Rotarians move the world, one deed at a time

For the next one year — starting this week — Mr Peter Mbui will step out of his Rift Valley Machineries office in Nairobi’s Industrial Area to do community work.

Most likely, the engineer will not grab any media attention for his effort.

“We do it because we are passionate to help,” he says.

Mr Mbui is part of Rotary International, the world’s largest community service network that selects one of its members as a district governor for a year to lead an army of more than 2,300 volunteers in various clubs in community work.

They are not paid, and they contribute money and time to buy wheelchairs for the sick, pay school fees, drill boreholes and give money for eradication of polio.


On Friday, in Kisumu, Mr Mbui will receive the chain of office from outgoing district governor Richard Omwela, who has not been to his office at the legal firm Hamilton Harrison & Mathews, where he is a partner.

While Mr Omwela usually grabs national attention as the chairman of Kenya Rugby Union, he is internationally recognised as one of Kenya’s finest philanthropists through Rotary.

Mr Mbui will be leading what is classified as District 9212 that comprises four countries — Kenya, South Sudan, Eritrea and Ethiopia — and will have little time to attend to his business as he undertakes what is considered among rotarians as the ultimate prize of devotion to philanthropy.

“My job entails co-ordinating the work of these clubs, initiating philanthropy projects, motivating members and raising funds for community projects,” said Mr Mbui. “It is true that, for three months I will not be in my office, I will be travelling. I have to visit 90 clubs in Kenya, Ethiopia, Eritrea and South Sudan.”

He added: “I will manage; I have prepared for it.”


Some 86 years after the Rotary Club of Nairobi was chartered at the then-New Stanley Hotel (The Stanley) in 1930 with the help of Mayor Charles Udall, its members have given hundreds of millions of shillings for various projects.

Membership was restricted to men and only in 1989 did Rotary International vote to admit women.

Ms Carole Kimutai is one of the few women to lead a Rotary Club in Kenya. As the president of Nairobi East, she led 39 volunteers to climb Mt Kilimanjaro for polio and club projects.

“I know many people who have the mountain as a bucket list item,” said Ms Kimutai. “So, I tied the fundraising and the thrill together.

“It was a very ambitious project that needed a climber to raise $1,000 (Sh1 million). I was expecting about 10 climbers but we ended up with 39! That climb transformed my life and made me expand my thinking and stretch.”

Rotary did not grow during the colonial period, when it was closed to majority of Kenyans.


“Traditionally, Rotary was seen as an expatriate or Asian organisation and a rich man’s club,” said Mr Bimal Kantaria, the managing director of agricultural input company Elgon Kenya. “But today, we are going into big towns and opening new clubs in the rural areas.”

As district governor, Mr Kantaria chartered a record 28 Rotary Clubs in 12 months and District 9212 was feted as “the fastest-growing in the world”. Membership rose from 1,554 to 2,300 with community projects in hundreds of millions.


In Kenya, the best known contributor to Rotary is renowned surgeon Dr Yusuf Kodwavwala, who writes the popular Surgeon’s Diary column in the Sunday Nation under the byline Yusuf Dawood.

Last week, Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology don and Rotary Club of Thika member, Dr Steve Mugucia, took a wheelchair to a man in Murang’a.

With the recent drought, a joint Rotary, Lions and Jains Social Group famine relief took food and provisions to Garissa, for over 600 needy families.

Rotary operates with a strict moral code and all members have to be invited by a member. At every weekly sitting, the bell is rung and they all say a devotional prayer.

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