Rotary Clubs around the world aren’t only involved in tangible projects that make a profound difference in people’s lives – they also actively connect with counterparts around the world as well.
Red Deer resident Garnet Ward, a member of the Rotary East club, journeyed to India late last year with his wife and several other Rotarians to connect with Rotary Club members in communities there.
The trip was part sight-seeing, but primarily about seeing the world through their counterparts’ eyes and learning about ways Rotarians in that part of the world work to make a difference in their communities as well.
“Rotary has a program called the Rotary Friendship Exchange,” he explained, adding there are 31,000 clubs in the world. “There is also expected to be a reciprocal visit this summer – although nothing has been firmed up at this point.”
Ward and his wife Sharon were among those selected from the local district for the trip. They decided that they would do a tour of some of the country first, then join up with the Rotary Friendship Exchange. That meant lots of bus trips, which suited the Wards just fine. “The beauty of the travel was in the bus trips, because you really saw how the people lived. When you realize that all the sugar cane that is produced in India is cut by hand; all the cotton is picked by hand – you wouldn’t of course know that travelling by air. In the bus, you’d be driving along and see somebody’s house which consisted of a rope between two trees with a blue tarp overtop of it.”
He added that one-third of the world’s poorest population lives in India.
Garnet described the geography of India as similar in size to the provinces of Quebec and Ontario and Alberta. “But there are 1.26 billion people there,” he explained, as compared to Canada’s total population of around 35 million.
“We’d be asked, ‘How can you live where it gets to be so cold’. But I would wonder, how can you live where it gets to be 47 degrees Celsius,” he added with a laugh. “It’s what you get used to.”
Ultimately, the Wards, who have travelled several times with Rotary, were again able to see the world from a different perspective.
And although some of it was difficult to witness and challenging to say the least, there was much that was enlightening and inspiring. Ultimately, they met up with their host Rotary family, plus several other Rotarians, in Solapur which is located in southeastern India.
“One of the things that we enjoyed the most was the sense of closeness, and the sense of family,” he said, recalling visiting a village just a short ways from Solapur. It marked a visit to the home village of their hosts, and also fell during Diwali which is the Hindu festival of lights.
It’s described as one of the happiest holidays in India and Nepal with significant preparations.
“What I found very, very touching and quite interesting is they took us to this Hindu temple, and what was neat about it – there was an inscription on the wall that Ghandi had visited there in 1927. We had these garlands of flowers around us, and they started to sing a song – almost like a blessing. Their sounds were echoing off the walls – it was just mind-blowing; it was just a wonderful experience.
“It doesn’t matter where you go – people want to know if they are safe, are their kids going to get an education and be able to get a job and are they going to have enough money to live on for the rest of their lives?”
Meanwhile, he was also inspired by the ongoing work of Rotarians there. He described one particular feeding program for folks with no family and no way of getting food. “Hundreds of meals are delivered – and what was neat about it was that initially that’s what the project was, but then they needed so many people to help prepare these meals.”
The Rotary’s 1.2 million-member organization started with the vision of one man – Paul P. Harris.
The Chicago attorney formed one of the world’s first service organizations, the Rotary Club of Chicago, on Feb. 23rd, 1905, as a place where professionals with diverse backgrounds could exchange ideas and form meaningful, lifelong friendships.
Today they are working together from around the globe both digitally and in-person to solve some of the world’s most challenging problems and their commitment to service is ongoing.