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Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Rotary Club Visit

During our time in Benin the 5th Edition of the West Africa Project Fair was recently held in Cotonou, Benin. The conference provided a valuable opportunity for West African Rotarians to form international partnerships with Rotarians from Europe and North America. Participating West African Rotary Clubs sponsored booths in which they presented service projects to the international attendees. Mercy Ships participated in the conference, spreading the vision of hope and healing, while providing Rotarians an opportunity to partner in the transforming work of the Africa Mercy.
All participating Rotarians, including 47 from North America, were invited to the Africa Mercy the following day. A presentation about Mercy Ships was given in the Rotary International Lounge. Mercy Ships Founder/President Don Stephens addressed the Rotarians, saying, "Recently, our ophthalmic surgeons performed the 3,900th eye surgery on a blind Beninois. Half of those surgeries are done in the Rotary Eye Operating Room. In a very real sense, we are partnered together. On behalf of the now hundreds of thousands of people who have been helped, we are most grateful - and you, Rotarians, are a significant part of all that."
The guests were given a tour of the Africa Mercy followed by a light reception. Notable Rotarians in attendance included District Governor Nominee Bouraïma Salifou, Chairman of the West Africa Project Fair's Organizing Committee. "Rotary started in Benin in 1965, and we now have 13 clubs. I was very delighted to see the Founder/President of Mercy Ships, Don Stephens, also wears the Paul Harris Fellow Pin," said Salifou.
The Rotarians enjoyed the evening and were impressed by the work of Mercy Ships. "I didn't know anything about Mercy Ships until I came to the Project Fair," said 25-year Rotarian Mark VonHoetzendorff from America. "I was anxious to visit the Africa Mercy, and the visit has been wonderful. I wish it was bigger, and I'd like to see another ship built." Currently, VonHoetzendorff is a Past District Governor and Past Rotary Foundation Chair of his district. He is looking forward to spreading the vision of Mercy Ships to other Rotarians upon his return to America.
Past District Governor Brad Howard, from the United States, spoke on behalf of the entire North American group, "I think we share a parallel vision, view, and sense with Mercy Ships. It's our great privilege to be here. We are very keenly interested in your mission and would like to learn more. Thank you very much for your hospitality."
Over the past two decades, the relationship between Mercy Ships and Rotary has been an integral part of bringing hope and healing to thousands of the world's forgotten poor. Rotary clubs have made many impactful contributions. For example, The Rotary Clubs in the British Isles identified Mercy Ships as a Charity of Choice for 2005-2006 and committed $500,000 toward a new ophthalmic suite on the Africa Mercy. Also, in 2007, the Rotary Club of Jacksonville coordinated a project internationally, which resulted in a Matching Grant totaling $415,987 to help equip the Africa Mercy.
Rotary is an international organization compromised of more than 1.2 million business, professional, and community leaders. There are 33,000 Rotary clubs in more than 200 countries. Members of Rotary clubs provide humanitarian service as well as encourage high ethical standards in all vocations, thus helping to build goodwill and peace in the world. Following the motto "Service Above Self," Rotary's main object is service - in local communities, the workplace, and throughout the world. (from http://www.rotary.org/)

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