Select Page

Seven paths to peace

The Path of Progress

He will support action directed towards improving standards of living for all peoples, realizing that poverty anywhere endangers prosperity everywhere.

(From the Outline of Policy in International Service.)

DURING THE PERIOD when the first satellites were launched, a Rotarians – as did millions of others – read in the newspapers that one of the satellites would pass over his community at a certain time that evening.

“I walked into my back yard a few minutes ahead of time,” he said, “hardly convinced that the satellite would be on schedule or that I would be able to see it. As I sat there in the quiet setting of my yard with its familiar trees, flowers, and shrubs, it seemed a strange place to be viewing this new phenomenon. … I looked up again, toward the northeast, and there it was – a good-sized star, it seemed, streaking across the sky. I watched it race across the heavens – at 18,000 miles an hour – and disappear into the horizon. …

“The next night,” he went on, “I worked late at the office, but I had read in the newspaper that the satellite would cross our town again that night. I forgot all about it, however, until I was driving home. I looked at my watch and found that it was almost time, at that moment, for it to pass over. I happened to be near a small park, so I quickly stopped the car and ran into the park, so that I could see a greater expanse of the sky. … I scanned the northern skies, and there it was, as large and as bright as ever – plunging across the star-lit heavens. I looked at my watch. It was within 30 seconds of the time the astronomers had predicted it would pass over! I could have set my watch by it – as we used to set our watches by the 5:30 train! Within the next hour, my friends across the whole earth would be looking up to see it, too, marveling as I was at the portent of a new age. I walked very slowly back to my car, hardly aware of the awesome beauty of the night – the moon, the stars, the quiet rustle of leaves, and the unbroken serenade of crickets. Another kind of awe had almost overcome me. …”

This was, in truth, the symbol of a new age – the Space-Atomic Age, and millions of persons stand in awe of it. To what does it lead? An age of peace and plenty? An age of confusion, imbalance, and struggle? Or what?

No matter what may become this age’s ultimate goals and techniques for achieving them, historians agree that this age has another name which reveals the magnitude of the challenge: the Age of Great Expectations. The streaking satellite plunging across the heavens – unaware of national, racial, religious, economic, social, or cultural differences or boundaries – has become a symbol of technology and material progress. It is not the proper symbol of mankind’s noblest and greatest genius, for these impulses belong to the spirit; but the hungry, the dispossessed, the ignorant, the “peasant three-quarters of mankind” of whom Toynbee speaks – these persons have caught the vision of technology and material progress.

An item so fundamental as food is a primary concern. Then, there is water and a roof and a bed. Things a quarter of the world takes for granted are things which three-quarters of the world has never had. Ten years after the second world war, after all the grandiose plans and costly projects of reconstruction, the number of hungry people in the world had actually increased! Half the people in the world earn less than $100 (£35) a year.

The average life expectancy at birth among two-thirds of the earth’s inhabitants is little more than 30 years. Nearly half the human race cannot read or write. In many areas, there has been no substantial improvement in living standards during the last thousand years, and in several places conditions of life have actually declined.

Can the earth feed a growing population which is edging toward 3,000 million? Authorities disagree. Certainly there are problems of distribution even if production problems could be solved. But British geographer L. Dudley Stamp contends that “if the best current farm practices were used only in that area of the earth now cultivated, a population of at least 3,000 million could be nourished adequately. If the lands at present unused or inadequately used could be brought into production on the same basis, world population could climb to over 10,000 million. At the same time, science is adding constantly to the sum of human knowledge, and there is every reason to expect advances that will simplify the problem of feeding the human race if only man can overcome the barriers he himself has erected between the nations.” This, of course, is one scientist’s view – and one with which many others are in sharp dissent. Some believe that the world is losing the race between conservation and disaster.

Where does the Rotarian fit in this picture? Can he make a contribution here? Freedom, according to the Outline of Policy, is also vital to the maintenance of international peace and order and to human progress, and now the Rotarian is admonished to support action directed towards improving standards of living for all peoples as his particular contribution in the path of progress.

The belief in progress is not easily sustained in the aftermath of two world wars, with awareness of all the barriers which have been erected between nations and of conditions under which most of mankind is forced to live. Perhaps faith in progress is an illusion, anyway.

If it is, then it should be clear that it is one more widely shared than ever before. The belief in continuous and inevitable material improvement, which was limited in the past to the western nations, has now become the primary goal of peoples in the most backward areas of the earth. Through the ferment of war and political struggle, they have been seized with a conviction that the benefits of science and technology can also come to them. And it is clear to the most superficial observer that these benefits will come. How they come – who will bring them, and where, and in what manner – this is where the Rotarian fits.

In any such process it must be understood that progress is not a result of mere wishful thinking; developed peoples can have no illusions on that score. Improving their standards of living demands from them the most strenuous efforts and much sacrifice to accumulate capital, to educate their people, and often to change drastically the forms of social life. But no matter how great their efforts, they are not sufficient of themselves. Help must come from those peoples who have experienced progress, who have the “know-how,” the accumulated resources to invest and, above all, the will to help. The Outline of Policy assumes that the Rotarian possesses that will to help.

Volumes could be filled with evidence to justify this assumption. The ideal of service professed by Rotarians is no empty pose. On countless occasions they act to help others, not only in their own communities and countries but also when the appeal comes from abroad.

“He giveth twice who giveth quickly” might have been the motto of the small Rotary club which rushed carpentry and masonry tools to earthquake-stricken Ecuador . To these Rotarians the Rotary district governor of the recipient district addressed his appreciation:

Your most interesting letter has been translated into Spanish and will be sent to every club of my district that they may learn how these modern Greeks of Rotary can work wonders in spite of small numbers.

At the same time, I fear that we have imposed on your generosity a task out of all proportion: hammers, trowels, saws, nails, often from the very orderly tool chest of Madame Rotarian. … How abusive and preposterous! And then the cumbersome chore of packing and shipping them for the benefit of the descendants of the Inca empire. … We realize fully the magnitude of your effort and its significance. The name of your club will always be held by the Rotarians of our district as a beacon to show us the right path of international relations.

We are planning to construct something permanent such as a school for children or a hospital pavilion that will be maintained by the clubs of our district as a lasting memento to the munificence of Rotary International.

Vision and energy have poured forth time and again from Rotary clubs to elicit responses as warm as that cited above. They have spearheaded community drives for funds, food, and clothing. Year after year, supplements to meager rations overseas have been sent regularly, often as the product of austerity luncheons and other forms of self-denial. The forgotten people – victims of aggression in Korea , Vietnam refugees, escapees in Berlin and along the Hungarian border – have benefited from Rotary thoughtfulness. The need has only to be made known as a practical opportunity for helping and Rotarians have taken action.

Yes, Rotary can rise to an emergency, and for the long haul, too, Rotarians can sustain their efforts as was manifested by British Rotary clubs in a two-year campaign which netted £100,000 ($280,000) in aid to villages devastated in the Greek civil war. Tens of thousands of families were rehabilitated; 100,000 children were clothed and given medical attention; whole villages were restored.

The will to help is abundantly manifest, but is this action of a kind to improve standards of living for all peoples? To draw an analogy from local experience, consider the case of a family in your town that has been visited by catastrophe, perhaps the death of its bread-winner. Rallying support for this family is comparable to action which has been described in the international field. Quite different is the equally common instance of the local youth who wants to go into business for himself or needs some training to make him more productive. Rotarians have ways of helping in this case, too, and this is the kind of help needed in the newly developing countries. Are Rotary clubs and Rotarians in a position to support efforts to supply that kind of help?

Indeed they are, and in many different ways.

Echoes from the Outline of Policy can be detected in the Act for International Development (U.S. Public Law 535):

The peoples of the United States and other nations have a common interest in the freedom and in the economic and social programs of all peoples. Such progress can further the secure growth of democratic ways of life, the expansion of mutually beneficial commerce and the development of international understanding and good will and the maintenance of world peace.

A past president of Rotary International was a member of the advisory board that initiated the Act, and 43 Rotarians worked as legislators for its passage. Among its fruits have been missions of technical assistance to 60 countries requesting aid in the development of their resources. The program is currently employing some 2,000 experts in production, processing, distribution, and administration. Five thousand apprentice technicians have come to the United States for training.

The United States is not alone in undertaking this type of program. There is also the Colombo Plan for co-operative development in Asia. France is active in the field, and even quite small countries have their own expert aid. Some 80 countries contribute to United Nations technical assistance through the specialized agencies concerned with agriculture, health, and education.

Rotarians have allies and examples in international service in the persons enlisted for these programs. Personal acquaintance is the genius of their work, for the expert who has not the gift of associating and communicating with the people of the country he is helping to develop finds himself greatly handicapped. Many of those working in technical assistance are Rotarians or become members of Rotary clubs, if they are qualified for membership, in the countries where they are working. Being in Rotary, they report, greatly increases their effectiveness.

One Rotarian poses an interesting challenge. Could not individual volunteers for this service be found among the hundreds of thousands of business and professional men who have passed the retirement age? They have the technical experience needed. Their minds are flexible and their health vigorous. They may resent being put on the shelf after they have trained others to take their place. They might well share their technical abilities with peoples struggling to raise their standards of living.

“Aside from helping the needy areas,” he concludes, “these men would get a tremendous personal satisfaction from it; increase their active lives a dozen years or more; and returning home could tell the folks about the wonderful people abroad. …”

If circumstances prevent a Rotarian from accepting such a challenge, there are other ways in which he can lend his support. He can set out to inform himself and others about the need for improving living standards. Public ignorance, especially in the so-called “advanced” countries, is deplorable. Few realize the meagerness of the resources available in comparison with what needs to be done. Another past president of Rotary International, chairman of his country’s legislative committee on atomic energy, calls on every rotary club to devote four programs a year to discussing peaceful uses of the atom. Only a quickened public awareness, he feels, can surmount the rocks and shoals which infest the course of the atomic age.

Information is only the first step. The individual Rotarian or a Rotary club alerted to problems can make substantial contributions. The boy who benefited from a student loan and became co-inventor of a process which promises to make atomic power as plentiful as heavy hydrogen in the oceans is a source of pride to the Rotary club that sponsored him. Training in all fields of science can be encouraged to meet the urgent call for technical abilities.

A sense of participation in mankind’s march of material progress can be fostered through supporting one of the public or private agencies seeking to improve living standards. In several countries, Rotary clubs have taken the lead in calling attention to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). They are able to show how far a little money will go, not only in feeding the hungry but also in checking disease. For one dollar, this agency can provide a dozen doses of penicillin to heal the horrible sores inflicted by yaws upon the bodies of children. For the same amount, a hundred children can be immunized from tuberculosis with the BCG vaccine. It is hoped that this scourge can soon be virtually eliminated, and similar results are sought in the campaign against malaria, another great destroyer of human life and vigor. Spraying swamps with insecticide can free for cultivation huge areas now lost in the battle for bread.

It may be that co-operation in the path of progress also can be undertaken through the world fellowship of Rotary. Many a Rotary club in Asia has adopted a neighboring village festering in squalor and want. Many more such redemptive efforts might be undertaken if assistance were forthcoming from Rotary in other countries. To share in them would honor any rotary club, for these Rotarians are giving of themselves in this cause. Description of this typical scene comes from India:

We cannot fail to have some satisfaction that after a couple of months of planning and spade work, we started our work on the Rotary village in right earnest. Most of the members present dug trenches for dumping the refuse of their adopted village. After this we started on a bathing day for the village children. All were given a lesson in cleaning their teeth. Their dirty clothes were taken off and Rotarians gave the children a thorough rub with soap and warm water. While this was going on, hot milk prepared from powder was given to every child after his bath. What an exhilarating feeling these children must have had after their bath and warm glass of milk!

Simple things … fundamental things … providing sanitation, housing, cottage industries and, above all, education. Numerous examples – and the number is growing – can be cited in which these village people have had their feet set upon the path of material progress. It is not necessarily a matter of doing the work which needs to be done – it is giving “know-how” to people so that they can help themselves. More local Rotary aid might be given if it were known that help would come from Rotarians in other places. A club anywhere might help train and send a technician to work in these newly developing countries.

To supply tools for fundamental education in the less developed countries, many Rotary clubs have been presented with UNESCO Gift Coupons by Rotarians abroad. These are used to purchase equipment for training people to help themselves. A little girl in The Netherlands was surprised to hear from an adviser of the Food and Agriculture Organization working in the foothills of the Himalayas . She had been one of several thousand children who had contributed to the purchase of gift coupons for a laboratory in the State of Uttar Pradesh . The writer recalled how he had interested Dutch Rotarians in organizing the drive for funds and explained how essential the equipment was to the development of this beautiful country and its people. Members of the local Rotary club had helped to build the laboratory, he told her, and ended his letter with these words:

So you see, Hanny, with your kwartje (quarter of a florin) you have contributed to better understanding which our world so badly needs. I thought of all this when I saw that scrap of paper with your name and address on it. Don’t forget, Hanny, that if ever you are in trouble, and I hope that will never happen, you will always meet with help somewhere if only you remember this: dare to understand, dare to give and to act, dare to receive.

Could not this advice given to a child be extended to all the peoples of the world? In the most vital sense, we are members one of another.

There is no use in pretending, however, that small gestures of this kind can solve the problem alone. Multiplied and spread over the many countries where there are Rotary clubs, they can provide a stimulus and a reassurance to faith. Large government schemes can fail of their own weight unless they have the eager support of public opinion. Projects such as have been described make technical assistance a personal undertaking for those who co-operate in them. And in the receiving country, there is encouragement to work and sacrifice in the knowledge that people in a distant land are encouraging them in their struggle to improve their standard of living. These simple, tangible, practical acts of service contribute to the morale of progress, and morale is important.

The path of progress is beset with so many difficulties and weighted by so many controversial issues that it is all to easy to throw one’s hands in despair. Only the individual Rotarian can confront these questions squarely, study them in all their aspects, and support the action that reason and conscience dictate. In many ways, Rotarians are focusing attention upon these issues, making them the subject of debates and discussions at weekly meetings. Members gather in homes to explore them further. Through correspondence and exchange of programs with clubs in other countries, the knowledge and insights of world fellowship are brought to bear on them. Members address other organizations on these problems. Young minds in the schools are being taught to wrestle with them. In short, the Rotary club can exercise its function as an agency of public enlightenment.

What are some of these issues?

One of the most formidable is that of investment. Large resources must be devoted to improving standards of living; large resources must be devoted to enterprises in the newly developing countries. Some of these enterprises may quickly produce income, thereby being attractive to local capital or to business in other lands. On the other hand, there are many vital projects which yield no direct income or only small returns after many years. The costs of providing electric power, irrigation, and transportation, for example, often run far beyond the borrowing capacity of these governments. Yet such works must be undertaken if there is to be progress in the production of food, raw materials, and manufactured goods.

What should be the source of this capital? Should it be mobilized by governments through taxation? Or, is there some way in which private investors can be enlisted to support what must be, in the short run at least, a profitless undertaking? As businessmen, Rotarians are expected to provide enlightenment on this question and sound advice to the public when specific answers are proposed.

Another problem is protection of investments. What guarantees can be offered by newly-developing countries that capital from abroad will not be subject to excessive taxation – or even outright confiscation? This is a most sensitive point for nations which have recently established their independence. They insist on their right to sovereignty over their natural resources. But how can they expect to attract the large-scale investment from abroad required for their development if they do not definitely guarantee its protection.

Another issue is the economic system of the country itself. Can its stability be assured? Does it operate to the advantage of the majority of its citizens or for only a few? These are only a few questions bearing down upon humanity as it draws nearer together, through technology.

This “togetherness” is real. It exists – now. One quarter of humanity has been relieved of the struggle for food and water, and has thereby been released for the creation of the Good Life – at least on a material basis. This is the world of rapid communications, automation, jet transportation, and leisure. This is the world which has brought mankind to the Space Age.

To its credit, this world has also produced love and charity, freedom and compassion, vision and concern. The “inner space” has not been completely filled, but the process is going on. Rotarians are called to a concern for other peoples’ “standard of living”, but they are not unaware that the worst poverty of all is poverty of the human spirit.

Therefore, as three-quarters of the earth’s population awakens to its new opportunities – as it crosses in a few decades what one-quarter has covered in centuries, it will have help and guidance. It must have the right kind of guidance, however, or the subsequent explosion will be indescribably tragic.

The historian Toynbee has summarized it this way:

Ever since man’s passage from the Lower to the Upper Paleolithic stage of technological progress, the human race had been Lords of Creation on Earth in the sense that, from that time onwards, it had no longer been possible either for inanimate nature of for any other non-human creature either to exterminate mankind or even to interrupt human progress. Thenceforth, nothing on Earth, with one exception, could stand in Man’s way or bring Man to ruin; but that exception was a formidable one – namely Man himself.