A quest for international service led to my Rotary moment

By Jerry Kallman, Past President of the Rotary Club of Ridgewood, New Jersey, USA, and inspiration for the Rotary Club of The Palisades’ Kenya Project.

Jerry Kallman in Kenya

When I first served as president of the Rotary Club of Ridgewood in 2008, I sought out an international service project to complement the several community service activities our club traditionally supported. During that year’s District Conference, I learned the Rotary Club of Maywood, also in New Jersey, was supporting a school in the Maasai Mara Reserve of southern Kenya. My wife Lorraine and I joined the club’s annual visit to Kenya, with the intention of emulating their experiences while seeking out a school of our own to support.

In Kenya we found the Kishermoruak Primary School. After an informational meeting and learning session with the head teacher, who had never heard of Rotary, we agreed to a partnership. We drew up a wish list of project ideas based on community needs and as they say, the rest was history. Over the past eight years our club has:

  • Provided hot nutritious lunches for each student every school day;
  • Constructed and refurbished many classrooms, an administrative block of offices and a library;
  • Installed a deep water well serving over a thousand villagers and built a hand washing station for students;
  • Supported a three-year program in bee-keeping for mothers, empowering them to earn their own income and support their families;
  • Sent more than a dozen graduates to high school, and six onward to university;
  • Introduced feminine hygiene products for girls, allowing them to continue attending classes during their menstrual cycle;
  • Arranged eye exams, administered anti-worm pills, treated ring worm, and provided access to other health care services.

My wife and I time our annual visit for July when school is in session. Our visits always coincide with a meeting of the parents’ council, who we work with closely on every major decision. They have been important partners, contributing to projects with materials and labor, thus not only supporting the local economy but also giving them ownership of each program.

Funding for these initiatives has come from donations from my own club members, other Rotary clubs in the district, generous family members and Rotary friends around the world who have learned about the program through my publicity efforts.

During a recent visit, I met a group 20 girls who were new students at the school. The head teacher explained the girls had all escaped abusive homes or the threat of female genital mutilation or an arranged marriage. The head teacher asked me to help distribute uniforms we had brought for them, and I presented each girl with a blouse, jumper and sweater package. As each slightly excited youngster entered the office, she bowed her head in the traditional Maasai show of respect and in turn, I obligingly placed my hand on each head. When all 20 uniforms were presented, the girls scampered away, only to reappear ten minutes later, all giggles and smiles, wearing their new attire.

“This is the first time I have seen them smile in the six weeks they have been here at school,” said the head teacher. This was a true Rotary moment for me, and for them as well.

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