was an entry point to Rotary for me, and my heart is truly in it. When Rotary’s exchange programs were suspended because of COVID-19 to keep students and families safe, we felt sorry, especially for the participants, because those years cannot be repeated.

Because of the many uncertainties of the pandemic, the Rotary Board has decided to suspend in-person exchanges through June 2022. As we look ahead with hope, we thank Youth Exchange officers, host families, and volunteers for their contributions in years past, and we encourage districts to offer virtual exchanges as a way of connecting students around the world with each other and with our communities.

For those who are not able to participate in Rotary Youth Exchange, Rotary offers other opportunities. New Generations Service Exchange (NGSE) is a Rotary program that deserves wider recognition: It is an excellent opportunity for young people ages 18 to 30 to participate in community service as individuals or in a group and to gain internship experience. Simukai Matshalaga, a Rotaractor from Zimbabwe, stayed with us in Ratzeburg during her NGSE experience three years ago.

When I applied for the New Generations Service Exchange program, I did not realize that I was signing up for a life-changing experience. This program gave me that opportunity and much more. It taught me about the importance of failing fast, learning quicker, and being myself.

Some of my greatest experiences happened at the dinner table. The warmth and kindness of every home I lived in still resonate with me today. It took me weeks to understand how a stranger could care for me as deeply as these members of the Rotary family did. I am inspired by the lessons of humility I learned from all the amazing people I met. I came to understand a new culture and realized that the only things that separate us as people are our experiences and, at times, our false assumptions.

Professionally, it gave me confidence in my own abilities as an engineer. Seeing how other organizations handled problems made me aware that the best person to solve the challenges in my country was me. Returning home from northern Germany, I declined a promotion, quit my job, and began building a family business — a decision that previously I would have never made, out of fear.

I am indebted to the Rotary family. I am not sure whether the friends, mentors, and families I left behind knew that they changed my life permanently. I hope they now do.

New Generations Service Exchange changed Simukai’s life. It can change yours, too. All Rotary members can experience something similar at any time: I encourage everyone to take a virtual journey this month and visit meetings of other clubs online. You will see how different Rotary is around the world as you meet great people and make new friends.

Let us build upon these connections forged online — and later, when the time is right, enjoy in-person exchanges through Rotary Friendship Exchange, another excellent program for Rotary members of all ages.

Our ability to meet in person is limited now, but we know that Rotary Opens Opportunities, always. Now is the time to get ready, so that when the pandemic is behind us, Rotary’s exchange programs will come back stronger than before, serving a world that is yearning to reconnect.

President 2020-21

Trustee Chair's Message - May 2021

K.R. Ravindran
Rotary Club of Colombo
Western Province, Sri Lanka

Trustee chair's message

In the classic film Lawrence of Arabia, Peter O’Toole plays T.E. Lawrence, the British scholar, military officer, and author who helped Arab tribes in their struggle for independence against the Ottoman Empire.

Lawrence leads a group of Bedouin warriors through the desert for a surprise attack on the Ottoman port of Aqaba. As they reach the end of the desert, they discover that a soldier, Gasim, has fallen off his camel during the night. But it is morning, and the tribesmen, led by Sherif Ali, played in the movie by Omar Sharif, advise Lawrence that going back to find him would be futile, that Gasim would already be dead given the sandstorms and the scorching heat. “Gasim’s time has come; it is written,” one of the soldiers tells Lawrence.

But Lawrence does go back and finds Gasim near death, staggering in the dunes. When they return to camp, Ali offers Lawrence water. Before taking a drink, Lawrence looks at him and says: “Nothing is written.”

This unforgettable scene means more than just a quotable movie line; it represents a way of looking at the world. It is a challenge to fatalism — that we must accept a certain outcome because of the way it has always been. No, Lawrence says, history is not written, yet.

So it is with The Rotary Foundation. We have not yet emerged from the sandstorm of the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic fallout from it. We are still occupied by work to raise awareness, deliver critical personal protective equipment, and provide support for frontline workers.

We do not know the day when, standing beside our polio eradication partners, we will announce that for the second time in history, a disease has been eradicated. We do know that, because we have worked steadfastly for years, the end of that story will be written soon.

And thanks to a $15.5 million contribution from the Otto & Fran Walter Foundation, we are also adding a new chapter in the story of our expansion of the Rotary Peace Centers: Plans are underway to launch a new peace certificate center in the Middle East or North Africa.

Rotary is engaged in so many noble efforts; it is an ongoing story that inspires me even more than Lawrence of Arabia. We do not yet know the name of the baby whose life will be saved because of a maternal and child health grant from Rotary, or the name of the girl who will learn to read with our support. When will those grants start, and will your district — or you — be directly involved?

Nothing is written. We write it.


K.R. Ravindran
Trustee Chair 2020-21

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