Making history and making a difference – Redbridge Rotarian Eve on a decade of voluntary work
“I’ve broken the mould,” says Eve Conway-Ghazi with a glint in her eye as she reflects on making history.
Since the middle of the Second World War, when the position was founded, no woman has ever been given the role. But now that has changed.
Eve is the District Governor for Rotary in London.
With Rotary’s 1.2 million members worldwide responsible for raising tens of millions of pounds for good causes, the organisation for business and professional leaders has a lot of clout.
For Eve, who was born in the back bedroom of her mother’s house in Falmouth Gardens, Redbridge, holding such a key role in London – with its more than 70 clubs – is humbling.
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“The lovely thing is that you, as an individual, can really make a difference,” says Eve as she reflects on being a Rotary member for 12 years.
“We’re on a global scale, doing so much work from Rotary club to Rotary club transforming lives in different countries. For example, giving access to water where it is needed.”
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There is a lot of passion in her voice as she talks about the work Rotary does around the world, and what her own club, Redbridge Rotary, has done.
But perhaps the passion is at its greatest when she talks about the mission to eradicate polio.
The killer disease was endemic in more than 125 countries when the End Polio Now campaign was launched by Rotary in 1985.
Now, it is endemic in just three – Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria.
India has been polio-free for more than a year, and it was in that country that Eve saw the devastating toll of the disease, something she says was a defining moment for her.
“I went to Delhi to immunise people and there were 1,000 people queuing – I’ve never seen anything like it.
“I found it awe-inspiring to place two drops of polio vaccine into a child’s mouth.
“To see the difference we’re making is incredible. There’s no stone left unturned, we’re constantly immunising children. I’m determined not to give up.”
As part of the campaign, she secured a grant from Rotary International for �14,000 in advertising which saw End Polio Now posters featuring campaign backer Bill Gates put up at London Underground stations.
Similar panel cards were also displayed on Docklands Light Railway trains during the Olympics.
The role of district governor is a demanding one, with the BBC News Channel producer juggling work commitments with the voluntary role.
She says: “It is very demanding. I really want to do it to the best of my ability – particularly as the first woman district governor of Rotary in London. It’s a real honour.
“I want to go out there and show people we’re doing some amazing things.
“We did a Kids Out day during the Paralympics. We have lots of projects to help the elderly and vulnerable in our community, as well as globally.
“Sometimes I don’t quite know how I fit everything in but I make the time because it’s so important to be able to do these things.”
Children, and recognising their extraordinary achievements, is very much Eve’s ethos.
She founded the annual Young Citizen Award with the BBC in 2006, and together with the Ilford Recorder, launched the Recorder/Rotary Young Citizen Award in 2008.
It is sponsored by Exchange Ilford.
“You hear negative stories about children hanging around on street corners, but I want to highlight young people doing inspiring things. That’s my motivation,” says Eve.
“People are more interested hearing the good things young people are doing rather than the bad.”
Eve’s year-long role, which she took up on July 1, sees her act as a “figurehead” for the Rotary clubs in London and the surrounding areas, stretching as far as Walthamstow.
She is helping to establish peace ambassadors in schools in Redbridge, who will be able to help their peers overcome issues such as cyber-bullying.
Eve, who now lives in Buckhurst Hill, says: “It’s in its early stages but it helps young people with life skills.”
On the eve of the Olympic Games she hosted a boat trip on the River Thames for dignitaries and opened up Rotary’s central London headquarters in Regent’s Park throughout the Olympics and Paralympics in a bid to make it as accessible as possible.
As the Paralympics drew to a close, the Jamaican team – including many who had polio – visited the headquarters.
“They wanted to say thank you for all Rotary had done to eradicate polio, it was very moving,” says Eve.
To tie in with the Paralympics – during which she took part in the opening and closing ceremonies – Eve has linked up with the Wheel Appeal, which aims to buy 2,012 wheelchairs to enable young people with disabilities to take part in sport.
And to keep the sporting link going, she is hoping to run the London Marathon in April.
She is a former Romford Recorder reporter and was Washington correspondent for a CBS TV affiliate in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
She has also worked for Sky News and LBC Radio, and has been at BBC News since 1994, working as a producer and reporter.
But for Eve, Rotary has been a key part of her life for decades.
She completed a masters degree in broadcast journalism at Northwestern University, Illinois, in the 1980s through a Rotary ambassadorial scholarship.
She says that more than a decade later, flu led to her becoming a Rotarian.
Her doctor, who she had visited with flu symptoms, was a member of Snaresbrook and Wanstead Rotary Club and encouraged her to join the organisation. She did so in 2000.
She married husband Robert in 2006 after meeting him at another London Rotary club.
She became president of Redbridge Rotary Club in 2008/09 .
She believes her peers made her district governor for Rotary in London, because of her vast work with the organisation over the past 12 years.
And she believes other women will now be able to follow in her footsteps, having broken the 70- year run of men in the post.
“When you see people that need our help and how grateful they are, that’s very moving,” says Eve. “Rotary has changed my life in so many ways and I know I am a better person.
“What I would like people to say during my year as district governor is that they found out about Rotary and said ‘wow, I didn’t know Rotary did all this’. That would be very special.”