In July, I became the youngest president in the history of my Rotary club, and the first president of color.
It was while I was sitting in the audience at the Rotary People of Action: Champions of Inclusion concert in Cape Town that I realized the significance of this. I had a conversation with Rotary General Secretary and CEO John Hewko, who encouraged me to share my story. I’m excited about what my presidency could mean to the future of my club, my district, and Rotary in South Africa.
I’ve always advocated for transition in Rotary. I joined the Rotary family in 2007 as an Interactor in Nigeria, where I grew up. I didn’t even know it was called Interact. I just volunteered at Rotary projects, and we would meet informally to plan our own activities.
I joined Rotaract when I began college in Nigeria. When I moved to Cape Town to further my education, I became a member of the Rotaract Club of Blouberg. Four years later, in 2020, I joined the Rotary Club of Blouberg. I was the club’s first dual member of Rotary and Rotaract, the same year Rotary International elevated Rotaract to equal status with Rotary.
Blouberg Rotary has a rich history. Chartered in 1986, the club has hosted well-known guest speakers like former president F.W. de Klerk and performer Pieter-Dirk Uys. I’m honored to be chosen to lead a club with projects that have run for decades. I’m even more honored to lead the club as the first person of color to lead it in more than 35 years.
My transition from Rotaract to Rotary wasn’t entirely smooth. I was the youngest member of my Rotary club. Within a year of joining, I was approached by fellow Rotarians asking me to run for president because the club needed a “breath of fresh air” and good leadership.
I was almost certain that neither myself nor my club were ready for my leadership. The difference in age was dramatic. The average age of our club members then was over 50 years old. Similarly, while South Africa is 80.1% black, at the time I joined, our club was 2.7% black. I accepted the nomination but knew I didn’t stand a chance.
But I strongly believe that humanity should be our race and love should be our religion. There are so many Rotarians in South Africa and the world who share this vision. As a Rotarian, I express service above self through my favorite areas of focus: ending hunger, ending polio, basic education and literacy, and water and sanitation. I host our district’s annual polio fundraising event and our sandwich drive distributes more than 28,000 sandwiches to those who are hungry in collaboration with partners and other Rotaract and Interact clubs.
I was not selected president in 2020, but I was humbled to receive multiple nominations to run again for the 2023-24 year. It’s a moment of many “firsts.” Most importantly, it’s a time for growing in diversity and equity. The Blouberg Rotary Club has been active in embracing DEI, and I am so proud to call them not just fellow Rotarians, but family.
At the Champions of Inclusion event, I saw what diversity and integration can look like in our service clubs around the world. I was inspired by the speech of Andrè Hadley Marria. I look forward to serving my club as its youngest president, and watching Rotary grow in South Africa and elsewhere.
By Ifechukwude Rex Omameh, 2023-24 president of the Rotary Club of Blouberg, South Africa (Rotary Voices)