If ever in our lifetime there was a defining moment of earth-shattering proportions – this is it. The generation before us lived through World War II which universally altered the course of our destiny. From time immemorial our predecessors have faced seismic economic collapses, devastating armed conflict, climatic catastrophes, and other traumatic incidences that have led to desperation, death and destruction.
These developments in turn have forced us to remodel personal behavior, restructure established institutions, and generally change our way of life.
The attack on humanity by Coronavirus is monumental to say the least, and if given free rein, it has fatal implications for the future of mankind. Since the outbreak in Wuhan, China in December last year, the numbers of infected people and deaths as a result of contracting the virus, have risen exponentially, causing WHO to declare it a pandemic.
The declaration was the bloodcurdling cry that was needed to jolt the world into action because the initial strides taken by governments to stop the spread of COVID-19 across the globe fell short at best, as the statistics have come to show.
Just as the novel Coronavirus begun to encroach the East African territory, our governments took unprecedented action, closing borders, grounding national carriers and suspending public meetings with the intention to halt its advance through international travellers and person-to-person transmission.
What distinguishes defining moments in our history is not the nature of the crisis that we face, but rather the quality of the decisions that we make. In the wake of the drastic measures taken by our political leaders to address the outbreak we, as Rotary, have had our own decisions to make. These decisions are guided by three simple principles.
The first one is that individual action has the greatest bearing on the disease, and this includes personal hygiene, social distancing and other guidelines outlined by WHO. We must all take individual responsibility to stop the spread of Coronavirus.
The second is to support the government in its initiatives to flatten the curve as indeed it is the concerted effort by the private sector, public institutions, development organizations and society as a whole that will stop this threat. Thirdly it is in sharing messages of hope and reminding people that together we will prevail, and that the disruption in our lives is not only momentary but it is also a crucial part of continuity.
From a global perspective, Rotary International’s Board of Directors has cancelled the international convention scheduled in June as the conditions amid the crisis are not projected to be favorable for hosting an event of this magnitude. This is the first time in history that the annual convention has been cancelled altogether, and even through the World Wars the convention was convened, albeit smaller in scale. The Board has also decided to focus attention and assign resources to fight the pandemic. Funds from the reserves have been allocated to aid the disaster response initiatives across the world, and The Rotary Foundations has embarked on fundraising activities specific to this area.
As it stands locally in District 9212, the district conference 2020 is postponed until further notice and the event committee is reviewing various options before it including outright cancellation. The District Executive Committee is under severe pressure to focus all of Rotary’s activities on addressing COVID-19. With this in mind we have directed Rotarians to suspend all physical meetings and events. And without skipping a beat, clubs across the district have since adopted wholeheartedly virtual meetings on popular video conferencing platforms such as Skype, Go-To-Meetings, and Microsoft Teams.
In direct response to the outbreak, the Executive Committee has set up a Rotary Disaster Response Team to support the national administrations of Kenya, Ethiopia and South Sudan. The task force was set up as a consequence of the clubs’ desire for joint action across the district and it is headed by Dr. Joe Kamau of the Rotary Club of Nairobi-East.
Within 20 days the fundraising team led by Past District Governor Dr. Geeta Manek, has raised in excess of $21,000 in Kenya and Ethiopia, and Prime Bank Kenya has graciously offered to match dollar for dollar the total contributions received. Dr. Kamau’s team has already distributed hand washing stations in Nairobi and Mombasa and now sets its sights on the other hotspots that have been identified by the National Health Departments.
The embodiment of Rotary clubs and their ultimate purpose is to embrace and support communities in need, and thus the world needs Rotary more now than ever before. Never in our lifetime has humanity been better equipped to crush a threat to our wellbeing of these dimensions. We have the technology to track it, the science to beat it, the media to coordinate our united action, and the heart to fight back.
It is through our determination and commitment that we give hope and healing to the world.