By Julia D. Phelps, RI director
As I sat in the audience at the White House on 7 October, listening to 10 amazing Rotary women tell the stories of their volunteer efforts, two quotes kept running through my mind. First, “Be the change you wish to be in the world” (Mahatma Gandhi) and second, “Never underestimate the power of a small group of people to change the world. In fact, it is the only way it ever has” (Margaret Mead).
In fact, these 10 women took these two quotes, put them together and created projects, foundations, and fundraising efforts that changed their world and the world of others. It struck me that all of their efforts started with one woman who saw a need, a problem, and then went about addressing the situation. They didn’t get permission, they didn’t write a business plan; they just got busy. They were brave and courageous as they stepped out to make a difference. And as their idea grew into reality, they realized that they couldn’t do it alone. That’s where their Rotary club members, their networks, and our Rotary Foundation, came into play.
It also struck me that so many of their projects focused on children, in general, but young girls, in particular. Once again, we heard about the power of providing girls with an education, with a safe place to live and learn. The honorees shared with us how their efforts resulted in young girls being able to delay marriage and have children at an older age; how their efforts had stopped prostitution and trafficking of females. Bottom line, how their efforts impacted the community’s economic standing. This message was reiterated by Tina Tchen, Michelle Obama’s Chief of Staff, when she spoke to us.
And then I realized that I was sitting in Washington D.C. because I was fortunate enough to have a family who encouraged and valued education and all it could provide to me. I also had women of action who took me under their wings, women who gave me opportunities, who challenged me, who picked me up when I fell, who took me aside and shared their observation and perspectives. If it were not for these educators: Virginia Heidbreder, Patti Howe, and Valjeane Olean, I would not be sitting here, beaming with pride, overwhelmed with emotion.
With each story of their efforts I thought about the lives that these women have touched, the lives they have literally saved. I thought about the little girls that someday will say, “there was this woman that came to my school and read to me and now I can read” or the little girl that will think about the woman that helped build her a school and now she has educational and vocational options. I thought about the adolescent girls that will someday say, “when I grow up, I want to be like her.” We all want to make a difference and I know there are thousands more women in Rotary that are doing just that. Women that are living our motto Service Above Self every day; women that are Lighting up Rotary.