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Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Paul Harris Fellow - What the Rotary Foundation Means to Me

Thank you Amy Chipman and the Rotary Club of Portland!

Heartfelt humility and gratitude are among the emotions I felt on June 1st, when Amy Chipman and the Portland Rotary presented me with a surprise Honorary Paul Harris Fellow.  I'm sincerely appreciative for this surprise recognition, because I've seen some of the thousands of disadvantaged people around the globe who are helped by the Rotary Foundation. It's largely because of the work of Rotary International and the Paul Harris Foundation that I'm honored to be a Rotarian.

My family lived for three years in the Philippines, where I witnessed thousands of Filipino people who carved a living with leftovers of the US military presence.  I saw women buy one carrot in the public market, or just one leaf of cabbage, because they couldn't afford to purchase food by the kilo.  My seamstress saved her salary to buy one used bed mattress from me, but I wouldn't let her pay for it.  

Frankly, a lot of debauchery, also, resulted from the decades of American military presence in the Philippines. Nonetheless, my family's experience was enriched by knowing many hard working people like Norma and Ester, Father Hofstee (an American Benedictine Priest who lived with the lepers in Tala) and the Irish Colomban missionary priests and nuns, to name a few. They all worked, hoped and prayed for a better life for their communities and Filipino families.

Norma was one of our family's industrious maids. She craved a better life for her only son by helping him to study so he could enlist in the US Navy.  At the time we lived in Subic Bay, in the 1970s, a Filipino national could apply to enlist in the US Navy where, if accepted, they typically worked in service rates to support mess halls or in officers quarters.  The type of work didn't matter, because Norma knew a life in the US Navy would offer her son a better chance at opportunity for the future.  But, her son had to pass an English language proficiency exam. So, Norma saved all her extra money for the purpose of paying to install one - just one- electric line to her humble house so her son could benefit from using an electric light bulb while he studied his English!

I saw Colomban missionary nuns care for the children of Filipino prostitutes because their mother's needed the work to keep the family from desperation. When the women eventually decided to give up their lives on the streets, the nuns would return the children to their mothers.  But prostitution was often the only way thousands of women could earn money to help their families.

It doesn't take a large amount of money to help industrious people in developing countries to achieve a better quality of life. What it takes are people or organizations dedicated to reaching out with financial or humanitarian help. People like Dr. Roger and Mrs.Elizabeth Fagan, of Portland, who bring audiology expertise to people in the Dominican Republic.  It takes the help of wonderful philanthropic organizations, like Rotary International.

Many woman can apply for access to micro grants through the Rotary Foundation to help start cottage industries, thereby avoiding the specter of prostitution, where they often wind up sentenced with prison time before leaving this line of degrading work. In other words, women can become productive citizens, rather than a drain on their communities, when given a chance to earn their living in industrious ways.  They can become seamstresses or masters at designing functional handiwork when offered a small loan to start their own businesses.

I know the money given to the Rotary Foundation is used for noble purposes because thousands of Rotarians from all over the world will attest to the value of the projects awarded these funds.

Thank you Rotary Club of Portland for recognizing my enthusiastic support for the humanitarian work of the Rotary Foundation with an honorary Paul Harris Fellow.  I am grateful on behalf of the people who are helped by our Foundation's tremendous dedication and good work.  I encourage everyone to learn more about how the Paul Harris Fellowship works and contribute to this very worthwhile and important organization.



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