RID Virpi Honkala inspires Rotaractors through her years of service

By JN. Vianney Dagandan | Posted on May 3, 2022

Virpi Honkala worked as head of surgery at Raahe Hospital until her retirement in 2014 and was the hospital’s medical director from 1989 to 2010. A founding member of the Finnish network within the World Health Organization’s International Network of Health Promoting Hospitals and Health Services, she served as the group’s chair and national coordinator, and as an international Board member. For her service as a doctor, she was conferred an honorary title by the president of Finland in 2015.

Virpi joined Rotary in 2001, District Governor 2009-10 and has served Rotary as District Foundation Chair, District Trainer, RLI trainer, Council on Legislation representative, RI president’s representative, RI training leader, Regional Rotary Foundation Coordinator, and Leadership Development and Training Committee member. Currently she is RI Treasurer and serves her second year at RI Board of Directors.

Both Virpi and her husband PDG Matti, who is National Polio Advocacy Adviser in Finland and has served in Rotary in many capacities, are passionate about The Rotary Foundation and continuously work to support it.

Virpi has received The Rotary Foundation Citation for Meritorious Service and The Rotary Foundation Distinguished Service Award. She and Matti are Major Donors and members of the Bequest Society and Paul Harris Society. 

During a Rotary event

As an individual who takes initiative to make our society a better place, what characteristic/s of a Rotarian should a Rotaractor emulate?

Rotarians and Rotaractors are very diverse in the world. That is also the strength of our organization.  Our core values and the 4-way test unite us all, and that should be the guide in our actions.

Membership is one key to sustain a club through the years, what recommendations will you impart to ensure their stay in the organization?

People join and resign for various reasons.  If the reasons to join are obscure, or the expectations are not met, it is easy to leave.  If the club offers fellowship and actions, we are on the right track.

My own Rotary Club was chartered in 1948, quite soon after the second world war.  The club and its members must have been very different over the years. I joined 20 years ago as one of the first four women.  There have been times when I was tempted to leave, but for the most I have loved the spirit within the club, I treasure the friendships I have gained, I respect my fellow Rotarians.  We have had some hard times, but I know I have grown as a human being because of those hardships, and I’m grateful for that.  

During the Rotary Institute held on their zone

How can you inspire Rotaractors to take action?

Rotaractors inspire us Rotarians to take action.  In fact, I would inspire all of us to take action!  In Europe we have war crimes almost at our doorstep, and just look what Rotarians and Rotaractors are doing together!  When suddenly millions of people are forced to leave their homes in a few weeks, it takes millions of people to help them. Rotarians and Rotaractors are there, in the neighboring countries, countless hours and incredible leadership!

As a Rotarian, what values can you share to the Rotaractors in continuing their service to the community?

Fellowship and willingness to serve were the fundamental values of Rotary in the beginning.  Integrity, the desire to keep up high ethical standards, trustworthiness and accountability are qualities Rotarians are known for all over the world.  Honesty in business actions – and likewise between individuals – is a precious quality. Once lost it is very difficult to get back.

How can Rotarians and Rotaractors work more together?

Rotarians may be more experienced, but Rotaractors have more innovations.  In Finland we don’t have very many Rotaract Clubs yet, but the interest is growing.  Rotaract Clubs in my district have connections with their sponsoring clubs. Our district has also sponsored Rotaractors to RLI (Rotary Leadership Institute) trainings, to International RYLA and to various events such as district conferences, national TRF seminars etc.  

Nowadays, when many Rotary Club meetings are hybrid, it is very easy to offer participation for Rotaractors as well as Rotarians from other Clubs to follow interesting presentations.

Any projects that Rotarians are involved in can be shared with Rotaractors.  It may be necessary for Rotarians to take care of the financial aspects, but certainly Rotaractors are just as important in planning and executing the projects locally or internationally.

We are planting a tree to our city arboretum – an ongoing project of our Rotary Clubs.

How can you strengthen the relationship between Rotary Club to Rotaract Club as well as Rotarian to Rotaractor? 

Where there is a will, there is a way. As we consider needs assessment as the base of our project planning, it is also the base of any successful Rotary or Rotaract Club anywhere in the world.  What are Rotarians and Rotaractors looking for when they join a Club? Inviting members to participate in either of the Club meetings, getting to know one another, sharing ideas and innovations and taking further steps in putting them into practice – together.

When we are fortunate enough to have Rotaractors joining Rotary Clubs, we have another strong pathway to work in collaboration.

In the world of Rotary, building linkages and networks is very essential, what advice can you give to the Rotaract Clubs that want to expand their network?

At best, Rotarians can provide an excellent pathway to Rotaractors into their existing networks. A Rotaractor may find a Rotarian representing the same field of expertise this Rotaractor is studying or pursuing as a young beginner. Forming a mentorship would be beneficial to both. It is just as in getting new members: one needs to ask.

Rotary Clubs don’t necessarily see the need of networking with Rotaract Clubs – especially if there is no earlier history of having Rotaract Clubs in the vicinity.  I would encourage the leadership in Rotaract Clubs get into contact with the leadership of Rotary Clubs. Assistant Governor of the district might be a good person to contact first. AGs are responsible for a few Clubs nearby and they already know the “inner spirit” of each Club – hence they could serve as promotors both ways.

We are in Pingori village, India, where crops, all kinds of vegetables and herbs grow and produce products to be sold in the nearby city market place. Rotarians provided water, the village people had a plan how to get out of poverty and they succeeded in an excellent way!

What will you suggest to the Rotaractors to increase their donation in the Rotary Foundation and End Polio?

Rotary Clubs may have yearly fundraising for both the Annual Fund and PolioFund. World Polio Day October 24 is the day, when all Rotary Clubs are encouraged to arrange some sort of event, to raise awareness, to collect money for contributions.  Rotaractors may very well arrange similar events to come to the public and show that they are active. Rotaractors may also join Rotarians in arranging these events.

The Annual Fund is the source of money that makes all Global and District Grants possible.  One must understand and appreciate the cycle.  If AF does not receive donations, the projects cannot be done.

I have been blessed with being able to participate in various Rotary projects mainly in India.  When a whole village is raised from uttermost poverty into reasonable prosperity in just 5 years, thanks to providing water all year round, one can be assured that with a larger group miracles can be made.  When thousands of underprivileged people gain their eyesight back due to cataract surgery – made possible by Rotarians – it may sound glamorous. However, if you have witnessed what blindness means to a person, you would understand how life changing it is to be able to see again.

Two things are required for donations: to have at least a little money and to have the will to give. This quote by my friend PDG Juha Risteli says it all.  It applies to Rotaractors as well as Rotarians.  Both Funds accept little money as well as big money.  When on Polio Day we collect box money in the streets in our little town, the best donors are little children, encouraged by their mothers, and retired people.  The first group knows polio threatens especially children and the last group may have experienced the disease themselves or in their family.

The picture where I vaccinated shows what we were doing for over one year during Jan 2021-Feb 2022. We were Rotary volunteer vaccinators and vaccinated over 16000 persons in this area.

How would you motivate Rotaractors to become a dual member?

Rotarians and Rotaractors belong to the same family of Rotary.  Dual membership – when it is possible for a Rotaractor – may offer a wider variety of opportunities to business networking and doing good in the world.  Rotary Club members are mainly older, which is not necessarily a disadvantage at all, on the contrary.  Anything that can widen perspectives and help to learn more about life is beneficial. Dual membership may offer a pleasant possibility to gain that resource.

What advice/s can you give to the Rotaractors?

I’d rather listen to the Rotaractors for their advice to me.  I have some fantastic Rotaractor friends, who have helped me in tight situations.  I hope I can help them in return one day – as friends help each other.

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