“We are a volunteer organization. We do the work with joy in our hearts. I have learnt so much from this experience, and I treasure it."

Hendreen Dean Rohrs is a force of nature, an incredible leader, and a humanitarian. 

She has been a Rotarian since 1989 and has served RI as a vice-president. Currently, she is the chair of Rotary Action Group For Family Health & AIDS Prevention and is a trustee of the Rotary Foundation. 

Sharing about her growing up years in Africa and how her journey in the humanitarian field began, she says, “I started my life as a child of Africa. I grew up in Zambia and it was the most amazing life because it was clean, it was free, not tainted by any outside influences. But as one grows up, you get exposed to different things. So, in my formative years of going to the university in South Africa, I had to deal with the apartheid issues and this troubled me greatly. But it did set my path and put my feet onto the journey of humanitarian service. So, I need to thank those experiences enormously, because they really did give me a direction in life.” After living in Malawi and South Africa, she is now settled with her family in Canada. 

Finding the Right Path With Rotary

She holds three degrees – one in Biochemistry; one in Arts and a degree in nature, conservation and wildlife management. Talking in detail about the various roles she has played in her professional life, Dean says, “Yes, I have three degrees and none of them are the degrees that I've actually used. Your path in life is never the one that you vision for yourself in the beginning. Your circumstances dictate where you actually go. All my degrees helped me gain the skills I thought I needed, but the path that was probably the most significant of all, was when I joined Rotary.”

“Rotary gave me the opportunity to understand exactly what one human being can do, and the difference you can actually make. Rotary helps an ordinary person achieve extraordinary things. So again, my journey within Rotary took me from being a club member to becoming the vice-president of Rotary International. And currently, I am so proud to be a trustee of the Rotary Foundation. But my greatest pride lies in the fact that I am steering the Rotary Action Group for Family Health & AIDS Prevention at this particular time. I have learnt so much from this experience, and I treasure it.”

Empowering Women and Youth 

She recalls an experience from her early days in Rotary that had a great impact in her life. “Well, I think the fact that the one experience which took me from just being a member of a rotary club, to being a real Rotarian, had to do with when I was doing my nature, conservation and wildlife management practical in in Africa, I came across this little village.  There was a belief in that community that if a man had a relationship with an underage girl, he was protected from AIDS. So, no young girl was safe there. These are difficult subject matters, but this is the belief of the communities.”

“As a Rotarian, I turned to Rotary and asked, ‘What can we do to change these attitudes?’. Rotary helped build educational facilities, nursery and primary schools, to teach the youth within those communities that these beliefs are not real, and that they had the power to empower themselves to say no to these exploitations. And today, these communities are teaching sex education and AIDS education in schools. Can you imagine we changed the belief of a whole community through Rotary! I think that changed me in more ways than anything has ever done.”

The Journey With RFHA

“I have been really privileged to have stepped into this role and join Rotary Family Health Days at a time in its journey when there were great opportunities coming in. This opportunity came at the right time in my life and it was a path of discovery. We are a significant player in the NGO market across the world and we have this amazing CEO, Sue Paget, who literally carried RFHA on her back alone for many, many years. So, working in tandem, we are delivering an amazing program and making an impact in so many different communities,” she says.

Sharing her thoughts on how RFHA is helping communities and why Rotary Family Health Days are needed, Dean says, “I think the one thing that the pandemic made us all realize was to focus internally in many different ways. It made countries and corporations realize that public health is dependent upon the communities, and if communities don't have the services and the training, there is going to be a huge gap. And this is a service that Rotary Family Health Days actually delivers. It is giving the communities the ownership and access to health services. It is also training the communities to understand what sort of health and access commitments should be made available to them.”

“Corporations have to realize that if they can protect the health of their workers, they actually protect the economic viability. The biggest loss to any economy is the loss of their workforce. If we think of the debilitation of malaria, just in the Central African countries, or sub-Saharan countries, the economic detriment of a workforce is not protected against malaria or think of the pandemic hitting your whole workforce. This is where we, as RFHA, are filling a gap. We are able to show that community health is number one, and we are able to provide the services that are needed throughout our feet on the ground Rotary connections. The fact that we have people in literally every part of the world, who can effectively administer the work that RFHA needs to do is a huge contribution.” 

“We are a volunteer organization. We do the work with joy in our hearts and the recent Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation partnership with RFHA to support the Rotary Family Health Days, makes it possible for us to introduce RFHDs in 11 new countries in Africa in the first two years. The last Rotary Family Health Days that we had in Nigeria reached out to thousands of people. Expand this into all the countries we already serve, and to the countries that we are now going to add and you can think of the difference that we can make in so many different communities,” adds Dean.

Apart from being a humanitarian at heart, there is also an artist hidden inside her, waiting for a chance to pick up her brushes again. “Art is fascinating. I majored in sculpture and it was good as it did break me out of the mould. Now, I don’t have much time to do any more ceramics. I do some painting once in a while, but I wish to learn new techniques and mediums. I also enjoy wood carving, which is another amazing medium to work with. I think I will pull out my easels and canvases from the cupboard once I retire from the foundation in July this year. But the continuation of the humanitarian work will always be my priority,” she signs off.

Dean Rohrs has also served as a director, Rotary coordinator, regional Rotary Foundation coordinator, and district governor. She is a Rotary Foundation Benefactor, Major Donor, and Bequest Society member.

Interested in joining the RFHA team or participating in a Global Grant supporting Rotary Family Health Days?

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