What I Learned in Rotary Today: 20 August 2015

by Glenn on August 23, 2015

Many of the speakers who talk to our little Central East Portland Rotary Club represent non-profit work of some form or another. For example, we’ve had speakers talk to us about an orphanage in Bangladesh, the devastation of the earthquake in Nepal, and housing and community initiatives in East Portland.

As our speaker this past Thursday talked to us, a thought came to mind: It’s all important.

You could go a little crazy trying to prioritize the needs of the world and how to help. Should I help build a house in Nepal or provide food at the orphanage? The needs of the world are huge, but the problems in East Portland are not small.

The main thing is not to get overwhelemed. Do something. You can’t solve every problem, but you can help solve some problems.

I got inspired by our speaker because he is a doer. His cause isn’t trying to help on the lowest rungs of Maslow’s “Hierachy of Needs.” He is certainly dealing with poor people, but because their basic needs are met, there is an opportunity to do other kinds of needful work.

Our speaker was a fellow Rotarian, John Wight, who described himself as “a recovering lawyer.” He worked in the Peace Corps for two years in 1999 when he helped develop a literacy program in Paraguay, which he continues to support.

When asked how he got involved in literacy he became animated. He described how that wasn’t his original intention. He had gone to a small community in Paraguay where he was going to help out in City Hall. A couple of problems emerged.

One was that the mayors kept changing. It was a revolving door of leadership, which didn’t lend itself to effective problem-solving in the community.

Second was the workers in City Hall didn’t seem all that interested in actual work. He described how he’d go to work with 21 workers who would show up and stare at the floor all day. They had a government salary which was enough for them. When Wight would suggest ideas of things they could do, they would tell him, “That’s great. You should do that.” He would respond, “No, you should do it and I’ll help you.” That, of course, was the end of it.

At some point he discovered a library which he noticed lacked books. That began a journey for Wight into increasing literacy rates in Paraguay.

His organization, Despertar (“to awaken”), is working in a couple of villages, but it is also working at a teacher college to train teachers in more modern teaching techniques to encourage literacy throughout Paraguay. He is an honorary member of the Asunción Rotary Club.