District 5495 Rotarians not only “served to change lives” this past year, but in two instances their actions most likely literally “saved” lives.
On November 1, 2021, The Rotary Peace Centers awarded two of its 50 Master’s Degree Peace Fellowships to two District 5495 applicants: Kateryna Mashchenko (Katya) from Ukraine, and Mustafa Rezaie, from Afghanistan.
Making their way out of their native countries and to their appointed peace centers this year, however, was anything but easy as the two found themselves looking to leave two nations devastated by conflict and humanitarian crisis.
Who knew the fate these two peacebuilders would endure over the next six months? Both Katya and Mustafa have been very brave in having to leave their families, friends, and homelands as they prepare for their Fellowships to continue to make a difference to help others.
Thanks to direct assistance by Rotarians, however, both have happy endings to their stories.
Mustafa Rezaie
Mustafa was chosen to attend Duke University and the biggest challenge of his new journey was simply being able to get he and his family safely out of Afghanistan.
District 5495 Rotarians were first able to help Mustafa, his wife, and two young daughters escape Afghanistan in February and find refuge in Pakistan with the help of Pakistan Rotarians and others. 
Upon arriving in Pakistan, Mustafa sent Tony Cerato, District 5495 Peace Scholar Chair, a WhatsApp message that ended:
“... I would like to thank you all from the depth of my heart for your kind support and love. You all saved my life and my family’s lives. God bless you all.” 
If you understand the Taliban, and what it is like in Afghanistan today, you know Mustafa meant every word.
District Rotarians were able to raise $5,000 from fellow district clubs and Rotarians to assist Mustafa and his family with their living expenses while in Pakistan. They had an apartment and assimilated well with the help of Rotarians – all while awaiting final transport to the United States and to Duke University in North Carolina.
Local Rotarians also played a pivotal role in securing the necessary travel documents with the U.S. State Department to expedite Mustafa’s entry into the United States, as well as assisting his family with their airfare to the United States (Mustafa’s airfare is paid for by the Rotary Peace Centers as part of his Fellowship).
The good news: Mustafa and his family arrived in Raleigh-Durham on June 12 and have begun their new lives in the United States.  He will begin attending Duke University this July as a Rotary Peace Fellow.
Kateryna Mashchenko (Katya)
Katya, sponsored by District 5495 and the Rotary Club of Sun City, was awarded the Rotary Peace Fellowship to attend the peace center in London. Katya worked for eight years with the Danish Refugee Council protecting displaced persons near the conflict zone in eastern Ukraine.
She led programs such as sustainable community development, public participation in policy making, and recovery for mine victims. When the Russians invaded Ukraine, Katya fled from Mariupol and, later, from Berdyansk.  In March, with news of a “green corridor,” she made the perilous journey to Lviv.
 Arizona Rotarians contributed funds to assist Katya with travel and accommodations, Katya successfully applied and received an emergency refugee visa to the United Kingdom as part of its special program to provide housing and aid to Ukrainian refugees. Arriving safely in Krakow, Poland in mid-April, Katya will soon be flown to London by the Rotary Peace Center.
Katya plans to stay with a host family until she begins her master’s degree in the Division of Peace Studies and International Development at Bradford University this September. She hopes to eventually return to Ukraine to work toward peace.
As Rotarians we are fortunate to help others.  As People of Action, your support for our peacebuilders, and The Rotary Peace Fellowship program, is more important today than ever.
Mustafa and his family in June arrived safely at Duke University.