Posted by Susan Weaver on Feb 12, 2015
A report on the D5240 Symposium to Eliminate Poverty Sustainably (STEPS) held January 31, 2015 at California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks, CA.  
Rotarians, RotaractorsInteractors and guests gathered to learn how the cycle of poverty can be broken by undertaking well-thought-out projects that produce results that are sustainable long after Rotary involvement has ended. 
In this report, the keynote addresses are summarized and Rotary projects are highlighted.


D5240 Steps to Eliminate Poverty Sustainably Symposium



District 5240’s Symposium to End Poverty Sustainably (STEPS) was held Saturday, January 31st, 2015, at California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks, CA.  Rotarians, Rotaractors, Interactors and guests gathered to learn how the cycle of poverty can be broken by undertaking well-thought-out projects that produce results that are sustainable long after Rotary involvement has ended.  We who inspired by keynote speakers.  We learned from workshop leaders about the planning process, about conducting an effective needs assessment, and given insight to proven strategies that make for a successful community project, regardless of whether the community is right here in D5240 or half-way around the world. We also had the opportunity to see what other clubs have been doing and find out which ones are seeking to partner with other clubs in the District.  Here are the highlights:


Keynote Speakers:


Marsha Bailey, founder and CEO of Women’s Economic Ventures and the Small Business Loan Fund of Santa Barbara, found herself in dire financial difficulties following a divorce and in the process of fighting her way out of “being broke” began to wonder how the multitude of women who were not just “broke” but poverty-stricken, those who did not have the benefit of education that she had, could ever manage to lift themselves into better circumstances.  The answer that occurred to her was to extend a hand of help in the form of training and so WEV was born, to provide training and mentoring in self-employment.  But she didn’t stop there. Inspired by the micro lending model of the Grameen Bank, Marsha undertook applying that model here in Southern California and WEV became one of the first US beneficiaries of a Global Grant.  


Working with Marsha, D5240 RC of Simi Valley’s Heather Frankel, wrote a grant proposal that joined clubs in ten Rotary Districts in the US and abroad and provided funding for the micro-lending program which began in 2011.  By 2014 all the funds had been loaned out, and loans are either repaid or in the process of being repaid. The program has been a stunning success.  Among the small business receiving the micro loans, the default rate is zero (yes, 0), and 92 percent remain in business today. Of the women who had a poverty-level income when they received the loan, 81 percent were no longer classified as poor within 18 months.  


Dorjee Tsewang, is the Founder and President of the Tibetan Aid Foundation, and if you ever are feeling a bit full of yourself, you might consider his story.  A refugee from Tibet, Dorjee left his childhood home in the Tibetan plateau on foot, and walked in winter through the Himalayan Mountains, in freezing temperatures at altitudes near 19,000 feet, often in blinding snowstorms, wearing sneakers, traveling mainly at night to avoid patrols of Chinese soldiers. They had no tents, took turns sleeping in the middle of their human huddle to avoid freezing to death, and survived on a subsistence diet of tea, ground barley and yak butter.  This journey ended in a refugee camp in Dharmsala, India, which is where Dorjee met his wife Dolkar, who made the same journey some three years later.  By chance Dorjee and Dolkar met a person who sponsored their immigration to the US, specifically to Ojai, CA, where the couple has lived for the last 12 years.  


Dorjee told us that he lives by these words of the the Dalai Lama: “Be happy, Be positive, be compassionate. The purpose in life is to help others. Our world is one big happy family.”  So he founded the Tibetan Aid Foundation in order to improve the lives of those who still live in their home village. And with the help of individual donors and Rotary clubs, who also place Service Above Self, the Tibetan Aid foundation has been able to build a medical clinic, provide a medical van, provide food and clothing for orphans, and build a water project there.  Dorjee told us that after the water system was complete a man approached him and said, “I am not here to thank you for the water project. I am thanking you because now I can send my daughter to school. She no longer has to carry water every day and can go to school instead.”



Highlighted Rotary Projects

These projects were among those on exhibit and seeking partners at this year’s STEPS Symposium. 


K9s for Warriors

Capt. Jason Haag, USMC (Ret.), has served multiple tours of duty in Afghanistan, where a vehicle he was riding in struck by an improvised explosive device (IED). As a consequence, Jason incurred a traumatic brain injury and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).  After discharge from the Marines, Jason’s life was in a downward spiral and he was threatened with the loss of his family when he did a Google search for anything that might set him on a better trajectory.  He found K9s for Warriors, a non-profit that matches returning post 9/11/01 military veterans suffering from PTSD with service dogs, and they introduced him to Axel, his now constant companion, a German shepherd who provides emotional support.  Noting that every 65 minutes a military veteran commits suicide, Jason credits Axel with saving his life, making it possible for him to “feel happiness again,” and to function in public again without debilitating social anxiety and panic attacks. 


The dogs provided by K9s for Warriors are, as Jason puts it, “rescue animals rescuing veterans,” and their success rate in preventing suicide is 100 percent.  To match a veteran with a dog and provide the necessary service animal training, costs about $15,000.  D5240 Rotary Clubs are collecting funds to sponsor dogs for veterans in need.  The Rotary Club of Thousand Oaks  has a link on their site for donations, which are being funneled through the Sunrise Rotary Foundation, a 501(c)3 organization. 


For more information on K9s for Warriors:

For guide about how to afford a service dog:



Unite to Light

E-Club of One World members would surely have recognized a familiar face at the Unite to Light exhibit, as our President Dawn O’Bar was there to tell people about this organization which “provides solar resources to the people of the developing world.”  Unite to Light has “partnered with Rotarians to bring solar lights to 1.5 billion people without access to electricity.   


For more information: 





Training Midwives for Nomads in Niger, West Africa

Since 2006 the RC of Ojai has received $254,000 in Rotary grants to fund humanitarian projects for nomads in Niger through the Nomad Foundation, an Ojai-based non-profit organization. Ojai Rotarian Dr. Bob Skankey has trained 10 illiterate nomadic women in prenatal care and childbirth practices to serve as “matrones” in their communities, dramatically reducing the maternal and infant mortality rate. Under Dr. Bob’s supervision in 2015, four matrones will train 20 women from geographically remote communities in prenatal care, nutrition and labor/delivery techniques to continue spreading life-saving practices. 

RC Ojai is also seeking contributions for two 2015-2016 District grants for nomads.  One will fund a micro-finance program for at-risk youth in Niger, to help them start herds and small businesses rather than turning to illegal or terrorist activities.  The second will fund Earth Berm Construction Training, to impact hunger, water and the environment.


For more information: or RC of Ojai member Kay Bliss via


Vocational and Entrepreneurship Training for Street Girls in Ghana

Over 30,000 girls live on the streets of Accra, Ghana, living hand-to-mouth each day and lacking basic education, with no hope of getting ahead or improving their lives. RC of Ojai is sponsoring a grant that offers motivated Street Girls and Street Mothers, ages 15-25, the opportunity to develop a stable lifestyle through programs provided by Street Girls Aid, a Ghanaian NGO. Vocational training in self-employed laundry services, and Entrepreneur Training to help Street Girls involved in petty trading to gain skills to make their businesses more economically viable. 


For more information:


Safe Drinking Water for Uganda


RC China Lake and RC Kajjansi are preparing a safe drinking water project - Focused Distribution of Biosand Filters and WASH Education to Community Access Points to reduce the incidence of water-related diseases among children and alter community sanitation paradigms with ZZana to Kajjansi Districts, Kampala, Uganda in 2016-2017. 


For more information: Contact Steven Bjornstad of RC China Lake,

Read about WASH below.





Founded by the late Past District Governor Jan Lindsay, GOCARE empowers adults and children living in impoverished communities of Nicaragua through the power of education.  GOCARE has helped more than 1,100 students go through its programs with the “Come Back to Give Back” core philosophy of mentorship and leadership.


For more information:




Project Peanut Butter

Project Peanut Butter is a full sustainable program within each target country to cure children of Severe Acute Malnutrition.  It is just starting in Ghana and has been in Malawi for 11 years and in Sierra Leone for 8 years.  Project Peanut Butter is looking for partners to start the project in Ghana.


For more information: 




Lifewater International

Our goal is more than just meeting a need for clean water, it is to build lasting solutions that transform lives in hard-to-reach places.  This happens through a missional strategy called WASH and it’s not a quick fix, but ultimately ensures sustainable transformation in the lives of people we served.


For more information:



Abolish Slavery Now

Abolish Slavery Now is a program to end child slavery in the fishing industry in Ghana; to rescue rehabilitate and integrate these children back into society.


For more information:







Note: Except for the write-up on K9s for Warriors and the lead in for Unite to Light, the text for the project descriptions are transcribed from the exhibitor list handout provided at the symposium.



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