Members of the first Rotary club in the island nation of Kiribati spent a week in August celebrating its charter.  

On 11 August, RI General Secretary Ed Futa, on behalf of the RI Board, approved a charter for the Rotary Club of Kiritimati, Line Islands, Republic of Kiribati, adding another nation to the more than 200 countries and geographical areas on the Rotary map.

"Rotary will have an important and positive impact on improving the lives of people in Kiritimati (formerly Christmas Island)," says club president Ruta Uatioa. "Rotary represents leadership, something we are excited to adopt here."

The 35-member club, along with guest Rotarians from District 9920 and the United States, held its first official club meeting on 23 August, the kickoff to the weeklong festivities. As part of the week's programming, Kiritimati club members visited schools and hospitals to assess potential projects.

Participating in the activities were members of the Rotary Club of Commerce City, Colorado, USA, who led multiple World Community Service (WCS) projects on Kiritimati and were instrumental in introducing Rotary to the islands.

George Maybee, a member of the Commerce City club, has vacationed with his wife, Sharon, on the island for years. During a trip in 2006, Maybee became convinced his club should get involved with helping people there.

A year later, the club launched a multiphase WCS project consisting of improved medical care, water quality, and educational opportunities.

The club then joined efforts with Past District 9220 Governor Warwick Pleass, who was already working with RI to get a club chartered in Kiribati. Maybee and members from the Rotary Club of Suva East, Fiji, made several trips to Kiritimati to help a provisional club.

Island nation

Kiribati (pronounced KEER-ah-bhass) consists of 33 islands scattered across 2,400 miles of the Pacific Ocean, with a population of more than 105,000. The three main groupings are the Gilbert Islands, Phoenix Islands, and Line Islands.

In 1995, Kiribati drew international attention when it petitioned to change the International Date Line, which divided the nation into two time zones. The entire nation now lies west of the date line, which zigzags around the easternmost islands.

Kiribati gets a large portion of its income from overseas, including fishing licenses, development assistance, and tourism.

"Our people are used to being on the receiving end of help," says Uatioa. "With the first Rotary club here, our members can now be on the giving end."

Projects in the works for the Kiritimati club include completion of upgrades to the Banana Village Medical Clinic; construction of working toilets for all six schools on the island; distribution of dictionaries provided by the Rotary Club of Brighton Early, Colorado; and distribution of toothbrushes and toothpaste.

"The future is bright; Rotary can surely look forward to a glowing success with the Kiritimati club, as well as an additional club in Kiribati," says Maybee. "I'm very much looking forward to seeing the Kiribati flag at the RI Convention in Birmingham."