Jan Damery has the career and service experience typical of a long-time Rotarian, but she didn't join Rotary until 2009.
Before becoming director of development in Canada for Aga Khan University (AKU), which entered into a strategic partnership with The Rotary Foundation this spring, she had worked at the Alberta Department of Energy for 4 years and TransCanada PipeLines Ltd. for 10.
From 2000 to 2006, the Edmonton native, who has a master's in economics from the University of British Columbia, headed up regional development for United Way in the Calgary area, helping to double contributions to the province's social infrastructure.
Then, while vacationing with friends in Italy, she had an epiphany. "I found myself with the freedom of a 20-year-old and the resources and knowledge of a 40-year-old," she recalls. Inspired by an earlier speech by Stephen Lewis, the UN special envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa, at the 2005 National United Way Conference, she decided to give up her life in Canada to volunteer in Kisumu, Kenya, where about 1 in 7 residents are HIV-positive. She recalls Lewis describing the plight of orphans and the grandmothers who raised them, and says, "I felt like he was speaking directly to me."
The details quickly fell into place. "I resigned my position at United Way, rented out my condo, found a family to look after my golden retriever, and sold my motorcycle."
During a six-month "personal research sabbatical" in East Africa and Pakistan, Damery learned about AKU. Founded in 1983 and initially focused on training nurses, doctors, and teachers, the institution has expanded and become influential in setting health policy in developing countries.
"I was thoroughly impressed with their models and results," Damery says. She returned to Canada with an official role in the institution, noting in the final entry of her travel blog on New Year's Day 2007 that she was "over the moon excited and humbled by the opportunity."
Through AKU, Damery, who now lives in Canmore, Alta., found out about the important work of Canadian Rotarians. "I believe in the power of communities to create and improve their quality of life both locally and globally," she says. "I view Rotary and its wide international network of clubs as one of the most engaging and effective community-building organizations in existence."
In 2009, she joined the Rotary Club of Calgary and has since learned that her great-grandfather had been an active Rotarian. She also served as the lead negotiator in the formation of the strategic partnership between The Rotary Foundation and AKU part of the Foundation's Future Vision Plan and says she's optimistic about the relationship.
"AKU and Rotary are united by the common values of service to others and a commitment to helping citizens of the developing world solve their own problems," she says. "This partnership will enable greater numbers of qualified students from poor communities to benefit from AKU's nursing and midwifery programs and to receive mentorship and community support from local Rotarian leaders in East Africa."
Damery also has a few words of advice for her fellow Rotarians: "I encourage Rotarians in Canada to become involved in the partnership by getting their local district or club to apply for a packaged global grant from The Rotary Foundation to carry out community service projects focused on maternal and child care."