Posted by Michael Bell, Past District Governor and Chair , District 7070 Rotary Foundation Committee

Members from Rotary Clubs in District 7070 just returned from Ethiopia with  Canadian partner, CUSO International, to view and assist The Midwives Save Lives project with the distribution of the birthing kits to help mothers and newborns in Ethiopia. District 7070 is in the process of applying for a Maternal & Child Health  District Global Grant. The first step is a needs assessment, so District Foundation Chair, Michael Bell, Chris Snyder, and Ian Lancaster traveled to two rural areas in Ethiopia to gather information to complete our District 7070 Global Grant for CUSO’s Mid-wives Save Lives Program. The Funds raised will help fund purchase of Birthing Kits equipment to support midwives while in their clinical placement. The Preliminary budget is estimated at $80,000 USD. Your club can help. Here is a report from their first trip and Rotary District 7070's exciting new project ........

A Partnership between Rotary  & CUSO International  - An opportunity to assist mothers & newborns in Ethiopia

Michael Bell, the Past District 7070 Governor and Chair of the District 7070 Rotary Foundation Committee , just got back from seeing one of the newest programs as the Rotary Foundation’s Major Gifts Initiative pilot project in the area of maternal and child health and the partnership Rotary has with CUSO International and the birthing kits that we  helped make possible to deliver to the Midwives Save Lives program in Ethiopia.

Michael thanked the 25 Rotary Clubs in District 7070 (along with 6 personal donators) who contributed to the Midwives Save Lives birthing kits in Ethiopia. Michael quoted David C. Forward , Rotarian and author of “The Rotary Foundation, Doing Good In The World”, who wrote, “No matter how worthy the cause or how noble its work, no charity, foundation or house of worship can survive without financial support”.

Today, Rotary is looking for us to create new opportunities and partnerships for the purpose of doing just that…. "Doing Good In The World”. We have club projects, District Grants and Global Grants on one side of the spectrum and we have world leaders through partnerships with the Gates Foundation for Polio Eradication at the other end . Rotary is now looking for partnerships in between. To that end, the Rotary Foundation has created “The Major Gifts Initiative” building a $30 million US war chest for each of the 6 areas of focus in order to be able to match and partner with, for example, another NGO.

In District 7070, we have done just that…. The opportunity to break new ground with our pilot partnership project with CUSO International (Canada University Students Overseas). Since 1961 CUSO International has been working to reduce poverty and inequality through the efforts of their highly skilled volunteers, collaborative partnerships, and compassionate donors. Their mission is working to eradicate poverty through equitable and sustainable development. Their vision is a world where all people are able to realize their potential, develop their skills and participate fully in society.

CUSO has 3 areas of focus, community, health and livelihood. Community - improving gender equality and social inclusion, Health - providing access to quality health care, and Livelihood - creating sustainable economic opportunity.

CUSO’s 3 areas of focus very much align with Rotary’s own 6 areas of focus.  

The idea for a partnership between Rotary and CUSO first took root in the year that Michael Bell was District Governor and attending the Toronto West - Rotary Youth Impact Awards Gala where the life time achievement award was given to Frank O’Dea a board member of CUSO. Frank had turned his life around from living on the streets of Toronto in the early 1970’s to being one of the founders of Second Cup. Frank and I met and discussed various possible projects in several countries before deciding upon Ethiopia. It was after visiting CUSO’s Midwives Save Lives program in Ethiopia, late in 2018, that Frank saw the potential for a pilot project between Rotary District 7070 and CUSO.

In this case, there are three partners: Rotary: A global network of friends, leaders, and problem-solvers who take action to create lasting change across the globe – working together to better our world. CUSO:  An NGO that works to eradicate poverty and inequality through the efforts of highly skilled volunteers and collaborative partnerships . Canadian Government:  As part of the federal government initiative on Maternal and Child Health, funds raised will be matched 13:1 for  CUSO’s “Midwives Save Lives Program”.

District 7070 is in the process of applying for a Maternal & Child Health  District Global Grant : The fist step is a needs assessment, so District Foundation Chair, Michael Bell, Chris Snyder, and Ian Lancaster traveled to two rural areas in Ethiopia to gather information to complete our District 7070 Global Grant for CUSO’s Mid-wives Save Lives Program. The Funds raised will help fund purchase of Birthing Kits equipment to support midwives while in their clinical placement. The Preliminary budget is estimated at $80,000 USD.

For the last 6 months, Rotarians Chris Snyder (Toronto), Ian Lancaster (Toronto Sunrise) and Michael (Etobicoke) have been working on this project to provide 100 plus birthing kits for the CUSO program “Midwives Save Lives” in Ethiopia. Ian , and Michael, along with Norma Davis (Toronto Eglinton) and other District Rotarians just returned from Ethiopia from conducting a needs assessment as part of a District Global Grant Application.

Just like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation who were trying to vaccinate children in third world countries were frustrated by a lack of infrastructure, they realized that Rotary had the best infrastructure setup for vaccinating children against Polio, and so have put their considerable support behind out efforts. We in Rotary District 7070 have recognized that CUSO has the best infrastructure in place in Ethiopia with their “Mid Wives Save Lives” program and so a partnering with CUSO here just makes sense on so many levels.

Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia is a bustling city of 3 million. Ethiopia , with a population of 110 M it is the second most populous nation in Africa. More than 80 Ethnic groups and as many languages and the working language is Amharic. Their first visit was to Benishangul-Gumuz Regional State: Assosa Town is the state capital . Located 680 km north west of Addis Ababa . Over 50,000 km2 in size. 86.5% of population live in rural areas. 2016 state population was over 1,000,000.

Conditions at the Assosa General Hospital and the Benishangul-Gumuz Region Community Health Centre were horrible. The best day there, was what we would call the worst day in a MASH unit. No supplies or instruments to work with for the dedicated doctors and nurses (for example: one stethoscope and one thermometer form 10 nurses). The patients brought their own bedding for the beds. The region has one of highest under 5 child mortality rates in country
Only 28% give birth at medical facilities. Most health facilities lack maternal waiting areas, delivery coaches, BP apparatus and infrastructure. Michael said it was very life changing, and now has a greater appreciation for what we have in Canada.

I can truly say that I was inspired by the medical CUSO volunteers as well as the Ethiopian doctors and staff at their commitment to provide the best care possible for their patients when having less than nothing. They make the impossible possible. While there is much that needs to be done bringing down the mortality rate for mothers and newborns is our focus. CUSO is training the midwives and we are supplying the birthing kits, the tools that will allow the midwives to do their jobs.





The second region they visited was in the Bale Mountains National Park, an 8 hour bus ride away from Addis Ababa, to Bale Robe. They visited the Visit to Bale Robe Goba Health Centre which has a Catchment area of 250,000 people. 

Just like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation realized that Rotary had the best infrastructure for vaccinating children against polio, Rotary has recognized that CUSO has the best infrastructure in place in Ethiopia so the partnership makes sense on so many levels. All of the funds that Rotary raises, here in District 7070, goes to provide the birthing kits for the CUSO “Midwives Save Lives” program. Partnering with Rotary allows CUSO to access matching funding from the Canadian Government, depending on the project, anywhere from a 9 to 1 ratio to a 13 to 1 ratio. Because this is a maternal and Child Health Project, it qualifies CUSO to receive the 13 to 1 ratio from the Canadian Government. The Global Grant will be $80,000 US which will be match to total over $2 million US. If your Rotary Club is one of the 25 in District 7070 that has already made a contribution, you can say that your club has helped to contribute to this $2 million US humanitarian project in Ethiopia. The Canadian Government will provide CUSO to train more midwives and do more humanitarian work in Ethiopia.

The World Health Organization has reported that Ethiopia has one of the world’s highest maternal mortality rate ratios with an average of 675 maternal deaths per 100,000 births. In Canada we have 7.2 maternal deaths per 100,000 births.

Michael hopes that this pilot project between CUSO and Rotary will lead to future partnerships with other Rotary Clubs in the 22 District across Canada for the purpose of increasing our humanitarian efforts worldwide.

District 7070 is working with the Rotary Club of Addis Ababa Entoto on this Global Grant application. A great start. And it just so happens that the sister of the President of Ethiopia is a member of that Rotary Club.

Every day, approximately 830 women die from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth around the world.  In 2015, CUSO launched the Midwives Save Lives (MSL) program in partnership with the Canadian Association of Midwives.  MSL works in a number of countries with a high rate of maternal mortality.  In 2017, over 321,000 pregnant women and newborns benefited from the MSL program.  It delivers training on basic emergency obstetric and newborn care and respectful maternity care for midwives, strengthening their capacity to quickly and effectively respond to complications.

In Ethiopia, the maternal mortality ratio is 675 deaths per 100,000 live births and 29 neo-natal deaths per 1,000 live births.  In Canada, the ratio is 7 deaths per 100,000 live births and 4.3 deaths per 1,000 live births!  While Ethiopia has made impressive progress to reduce the mortality rates, and despite a steady decline in both maternal and infant mortality rates, both remain high. 

Last year in Ethiopia, the Midwives Save Lives program trained 114 community health workers to recognize high-risk pregnancy.  This is significant as 80% of women deliver their babies without a skilled birth attendant.  CUSO volunteers are working with midwives’ associations and non-governmental organizations to develop and deliver training, to share expertise and to help partner organizations like Rotary International build capacity to advocate for midwives.

In Ethiopia, CUSO and its partners are focusing on improving the clinical skills of midwives in underserviced geographical areas.  Rotary has helped to fund the purchase of basic equipment to support student midwives while they are in their clinical placement.  These are items often in short supply but essential for maternal health care.  Each $500 donation buys one of these life-saving kits. There are six important items included in a Midwife Birth Kit: a birth delivery tray; an ambu bag for each newborn; a stethoscope; a blood pressure cuff; an examination light; and a speculum. Our donations to The Rotary Foundation for this specific program worked as follows: a $1,000 donation becomes $13,000 when matched by CUSO and allows them to continue this important work.

Thank you to the Rotary Clubs in our District who became involved and to those clubs who will become involved, in this compelling pilot project to aid those less fortunate. The collaboration between Rotary and our partner CUSO International is key to the designing, planning and implementation of a successful project which would improve the quality of life for this disadvantaged population. We helped save the lives of mothers and babies. Through your club’s donations, you helped to provide immediate and direct benefits to those who need it most.

Thank you,  to all of the District 7070 Rotary Clubs who have already pledged funds toward our goal of $50,000. It is not too late to contribute. We continue to ask for your help to raise the necessary funds for these life-saving tools. We were able to meet the midwives who use the birthing kits. 

Finally, I would like to share this inspiring quote from Usha Saboo, wife of our 1991-92 Rotary International President R.K. Saboo from India, who said: “when you give of your time in service… you touch lives when you give of your resources … you uplift lives however, when you give of both your time and your resources with love and compassion … you yourself become a gift to humanity and to the world.”

Thank you,


More information is available and a presentation can be arranged by contacting me, your District Foundation Chair

PDG Michael Bell at