Steadfastly Serving the Needy

The opening of JHM-Rotary Kidney Dialysis Centre.

The Rotary Job-Link Centre seeks to develop the potential of disabled individuals so that they can be gainfully employed.

The Rotary Club of Penang actively collaborates with sponsors like U-Cemerlang to provide school uniforms for needy students.

The Accelerated Career Excellence (ACE) programme was introduced to help increase the employment rate of graduates in Malaysia.

The Rotary Club was the brainchild of Chicagoan visionary Paul Harris. The attorney formed the Rotary Club of Chicago, the world’s first service club, in 1905 with business acquaintances Gustave Loehr, Silvester Schiele and Hiram E. Shorey, to unite business and professional leaders worldwide in providing humanitarian services, encourage high ethical standards in all vocations, and foster goodwill and world peace. “Rotary” was so named because weekly club meetings were initially rotated between the founding members’ offices.

Operating under the Rotarian philosophy “Service above Self”, the club seeks to reconcile the ever-present conflict between the desire to profit oneself and the duty to serve others. Since its establishment, the association has expanded to 167 countries, with more than 34,000 Rotary Clubs and approximately 1.2 million service-minded members, reflecting a wide cross-section of community representation. Fun fact: forty-nine active Rotarians, including Brigadier General Carlos P. Romulo, resident commissioner of the Philippines and a past Rotary International (RI) vice president, were involved in the drafting of the United Nations Charter.1, 2

The Rotary Club of Penang was founded in 1929, and was the first to be organised on the Malay peninsula and Thailand. It was not until 1930 that the Charter was received and the club was formally admitted into RI. It fell into inactivity during the Japanese Occupation, but was revived and re-admitted into the umbrella organisation on October 23, 1946. Its notable members include the late badminton legend Datuk Eddy Choong, Dato’ Seri Chet Singh and Aspen Group’s Dato’ Seri Nazir Ariff.

Community Projects and Services

Under the direction of president Stephen Soon (at the time of writing), the club endeavours to address local, national and international service needs, either through the utilisation of its own resources – it adopts the policy of initiating community projects to benefit the society, nursing them to self-sufficiency before their administrations are handed over to the public sector, while still maintaining a presence at the committee level – or working together with other clubs and agencies to render the needed services.

One such example is the Rotary Job-Link Centre that seeks to develop the potential of disabled individuals to the fullest so that they can be gainfully employed. The centre currently has 28 trainees and provides on-job training in candle-making, among other activities. “To a certain extent, it allows them to earn some income, build their self-confidence and get some physical exercise in spite of their disabilities until we can recommend them to a proper workplace,” says Soon.

The centre however, is not without its ups and downs. “Job-Link is the club’s most challenging avenue. The revenue made from candle sales is not sufficient to sustain the centre and the trainees. We have a marketing group set up specifically to sell the handmade candles; so in that sense, we try to be as self-sustainable as possible.”

The club also operates two dialysis centres equipped with state-of-the-art haemodialysis machines: The Leader-Rotary Kidney Dialysis Centre at Wisma St. John along Jalan Grove and the JHM-Rotary Kidney Dialysis Centre at Lebuh Acheh. Soon explains, “The latter is a joint-effort by the corporate sponsor JHM Consolidation Berhad. The corporation has pledged to donate RM1mil over the course of five years to support the dialysis centre, and depending on a case-to-case basis, the centres provide dialysis treatments at an affordable fee, or whenever possible, for free to renal failure patients.”

Since 2000, the Rotary Club of Penang also has a long-standing partnership with Penang Adventist Hospital in providing financial aid through the Gift of Life Fund to those who are suffering from heart complications and diseases, up to the age of 60. “So far, more than RM1.6mil has been channelled to help needy patients and in 2017, we successfully funded heart surgeries for five adults and two teenagers.”

To help increase the employment rate of graduates in the country, the club is working with Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) through the Accelerated Career Excellence (ACE) programme to coach fresh graduates to have a better career mindset and to mentor them to excel in the career of their choosing. These include furnishing undergraduates with essential skills like effective job searching, resume crafting, and interview and communication skills. ACE is also focused on improving the living standards of those in the low and middle income groups, increasing the standard of workforce in Penang and reaching out to the underprivileged.3

Membership Requirements

At present, the club has 32 members from different vocations, and membership is by invitation only. “There is also a certain financial commitment that is required from potential Rotarians, both to the Rotary Club as well as to the charities and community projects organised by the club,” says vice president Michel van Crombrugge (at the time of writing). “We also make contributions in the form of administrative fees to the RI. On top of that, Rotarians are expected to contribute, at least once a year, to one of the big ongoing Rotary projects. At this point in time, the biggest one is End Polio.”

(From left) Michel van Crombrugge, Stephen Soon and Kelvin Thum.

Along with its partners, Rotary has successfully reduced polio cases by 99.9% worldwide since its first efforts to vaccinate children in the Philippines in 1979.4 The disease is found only in three countries now: Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria.5

According to Kelvin Thum, a former Rotaractor who now holds the club’s secretariat position, the Interact (from ages 13 to 17) and Rotaract (from ages 18 to 30) clubs provide foundation learning of what the Rotary Club represents. “There are a lot of benefits in becoming a Rotarian. For one, you learn about personal growth and professional development. I was on the organising committee for the Asia Pacific Regional Rotaract Conference in 2007. The experience equipped me with leadership skills and provided insight on how best to organize ourselves as a club whenever meetings are conducted, and how to go about obtaining and allocating funds for projects.”

The Rotary also opens up avenues for cultivating fellowship and promoting cultural diversity and tolerance; the club is open to members of every ethnic group, political persuasion, language and religious belief.6

Through their humanitarian efforts, Rotarians have strived to improve the quality of life for many a needy Penangite, and as it approaches its 90th anniversary, the Rotary Club of Penang’s commitment to serve the community remains steadfast.

1The Rotarian Jun 2005.

Related Articles