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140120_alpayBy Şafak Alpay, RI director-elect and a member of the Rotary Club of Istanbul-Sisli, Turkey

About ten years ago, an ambitious literacy campaign was started in our region using the Concentrated Language Encounter (CLE) method. Like all other clubs, my club Sisli participated with great enthusiasm, running a course for women in one of Istanbul’s slum neighborhoods.


On graduation day, one young woman who was among those to receive their certificates captured everyone’s attention. She had both her lower arms missing, and as her certificate was placed under her armpit, Emine timidly asked her instructor to get the sheet of paper she kept in her pocket. It was a thank-you letter written to the person who taught her to read and write. 

Emine Yuzay writes with her feet, in a photo from the 2006 The Rotarian. Photo by Monika Lozinska

We couldn’t help but think, “She could read, yes, but how could she possibly write?” The instructor thanked her for her lovely letter, and also thanked the friend who had helped her write it, at which point Emine was furious.

“I wrote it myself,” she protested, “give me a pencil and a piece of paper, and I’ll show you how.”

And to our amazement, she wrote down the first sentence of her letter using a pencil she clutched between her toes. As we tried hard to hold back the tears and overcome our astonishment, her classmates were cheering and applauding.

A Rotary moment is when the magic happens.

If you’re curious, the sequel to this story went like this: The Istanbul Rotary Club fitted Emine with state-of-the-art prosthetic arms, which operated by receiving and interpreting signals from her brain. She started to wear a watch, something she had longed for all her life. She continued to work hard on her literacy skills, and finally become a CLE teacher herself.

Emine writes with her feet, in a photo from the July 2006 The Rotarian. Photo by Monika Lozinska.  The Rotarian published Emine’s story in 2006, and she was invited by 2006-07 RI President Bill Boyd to the Convention. Her address made many more Rotary moments for members in the audience.

Adapted from a speech given at the 2014 International Assembly in San Diego, California.