Over five decades exciting journey at the Rotary Club

Saturday May 23 2020

Palmhouse Foundation mentors and financially supports needy children of Kenya to obtain secondary education. ILLUSTRATION | J NYAGAH | NATION MEDIA GROUP

By Yusuf K. Dawood

I was first introduced to Rotary in 1964 when Marie and I drove to Kampala to attend a surgeon’s conference. I had successfully operated on a patient in Nairobi, who had an agency for Coca-Cola in Kampala.
His brother managed it there and the patient rang him to look after us while we were there. In this connection, the brother took me to a Rotary lunch, held at what was then known as Imperial Hotel.

As usual, there was a speaker after lunch and it happened to be a Scottish physiotherapist who had come for a year to Uganda to help children, disabled and deformed by poliomyelitis.

Pretty, petite and elflike, she seemed to be in her early twenties. I couldn’t imagine her leaving her home in the highlands of Scotland to work with strange people in a strange land.

I was more impressed when I heard from my host that she was sent by Rotary and all her expenses including her fare were paid by Rotary Foundation. Not one, usually driven by impulses, I made an instant decision to join Rotary as a member, made with right motivation.


Armed with this information, I returned to Nairobi and found that one had to be invited to join Rotary as a member and worse still, there was only one Rotary Club in Nairobi and it was restricted to ‘Whites’.


With Uhuru, just obtained, all restrictive clauses were invalid in Kenya, but that ruling was not fully effective yet. Then I had to wait four more years for my classification to become vacant.

For the information of my readers, let me clarify that in Rotary, one person from each profession and business is allowed to join a Rotary Club and when I wanted to join Rotary, classification system was adhered to very strictly.

In 1967, a doctor resigned from the Rotary Club of Nairobi and the classification of ‘Medicine’ fell vacant and Taj Ahamed, a patient-turned- friend successfully proposed my name and I was inducted on Thursday, the March 30, 1967.

For the first 10 years of my Rotary membership, I went through the usual paces, sitting on various Club Committees.

I attended my first District Conference held in Arusha because our District, number 920 then included Tanzania and the District Governor (DG) was from Tanzania.

That visit fired me with an ambition of aiming for the position of DG in the future. For the year 1981-1982, I was elected the president of my Club and my presidency ran from 1st July 1981 to June 30, 1982. One memorable event in that year was when a Rotary Club in Japan built a workshop for Jacaranda School for mentally handicapped children, thus training them and making them financially independent when they left school.


Thereafter, I served the District in different roles under various DGs, until George Ranaivosa, DG of our District officially visited my Club and threw a challenge. “There is a lot of DG material in this Club; why not exploit it?”

My Club responded by electing me as its candidate for DG position. The nomination was to be decided at Ranaivosa’s District Conference held in Tananarive, capital of Madagascar in April 1987. As a candidate, I was supposed to be there and I was nominated for the year 1989-1990.

In May 1987, Marie and I attended our first Rotary International (RI) Convention held in Munich. By the time I took office the number of our District was changed to 9,200 and it was truncated to eight countries; Kenya, Uganda, Mauritius, Reunion, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Seychelles and Somalia. As DG, I was expected to visit all Clubs in the eight countries, which I did, except Somalia, which was defunct.

I was out of my bed for six months to do it and Marie accompanied me everywhere. I had to take six month sabbatical leave from my teaching and find a partner for my private practice.

I am not bragging but the above information and what follows makes an argument to justify my critical remarks in the next column. After I completed my DG year, I was appointed to various committees of Rotary International, which involved a lot of travelling.

For two years, I was Training Leader, training incoming District Governors in Anaheim was RI representative to UNEP in Nairobi.

I represented RI president at two district conferences, one in South Africa and the other in Nigeria. Finally, I served as RRFC, regional Rotary Foundation coordinator for English speaking Africa for three years.

Talking of Rotary Foundation, Marie, I, our two children, our two grand-children, my younger brother and my two nephews are Paul Harris Fellows, each fellowship, requiring donation of $1,000 to Rotary Foundation.


In 1978, Marie and I set up our family foundation in Kenya, called Marie Rahima Dawood (MRD) Foundation with a chapter in England, both tax-exempt.

Its objects were to award university scholarships, vocational bursaries for beauticians, hair-dressers, and similar vocations, give awards to best nurse, and highest in literature and surgery at various universities in the region to promote excellence and donate wheel-chairs, Jaipur foot and sanitary pads.

In the year 2000, we donated quarter million dollars to Rotary Foundation, resulting in Marie and me becoming the first two Arch Klumpf Society members in Africa.

In 2016, because of the advancing age of the two founders, we were constrained to wind up MRD Foundation and donated the bulk of its capital to Kharadar Hospital in Karachi and Palmhouse Foundation in Kenya.

The former is a free hospital in one of the poorest districts of Karachi, where my nephew, Bashir, son of my brother, Janmohamed, my mentor, is the chairman. Bashir is a business tycoon and our donation will be used to build MRD School and College of Nursing.

Palmhouse Foundation mentors and financially supports needy children of Kenya to obtain secondary education.
Our donation will be ring-fenced for the income from our capital to support the children in perpetuity.

Finally, to celebrate half a century of service to Rotary Club of Nairobi, my Club elected me as its lifetime Honorary member.