Last week, Rotarians from diverse backgrounds from all over District 3300 in Malaysia, met to exchange views, and strengthen their bond.
The highlight of the Rotary District 3300 Conference was the Governor’s Banquet held in the ballroom of a hotel in Subang Jaya, Selangor, on March 11 . It was an event filled with laughter, and a whole lot of photo-taking to document the memorable night.
But beyond the happy faces were several pressing issues facing the international service movement.
For starters, the dwindling number of youths joining Rotary is a cause for concern, impacting the overall number of Rotarians. But this isn’t a problem exclusive to District 3300.
Equally disconcerting is the lack of diverse participation of youths, namely school students, through the Interact Club.
Twentytwo13 was informed by a parent that her daughter’s school in Selangor described Interact Club as for “non-Muslims” only. When the school authorities were confronted by the parent, they immediately dropped the “non-Muslims” label and opened it to all.
For the record, there is no written directive from the Education Ministry that restricts a student from participating in Interact Clubs based on his or her religious beliefs.
Certain quarters shy away from Interact, Rotaract, or even Rotary, claiming that these movements are associated with the Jews, linked to Freemasons, and promote “liberal” views. This issue has been debated for decades, in Malaysia and beyond.
“It is a problem, without a doubt. I think, we Muslim Rotarians, must quickly engage with school principals to make them understand what it is that we do,” said a Rotarian based in Kuala Lumpur.
“We need to change this perception. There are just too many assumptions. Rotary International has been around for over 100 years,” said another concerned Rotarian from Selangor.
The first Rotary Club in the world, the Rotary Club of Chicago, was formed on Feb 23, 1905. Today, there are over 46,000 Rotary and Rotaract Clubs worldwide, including in nations and cities with large Muslim populations.
According to Rotary International’s website, there are 15 Rotary clubs in and around Jakarta, eight in Cairo, and six within a 25km radius of Dubai.
Incidentally, the Sultan of Selangor is patron of the Rotary Club of Kuala Lumpur DiRaja.
Several Rotarians agreed that parents too, need to be informed as to how the movement can help their children become better individuals. Interact Clubs are more than just service clubs that stay true to the motto ‘Service Above Self’.
It provides an opportunity for students to enhance their management and presentation skills, preparing them for adulthood. Lessons learnt from organising meetings and activities go beyond those that are taught within the four walls of a classroom.
There are those who wished that they had been exposed to Interact and Rotaract during their younger days. Some of them joined Rotary to learn how to become better listeners, better team players, and to organise activities that benefit the community.
Interact, Rotaract, and Rotary Clubs have contributed to the community in Malaysia and beyond, in their own way, from raising funds for the needy, to painting schools, providing free dialysis treatment, and educating refugee children.
It is important for clubs in District 3300 to understand why certain school authorities seem hesitant to include all students in Interact. These concerns must be addressed.
If there are certain elements within Rotary that need to evolve, as per its theme this year – Diversity, Equity and Inclusion – steps must then be taken to ensure such values are truly reflected in the respective Rotary Clubs.
Rotary must no longer hide in the shadows and must shed the stigma as an elite, exclusive club that belongs only to a certain section of society.
It should also project the right optics – that it is nothing more than a service movement that serves all, regardless of race, creed, or colour.
And that spirit of helping one another, starts from the schools.