A Life of Service with Chenyere Amaefule

A chance visit to Rotary International headquarters brought Chenyere Amaefule to Rotary. This in turn has created a passion for international projects and dreams of the impact that Rotary can have.


Mandy Kwasnica 0:20
Welcome to this episode of Talking Rotary. I’m Peter Tonge, and I’m a member of the Rotary Club of Winnipeg Charleswood. And I am Mandy Kwasnica Past President and also a member of the Rotary Club of Winnipeg, Charleswood, we are so happy you have joined us here and I are so excited for this new podcast and thankful to our many listeners. Let’s start Talking Rotary.

Peter Tonge 1:07
Hi, everyone, welcome to another episode of talking Rotary. I’m Peter Tonge. And I’m here with Chenyere Amaefule and she’s in Maryland in the United States. Hi, my friend. How are you?

Chenyere Amaefule 1:19
Great. Great. Peter. Great. Great to see you today and be part of the show. I appreciate that very much. Now that for listeners around the world, can you explain to them where you are? All right, great. I am located in district 7620. Here and Maryland covering DC and northern parts of Northern Virginia. I am located in Silver Spring, Maryland, just outside of the Washington DC, nation’s our nation’s capitol here in the United States. Fantastic and do lots of people live in that area and then commute into the Capitol or is it too far for that is not too far, I would say it’s about maybe 10 miles or less from DC where I am residing in our district goes all the way to Southern Maryland,as well as central Maryland, as well.

Peter Tonge 2:21
Okay, tell me a little bit about your rotary club and what they like to do.

Chenyere Amaefule 2:27
I’m a member of the Rotary Club of Potomac Bethesda, located in the Potomac area of Maryland. And I always say I get a chuckle on this, but I always say I am as old as the club. Literally, the club was founded in August of 80 1980.

Chenyere Amaefule 2:49
It has a long history of serving here and here and this part of Maryland, our projects have covered areas of education, both domestically and internationally. Most recently, now that I’ve mentioned internationally, we have efforts and the countries of Haiti, long standing efforts, as well as an Ethiopia and as well as a Belese.and a human unique part of that is that we have club membership tiedto those countries, whether professionally or personally, in a familiar connection.

Peter Tonge 3:42
Okay. So is that how you sort of the club’s sort of chose the countries that they were going to work in? Or?

Chenyere Amaefule 3:49
Well, I would say that certainly influenced the decision because those folks have round level connections and they are also, you know, traveling back and forth to those countries. So they really get to see the executionof the club’s efforts.

Peter Tonge 4:11
All right. I want to talk about that a little bit, because Haiti is fascinating to me, because there’s so much work to do there. But before we go there, tell me a little bit about your journey to Rotary, how did you end up being a Rotarian?

Chenyere Amaefule 4:25
Many years ago, while I was in college, I met a family in the town that I was studying in. And I was traveling to for spring break to the Chicago area. And at that time, they asked me Could I you know, deliver a package to their relative? And certainly, I did, I said, Oh, sure. Just give me the address. Well, I didn’t know the address was gonna be RI

Chenyere Amaefule 5:02
Soo I go there and the person says, Oh, well, do you have a moment? You know, let me tell you about Rotary. I believe he was an account and there at that time, we’re talking about over 2020 plus years ago. Okay. Yeah. And that’s when I learned about Rotary. And I said, Well, you know, at some point, I would like to get involved and engaged into Rotary. And so while in grad school in Ohio, I heard about a Rotarian trying to start a Rotaract Club at the university. Right? That time, I really cannot get engaged because this busy grad school schedule, I hear you. But when I relocated to Montgomery, Alabama, I was given the opportunity through a fellowship to get involved in service. Right. Certainly, Rotary was the choice, the plan to get involved there in Montgomery, Alabama.

Peter Tonge 6:14
And, and now you’re in the DC area, you gotta be there for a while you’ve been in lots of places, have you sort of settled in the DC area? Or?

Chenyere Amaefule 6:22
Yes, yes, this is, you know, for all purposes, this is a home. Yeah, I mean, you always have your place where you come from, but for our purposes, this is home and my club is home. And really over the years, not only has it been great to engage, and projects, within this district, a rotary club, the members have become like, family.

Peter Tonge 6:54
Oh, that’s nice. Yeah. It’s nice to have those supports too. So that’s great. As you say, everybody has a different fab. It’s interesting have started at the top and weave your way through to find the place, right? Yeah. That’s cool. So let’s, let’s come back a little bit and talk about the work that your club is doing in Haiti, because that’s, there’s got to be a lot to do there.

Chenyere Amaefule 7:23
Yes. So over the years, the club has been supporting a school there in Haiti. And it’s been around the different areas of service, which have included water and sanitation. Also, any other grassroots efforts that might be needed around addressing food and hunger? But really, the school is the central point, part of support for Haiti there.

Peter Tonge 8:01
Okay, so, um, did you help build the school? Are you providing supplies for the school? What sort of the scope of the project?

Chenyere Amaefule 8:11
Okay, so what I should say, was good. I know, since I’ve been a member of the clubs, and it’s Oh, nine. Okay. I think the relationship goes further back. All right. And so I have to kind of give you the perspective, since then, there’s been, you know, some environmental situations with the earthquakes and things of that nature. So, initially, you know, we, I’m saying, from my standpoint of Oh, nine, there was a latrine project to install, that, you know, bathrooms, that you wouldn’t have to leave and come back. And then the building suffered infrastructure challenges, right. And so at that point, you know, we looked at, but you know, what was the greatest need at the food has been one of them as well. As far as actually supporting books having having shipments of books, we have not done that as a club. But we have tried to support outside of maybe, because not necessarily rebuilding the school, but the tools and the supplies to support the root.

Peter Tonge 9:50
That makes a lot of sense. I’ll just recap that I was involved in a number of years ago. One of the things that we used to do is we used to do to ship a container of books to through school in Ghana. Okay. But the interesting part is we, we made arrangements that we, we didn’t lease the container or read the container, we bought the container, because typically what happens is the container with their full of books, and once it arrives and returned the container into a home. So that wasn’t, that wasn’t our, our sort of plan that we were getting to send container homes, what we’ve learned very quickly that the container was being reused. So we always made sure that we didn’t need to get it back.

Chenyere Amaefule 10:45
Yeah, yeah. I know, on the Belise project that we support, a partnership with believe and believe, yes, let’s carry on some foundation. He’s been able to partner with some clubs out in Ohio to help defray the cost of shipment. Have we been able to get by? Oh, now I want to say, Oh, my jumped to lead us monitors that can be used for learning and classroom.

Peter Tonge 11:23
Oh, that’s fantastic. That’s really helpful. And, and you said that that in, in in the countries that Jacob has been doing work, there’s some family or some personal connections, typically to those countries? Yes. Tell me a little bit about that. How did how does that help aid those projects? I guess is what I’m asking.

Chenyere Amaefule 11:46
I think that there it helps because they build connections on ground, not only in those particular communities, but also through other rotary clubs and Rotarians in the area that might, you know, be interested in supporting the efforts on ground when they’re not not there. Right. Sure. Also, I think it helps with the sustainability of their projects, because these are not, you know, like, one year focus projects is our prime priority. Over now we can speak of decades.

Peter Tonge 12:35
Yeah, you’ve had some of these relationships for decades, right? For decades.

Chenyere Amaefule 12:39
So certainly, it also helps address when there needs to be a new direction, because there are needs that come up. And we all have been experiencing a redirection and in the pandemic, right. Right. So I think having that connection to those countries and find ground support, from Rotarians in those countries, as well as the Rotarians in my club going there.

Peter Tonge 13:15
Sure. And is interesting that you say that we’ve all kind of readjusted from the, from the pandemic, how is the pandemic impacted your Rotary life?

Chenyere Amaefule 13:27
Yes, yes. Our club was able, after some time to pivot to one line. And we had to because our meeting place was closed for an extended period of time, as well as some of the projects domestic projects with one of the food warehouses that I’ve been involved in. We used to physically go in and help pack boxes for donations, once a month. And we can no longer do that, right. But food to dress food insecurity still remains. And so as a club, we continue to discuss like, well now that we can’t physically go in because of organizational limitation. What what will that look like? You know, like our dictionary project, we couldn’t go into the school. And so now we’re in this whole real pivot, you know, how do we operate in this quasi world between virtual and trying to make a on ground impact in the community, where we are located.

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Peter Tonge 15:22
Absolutely. And I don’t know that my view is a popular one. But I believe that the pandemic and the use of being online and virtual and all that has opened up a whole new world for rotary, this podcast wouldn’t exist if I didn’t do it over zoom. And things like that. So what I, when I say things like that some of my fellow Rotarians may screw up their faces, but I love I love the fact that we’ve had to had to shift and learn new ways of doing things.

Chenyere Amaefule 15:58
All part of reinvention is part of sustainability.

Peter Tonge 16:05
Absolutely, I think that I think that’s a, that’s a very good point. Because certainly in the projects that you’ve done, particularly in the international projects, you have to adapt great, you’re supporting a school, and then all of a sudden, there’s an earthquake, as you were telling me, right, you’re gonna have to adapt. Now, tell me a little bit about your local, probably one of your local projects, the dictionary project,

Chenyere Amaefule 16:31
For a number of years, we have delivered dictionaries, we like to call it a little more than a dictionary, because it is almost like a almanac a little bit in that dictionary. And we would try to target at least delivering to 10 to 15 schools within the district and the past. And so it was always fun to you know, engage with the third graders, we would deliver it to third graders across the district. It was something that even the teachers kind of looked forward to, because they would post a club assembly, what it’d be dropping off the books, we actually could engage with them ask some questions, and they had a lot of fun, you know, engaging with the club members.

Peter Tonge 17:35
I think I think that’s amazing. I can because I think a dictionary or an almanac is such a great gift. It opens up the world that you know, there’s so many things. I mean, words, words are powerful, right? Yeah. And what a great thing not just for the kids to get the books, but then take the book home too. Right. So and make the new discoveries. Yeah, I think I love projects. I love projects like that. And I love as you say, to be able to engage with with the with the young people in your community. That’s, that’s really, really fantastic. Now, I’m gonna ask you a question that’s maybe a little bit unfair, but I, I just, I just have a feeling that you have lots of things you would like to do in Rotary? If I if I gave you with the opportunity to take rotary early club to any place you could, what would you love to do?

Chenyere Amaefule 18:37
If I could say, our whole club?

Peter Tonge 18:41
You see what I’m saying? What’s the burning thing that you want to do in Rotary that if you have the chance , let’s say that way.

Chenyere Amaefule 18:50
I think what I would love to do, but is really work on a clinic related project. And a area that does not have access to care. That is maybe like a remote rural area, but it would be nice if I could dedicate, you know, 100% of my working hours for effort like that.

Peter Tonge 19:31
I think that would be fantastic. Because I know there’s certainly a need there’s needs internationally and I know there’s there needs get in the United States you in remote areas that need that need care. I mean, I think that would be the that would be a very admirable thing to do was to say I just I had this feeling in our discussion that there’s losses you would like to do so I want I wanted to ask a grad you could, you could share that with me. That’s really that’s really quite nice.

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Chenyere Amaefule 20:37
Well, one thing I would certainly like to talk about you, you know, besides your, your interest in getting involved with the podcast, what are some of your activity within Rotary as well? And what does that look like? A year from now?

Peter Tonge 21:02
Okay, well, I can, I can say this. I mean, there’s was a love of a Rotary but I think my two main areas of interest is I love international projects was why it was fun to tidy, but those and in, I used to live in a different part of the country in that club, we did a lot of work in Guyana, we did a lot of water wells, and medical clinics that you talked about, we did those, we did those in Ghana, and those were great. And what was nice about that, at that time, is we’d already built good relationships with a number of Rotary Clubs in Ghana, and with some local people on the ground. So when we went to work there, we knew we could safely work there and do the work I never went I was the paperwork guy I did all the granting and all that and stayed in Canada but others other fine Rotarians went and did a lot of the physical work, but they knew that they could work there safely, it would get done. And then we knew the projects will be sustained. And again, in my in my Rotary clubs. In this area, we’ve done it other projects like water walls and things like that international so I love the international work and I think to two other things that I really liked sort of more recently in rotary is the is the new area of focus for the environment. That’s that’s really important to me, I’m be honest, I’m sort of a latecomer to, to the environmental movement. But I think Rotary has so much power to help move that along. In my rotary club here. There’s something very unique, we’re we’re the trustees of an urban forest. And the urban forests have hiking trails through it and lots of stuff. And we’ve done tree planting projects. And we’ve done last year, we did for the first time we did a pollinator garden, so we could bring the butterflies into the forest. And that was, that was a great deal of fun, and I love those. And the other thing that’s sort of really reason to rotary that I’m passionate about is the new focus on diversity, equity and inclusion. I’m a I’m a person that has a physical disability. So to see rotary bring that along the path I mean, I think they were a little bit late coming to the table with that, but now they’ve stepped fully up board and our our new president who I’m proud to say is Canadian Jennifer Jones is pretty much about dei so I’m I’m sort of pleased to move those goals for working currently with my home Rotary Club, to create a virtual rotary club that will allow people with physical limitations and things like that to participate in rotary without worrying about going to a weekly meeting and things like that. So that’s just one example that very, very passionate about that.

Chenyere Amaefule 24:18
Yeah, yes and now have a powerful impact especially reaching other lots of people that might not be you know, have had opportunities to engage in service activity.

Peter Tonge 24:35
Exactly in the area where world that I live we have very severe winters. I like going to my rotary club virtually because I don’t have to get myself there in the middle of a snowstorm. I’ll be honest. No, so so I’m hoping that we can do we can do more of that. We’re gonna open Open the rotary world up to two more folks. Good. I think that’s. So that’s sort of where I come from. In the rotary world. Those are the three things that I like to spend most of my energy on. That’s kind of fun. So I only have one standard question in the podcast. And and that is, you could be spending your time and your energy and your resources on lots of things. Why Rotary International?

Chenyere Amaefule 25:33
Because it’s a demonstrated collective impact that has really change lives, not just domestically, but globally, I believe in rotaries mission. I know I see what it says on your spring back spring, you know, we are people of action. And we have responded, you know, to many of the challenges of the world that sometimes often, folks might forget about, you know, when the flashlight might be on the issue for a moment, Rotary doesn’t forget about it. If there Rotarians are there for the long haul.

Peter Tonge 26:28
Polio being be a great example of that.

Chenyere Amaefule 26:31
What a polio. Yeah.

Peter Tonge 26:34
Yeah, absolutely.

Chenyere Amaefule 26:37
That is one of the greatest effort

Peter Tonge 26:43
and it’s been it’s been long term but would have been there the whole way. So that’s, I think, I think you’re exactly right. So you’re a this has been a great conversation. Thank you so much. I appreciate appreciate hearing about you and about your, your rotary life and.

Mandy Kwasnica 27:25
Thank you so much for joining us on another great episode of Talking Rotary. We would love to hear from you. Please send us your comments and story ideas and you can share with us easily by sending us an email at feedback at talking rotary.org Let’s keep Talking Rotary.

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