By DANA SMITH PRESIDENT of Rotary International Kalyan Banjeree arrived in Nassau on the morning of January 6 for his second visit to the West Indies and first to the Bahamas. His visit coincided with the month-long 50th anniversary celebrations of Rotary in the Bahamas. His visit also marked the second time in those 50 years that a sitting Rotary president has come to the Bahamas. Mr Banjeree was received at the Diplomat's Lounge in the Sir Lynden Pindling International Airport by various Rotary leaders, airport employees and members of the Royal Bahamas Police Force. "I have been wanting to come over here for a long, long time, Mr Banjeree said. "But then, there are so many places to visit and so much to do - so many people to meet. Somehow this got delayed a little bit, but now I realize why it was delayed, so that we could be here to celebrate your 50th anniversary." Mr Banjeree told the press gathered at the airport: "The mission of Rotary is world peace and understanding through serving your communities." In an exclusive interview with The Tribune, Mr Banjeree offered a more in-depth look into Rotary, its mission, his goals for the year, and how exactly Rotarians strive for world peace through community service. He started by explaining the theme for the 2011-12 Rotary year, titled: 'Reach Within to Embrace Humanity' - a theme he chose himself. "I'm just asking people to first search themselves and ask a few questions of themselves," said Mr Banjeree. "I think the most important thing is to first know who you are, what you stand for, and what would you like the world to be. It's amazing how little people often know of themselves, so what we are doing is trying to find out your inner strengths and at the same time, find out your weaknesses. You can better serve humanity," said Mr Banjeree. "By strengthening yourself with your strengths, and better managing your weaknesses. It's kind of an Indian thing - an Indian philosophy." Mr Banjeree, himself, is Indian. "(The philosophy) talks about searching yourself and so that's where we started. And I must say, I had no idea it would be so well-connected with the rest of the world. Wherever we go, they seem to connect very well." One of the mains goals for Rotary, this year, is the complete eradication of polio - a disease Rotary has been fighting against since the 1990s, according to their official website. Said Mr Banjeree: "The first is to get done with polio eradication. The beginning of the year we had four countries in the world that still had active polio. One of them was my own country, India. The other three countries being Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Nigeria." According to Mr Banjeree, in India, the disease is nearly completely eradicated, something he recognises as one of Rotary's biggest achievements. "Now, in India we haven't had a polio case for a year. So India seems to have almost reached there. I think that's a huge achievement," he said. "Given that India has a population of 1.2 billion people and all of them are not of the same economic status around the country... so managing such a country and such a society has it's own challenges, and that's why India has been such a challenge. "But I think India is now polio-free and I think it will stay that way. That has been a huge thing." Mr Banjeree agreed that Rotarians have to play a bigger role in underdeveloped or third-world countries because of various socio-economic problems that have traditionally plagued those developing nations. These problems which Mr Banjeree wants Rotarians to address this year, in addition to polio and healthcare, include safe drinking water, literacy, education and scholarships and AIDS prevention and control. The latter, especially in Africa. "African countries, we are working with AIDS. Uganda has the largest incidents of AIDS in the world but it's a very strong Rotary country and the Rotarians are working over there," he said. "One of our latest initiatives in the last three or four years has been reaching out to and connecting with Africa. Africa has a lot of work to be done and I think we are looking to how best to connect with Africa." Mr Banjeree spoke on the Rotarian initiative 'Reach Out To Africa' which he called "a big thrust area" for Rotary. "Reach Out To Africa is everything together - all the African countries and the countries from Europe, people from the USA, all connected together to do things in Africa," he explained. This past December, Mr Banjeree visited six nations in Africa, including South Africa, Nigeria, Tanzania, and Ghana. It was on a trip to southern Sudan, he said, where the Sudanese vice president met with him to speak about the problems plaguing their nation. "And now Rotary has promised to build a hospital over there. It'll be the first major hospital in southern Sudan," he said. Another goal for the year is "strengthening the Rotary peace programmes, especially peace scholarships. "Rotary provides the largest number of peace scholarships for students in the world," Mr Banjeree said. These scholarships are for students who are dedicated and committed to working and learning for peace at various universities. "Some of (the students) are doing outstanding work in areas of conflict," he said. General scholarships for students to study in other countries is another goal of Rotary this year, as is extending their 'Gift of Life' programme which allows for children to get healthcare, specifically heart operations, when they otherwise wouldn't be able to afford it. "The other thing we are doing on a different scale or level is social networking. Connecting with the youth for example," Mr Banjeree said. "Rotary has been doing these things very quietly, you know. Rotarians don't like to talk about what they're doing. I think they are beginning to realize that what has happened after polio is the world has discovered Rotary. What it is and what it does, and more importantly, the Rotarians have discovered themselves and the tremendous collective strength they have. The reach (and) the depth they have in every community around the world. "Where can you have an organisation like this? Where people of influence are in every community in the world. It's an amazing organisation."
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