By Steve Landwehr , Staff writer
IPSWICH - If all you knew about Rotary International was gleaned from attending a club meeting, you might come away thinking its members a bit daft.They don't have a silly handshake, but they do have Happy Bucks, an allotted time when members take turns dropping a dollar into the club coffers for anything, such as the success of a child in school or thanks for a beautiful sunrise.Then there are the fines. Just about anyone can be slapped with one at any time for telling a bad joke, paying someone a sarcastic compliment or simply because one fellow wants to jab the other fellow.
Then you meet someone like Ipswich Rotarian Rachel Williams, and you begin to understand why more than 1.2 million people belong to the world's first service club. When Williams decides to focus Rotary's powers on people in need, she thinks nothing of reaching halfway around the world to do it.Williams is scheduled to head to Pakistan at the end of the month with $12,000 raised through a variety of Rotary sources that will be used to complete the resurrection of a school destroyed by the 2005 earthquake that devastated the country. Some of the money was contributed by Rotary's elementary school program, Early Act, at Winthrop School in Ipswich.
The 45 children in the Peace Model School where Williams is headed in Muzaffarabad, Kashmir, are all younger than second grade."The older kids all died," said Williams, who visited the country shortly after the quake. It struck during the school day, and an estimated 95 percent of the district's schoolchildren - an entire generation - were killed.Of more than 9,000 schools that were destroyed by the earthquake, only about 400 have been rebuilt.
Following a heroWilliams has her eye on a larger goal than this one school. She hopes to follow in the footsteps of Greg Mortenson, an American mountain climber who built schools in Pakistan after he saw the plight of children in the country and chronicled his journey in his book "Three Cups of Tea.""He's my hero," Williams said. "I want to do that in Pakistan."And why stop there?"If each Rotary club adopted one school in a troubled area, it would be huge," Williams said.Just this week, Williams asked her fellow Rotarians for help with another problem.
A Pakistani camp was built as a safe haven for refugees who left Afghanistan when the United States began its campaign to rid the country of the Taliban. The Pakistani government recently shut down the camp, and many of the refugees fear returning to their homes because the situation there is so unstable.Williams is asking the club for $1,000 to help the refugees get settled before the coming winter.
"I think it's important we do these things in troubled parts of the world," Williams said.Williams will be flying into a country in turmoil. Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf declared a state of emergency a week ago and gave his government wide latitude to crush political dissent. Thursday, he had former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto placed under house arrest.The country has also been rocked by militant Islamic violence, with bombings targeted at military and government officials, and clashes between government forces and supporters of the Taliban.But Williams said she is not concerned for her own safety.'Never afraid'"I've never been afraid in Pakistan," she said. The local Rotary club has always kept her out of harm's way, Williams said.
Her fellow Rotarians asked Williams to get the club more involved internationally several years ago. She was a good choice, since she had lived in Singapore for 20 years before moving to this country after she got married in 2004.She and her husband, Fred DeNapoli, asked wedding guests to donate money to Rotary in lieu of presents. Williams used half of the donations to fund a clinic in Pakistan.During her years in Singapore, she traveled to Pakistan several times each year to visit friends, and she has forged a strong relationship with the Rotary club in Rawalpindi, a city near Pakistan's capital, Islamabad."It's a wonderful place," Williams said of Pakistan. "The people are so dynamic. I'm never in any danger there," she said, and added with a smile, "The most dangerous thing is the traffic."
If you want to help the effort to broaden education in Pakistan, send a check, made out to Ipswich Rotary (label check : Peacemaker) and send to PO Box 543, Ipswich, MA 01938. If you would like to assist Afghan refugees go to afghanwomensmission.org.
Staff writer Steve Landwehr can be reached at 978-338-2660 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.