On Monday in Smith Union, the College’s Rotaract Club held its first event, Purple Pinkie Day, to raise money for polio prevention. The Rotaract Club is an international organization with more than 46,000 chapters worldwide. These chapters work with organizations in their local communities to conduct community service projects.
Bowdoin’s Rotaract Club was founded in March 2021 by a group of then first-years led by Ryan Kang ’25. Kang was both treasurer and vice president of his high school’s Rotaract Club and was surprised to find there was not a chapter at the College.
“I came to Bowdoin and there was no Rotary Club. That’s really odd,” Kang said. “I felt like I didn’t get exposed to a lot of community service events. I felt like that was an important part missing in my college experience.”
For Kang, the Rotaract Club provides a way to interact with the community outside of Bowdoin through meaningful service. This is a sentiment that other Rotaract Club members share. Shayla Pham ’25, a member of the club’s leadership, views the organization as a way to escape the “Bowdoin Bubble.”
“The Bowdoin Bubble, I feel last year, was very suffocating, and so it’s really nice meeting people in the Brunswick community as well,” Pham said.
The nascent Rotaract Club has yet to establish itself on Bowdoin’s campus. This year is the club’s pilot year, which will determine if it will continue to operate.
The club has already started developing relations with the surrounding community, investigating problems that need to be addressed and partnering with local organizations.
“We have already created ties with the Mid Coast Hunger Prevention Program, and we’re looking into more community partners in the area for next semester,” Pham said.
At the same time, the Rotaract Club was internationally focused for its first event. Every year on October 24, Rotaract chapters from around the world organize their own Purple Pinkie Days to raise awareness and funding for polio vaccines. Every dollar raised is matched with two dollars from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. These three combined dollars equate to the cost of one polio vaccination.
“It’s real people that we’re helping with this money, so that’s a really important consideration,” Rotaract leader Diego DeSousa ’25 said.
Purple Pinkie Day is named in reference to the practice of temporarily marking a child’s pinkie with purple dye after vaccination. As a global organization, Rotary International has been working to eradicate polio for 35 years. Over the years, Purple Pinkie Day has become a strong symbol of Rotary International’s commitment to community service. This made the event a perfect way to introduce the Rotaract Club and its mission to the Bowdoin community, get students involved and set the stage for future events.
“We would really love more interaction, especially as we are starting out. Anyone can get involved; there are no requirements,” Desousa said.