Speech Sakuji Tanaka
President of Rotary International - 2012-2013
Good afternoon, everyone.
It is a pleasure to be here with all of you, here in The Hague.
It has now been two months, since I left the office of Rotary International President. It was a very busy, and very wonderful year.
When you are president of RI, you travel a great deal. You visit many projects, in many different countries. You meet many people, and you are always busy. You are always thinking, not only about what you are doing at that moment, but about what you will be doing next.
It is not a schedule that allows much time for reflection.
Now that I am back home in Yashio, Japan, my life is slower. I go to my Rotary club every week, and am involved again in some of my club’s projects. I have time to think, about the things that I have seen.
I knew, before I was president, that Rotary service helped to build peace, in many ways. But this was something I believed—it was not something that I had seen.
They say, that a picture is worth a thousand words. If that is true, then a year as RI president is worth a very large library.
Seeing our work, firsthand, made me understand Rotary in a different way—with my heart, as well as my head.
We may not feel that we are building peace, when we are part of a jobs training program, or when we help to repair a playground, or partner with another club, to help build a water pump in Africa.
But we are. Because war is a great struggle, that comes, when people’s lives are too full of struggle. It comes when people feel, that they are alone, and they have no hope. When people do not have the basic necessities of life—when they do not have clean water, enough to eat, basic health care, and education for their children—they have nothing to lose.
Through our work in Rotary, we help people, so they do not have to struggle, quite as much. We help, to show that we care.
Last year, I saw, again, and again, that all of us, working together, can truly build peace.
Peace cannot be created by one person, or one government, no matter how great their effort or their resources.
Peace can only come when we work together, toward the same goal—when we all communicate, when we all cooperate, and when we all contribute.
There are many ways of understanding the idea of peace. We can talk about peace between nations, and peace within them. We can have peace in our communities, in our homes, and in our hearts.
However you understand peace, I believe that Rotary service helps us to bring it closer.
When we put Service Above Self, we see the world differently. Our neighbors’ problems become our own. We help to solve the local challenges, that can grow into larger conflicts. We help people to find peaceful solutions to their difficulties.
When people have the ability, and the desire, to work together, for a common goal, it changes everything. This is something I have seen very often in Rotary service, when Rotarians from many countries cooperate on a single project. It does not matter, if the relations between their countries are good, or difficult. When Rotarians are serving together, in an environment of Rotary fellowship, everything else is secondary.
Peace can begin with something as small and as great as friendship between people from different corners of the globe. Peace can begin with a simple attitude of tolerance. It can begin with an awareness of our interdependence, with a commitment to help make the world a better place.
When Paul Harris began Rotary, one hundred and eight years ago, it was a new idea. It was new in many ways. At the very first Rotary club meeting, it was decided, that in Rotary, every member would be called by his first name. No one is called by a title, because here, we are all friends.
It does not matter if we are young or old, Rotarians or Rotaractors, Interactors or Youth Exchange participants. The purpose of Rotary is to bring people together. It reminds us that we are all the same.
The most important people in our lives are not the people who are paid the most. They are the people who care the most.
In my town of Yashio, for the last ten years, I have gone out once a week to clean a street.
I do this myself, with my own hands, with my own broom.
At first I did it alone. I am sure that plenty of people saw me out there in all kinds of weather, wearing gloves and carrying a garbage bag, and thought it was very strange.
But they soon became used to the sight. Now, we have up to 18 members participating. More and more members come, because going out yourself and cleaning your street sends a strong message about Rotary.
It shows that we care. It shows that we do not think we are above the real work of keeping a community strong. This work is important, and for everyone.
This is how we have worked for peace, for one hundred and eight years. And it is how we have spent the last twenty-six years, working together to eradicate polio.
Rotary is a large and a strong organization. We have 1.2 million members, and we are backed by a strong Rotary Foundation. But even with all of our resources, we could never have eradicated polio alone.
When we committed to the job of eradication, we knew that raising the money and the awareness would only be part of the job. We would also have to partner with many other organizations, individuals, and governments.
Today, the world is seeing the result of your commitment, and the cooperation of so many.
Each year, fewer children are paralyzed by polio.
We are “this close” to the end. But “this close” is not close enough.
I ask you all to do your share, in raising awareness for polio eradication. And when the world is certified polio-free, every one of you will feel the pride of knowing, that your hard work, led to that day—to a world that will be forever changed for the better, because of you.
I thank you for being here today, and for the warm welcome you have given me. I wish you the best for your continued work toward a polio- free world, and for all that you do to build Peace through Service.