For 107 years, each president of Rotary International has chosen a personal theme for their Rotary work. This year, President Sakjui Tanaka chose "Peace Through Service" as his theme for 2.1 million Rotarians around the world.
The local Rotary district consists of 54 clubs and extends from Galt in the north to Madera in the south, Tracy in the west to Yosemite National Park in the east. District Interact chair Judy Lovett of the Rotary Club of North Stockton has been overwhelmed and astounded with the caliber of students in the 64 Interact clubs (Rotary Clubs for Middle and High School Students) though out the district this year. She came to District Governor Liz Hosmer with an idea - hold an essay contest for Interact members on ‘Peace Through Service - What I can do to Help?' and she wanted to send the winner to the Global Peace Forum in Hawaii. Hosmer loved the idea and began to include it in her message to Rotary clubs throughout the district. The clubs eventually donated enough money to send two students and their parents to the Peace Forum.
The contest was open to Interact students only. Students from 6th though 12 grades sent in essays.
Marlee Baker, a seventh-grader at Whitmore Charter School in Ceres, won first place. In her essay Marlee touched on many aspects of peace-building:
Peace building in her family: "Some wars even happen within our own households, like having to explain to my mother why I tackled my brother over the last cookie."
Peace building at school: "Bullying has always bugged me, and since the fourth grade I promised myself to do what I can to help those being harassed. Unfortunately, I once stood in the place of the bully. I was new to a school and wanted to fit in. For a short period, I followed the crowd and cruelly teased others to make myself feel better. When I look back at myself during that time, it motivates me to stop others from making the same mistakes I made."
Peace building in her community :"I am a member of Interact and enjoy every meeting and activity. I distinctly remember serving food to the homeless one weekend morning. I arrived tired and nervous but left with a jump in my step and new eyes to the world."'
And peace building in the world: "Interact has other projects too, but what we love to promote and fundraise for is polio relief. I was on the Polio project team last year at school. To be honest, I dreaded it at first. Lunch was my only time with my friends and I didn't want to give that time up for a silly fundraising. Eventually I dragged myself over to the table, sat down and began my shift. My friends didn't leave me alone like I anticipated. To my surprise, they followed my lead and promoted the fundraiser. Soon everyone was lined up with a dollar they had found in the bottom of their backpack, or loose change they just felt like donating. We had a scrapbook open and dozens of students stamped their pinky with purple ink. Leaving their mark they helped save a child's life. We ended up with half a scrapbook full of signatures and a whole bunch of purple pinkies. I hope I saved a child's life somewhere in the world and I hope they walk well and are disease free."
Trevor Knudsen, a freshman at Pitman High School, won second place in the essay contest. Trevor attended Whitmore Charter School in Ceres and was instrumental in getting the Interact Club at Pitman reactivated. Trevor wrote, "The best way to achieve inner peace is from helping others and getting involved. When one helps others, it helps one realize the greatness of peace in the people you are helping and in you yourself."
He too talked about raising funds for Polio eradication saying, "My assistance in projects like Polio Plus is helping those in countries that still have the infectious disease find peace as they can feel safe by being vaccinated."
Both Marlee and Trevor will attend the Rotary Global Peace forum with their mothers in January. Keynote speaker for that event is pro-democracy icon, Nobel Peace Laureate and Myanmar Parliamentarian Aung San Suu Kyi who will receive the prestigious Hawaii Rotary Global Peace Award during the event.