In the late 1990s, I traveled on business to an African country I had never visited before. While there, I met a Rotarian who offered to take me on a driving tour of the province, and I was happy to accept. An hour or so outside the capital, we stopped in a small village of mud-brick huts, with straw roofs and dirt floors. As I walked past one hut, I heard a sound that made me stop – the weak sound of a crying baby.
Squinting into the darkness, I could make out a shape on the floor. As my eyes adjusted, I realized that I was looking at a woman, lying on a mat with an infant. Her child was trying to nurse, but the woman was exhausted and ill and had no milk. It was obvious that both were starving.
My first instinct was to reach into my pockets, to give them money, to find food, to help in any way I could. How could I walk away and leave that mother and that child to die, alone together in the darkness? And in that instant I realized that this horror was by no means unique. All over Africa, all over the developing countries of the world, children were dying – of hunger, of disease, of poverty.
When I returned home, I began to read more about the issue of child mortality. It became clear to me that this was an area in which Rotarians could make a major impact. This is why, when I became president of Rotary International, I chose Make Dreams Real as the RI theme and asked Rotarians to work through our emphases of water, health and hunger, and literacy to reduce child mortality in our world.
As I end my year as RI president, I am inexpressibly proud of the work I have seen Rotarians do. When I first learned about the problem of child mortality, 30,000 children were estimated to die of preventable causes every day. Now, UNICEF reports that figure at about 25,000 – still far too large a number, but a significant decrease. There is no question in my mind that Rotary’s service has played a role in this change – and that we must continue our work until not one child dies of hunger and poverty. And so I ask you all to continue to Make Dreams Real in the new Rotary year. The Future of Rotary Is in Your Hands – and the future of the world’s children is as well.
Dong Kurn (D.K.) Lee
President, Rotary International