By Sarah Ehlinger Affotey
After receiving an Ambassadorial Scholarship from Rotary in 2011, I put a lot of pressure on myself to “do it right,” or in other words, give Rotary a solid return on its investment. With each passing month in Ghana, what I had first deemed as peripheral – the friendships, conversations, and breakdown of stereotypes – were actually advancing world understanding, goodwill, and peace. How ingenious that this scholarship allowed me to advance Rotary’s mission subconsciously?
Despite all these “non-tangible” returns, at the end of my master’s program in Ghana I was itching for real-world action. While waiting for my thesis review and graduation schedule (sometimes a yearlong process), a Rotarian from my host club told me about her NGO on the outskirts of Accra. She mentioned the community suffered from a large waste pile contaminating their water. With my background in environmental health, I immediately latched onto the potential project but didn’t know how to help make it happen.
We tried to crowd source funds to no avail. I was back in the US presenting at a district conference and figured it wouldn’t hurt to mention the project. As it turned out, the president of the Houghton Rotary Club at the time had immunized children against polio in Ghana a decade before and was excited by the idea. If it weren’t for that serendipity, I’m not sure the project would have materialized.
It was also good timing because I knew the incoming district governor; past president of the Appleton Rotary Club, which sponsored my Ambassadorial Scholarship. So, when I returned to Ghana to write a global grant, I had the support of leadership back in the US finding the necessary club contributions. Rotary’s amazing network came through when it mattered. And it couldn’t have happened if not for my scholarship.
What started as one Rotary scholarship turned into countless lifelong relationships, three successful Rotary projects, and a career in global health.
A takeaway for other scholars from my experience is that giving many, many presentations back in the US after my scholarship allowed me to become a familiar face. That helped as I reached out for assistance on the grant. A takeaway for Rotarians on my experience is that scholars are receptive for project opportunities (not just one-time service outings). Our energy, on the ground experience, and role as liaisons between clubs and countries can be invaluable for projects.
After having one global grant experience under my belt, I was able to give more presentations on that project. This led to my involvement with another global grant for a water project in Sierra Leone and a district grant for a water project in Ghana.
Sometimes the activation energy required to start a project is daunting, but once a snowball begins to form, it rapidly increases in size. What started as one Rotary scholarship turned into countless lifelong relationships, three successful Rotary projects, and a career in global health. Rotary scholars recognize that we are investments. We truly appreciate the help in creating sustainable returns!
Download the Global Grant Scholarships Supplement to learn more about making an investment in future leaders.
Sarah Ehlinger Affotey was a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar in 2011-2012. She studied Geography and Resource Development at the University of Ghana and now works for the Milwaukee Global Health Consortium.