South African, Canadian Rotary clubs partner to improve the future for students with disabilities

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Canadian visitors make a donation to New Hope School, Pretoria, South Africa

Through its fundraising efforts, including obtaining a Global Grant from The Rotary Foundation, the Rotary Club of Edmonton Strathcona raised more than $60,000 to support vocational training for students with disabilities in South Africa, whose future can be dire.

“Learning a vocational skill to be able to function in society becomes a case of life or death for these students, in many cases,” says Rotarian Carin Jansen van Vuuren. “There is a very limited social safety net for young adults with disabilities in South Africa.”

After raising more that $20,000, including donations from other Rotary clubs in Northern Alberta, the Edmonton Strathcona club partnered with the Rotary Club of Pretoria, South Africa, to obtain a grant of US$32,400 (C$42,000) from The Rotary Foundation.

Other clubs that supported this project include Drayton Valley, Edmonton South, Nisku Leduc, Sherwood Park, St. Albert and Stony Plain. Additional money came from a GoFundMe campaign and a contribution from the Rotary Club of Pretoria.

The money is going to New Hope School in Pretoria, one of the largest schools for students with special needs in South Africa. Its enrolment of 410 includes students from preschool to high school with cerebral palsy, permanent physical disabilities, metabolic disorders or syndromes, traumatic brain injuries and other conditions that cause learning difficulties.

Carin grew up in Pretoria, where her father was president of the Rotary Club of Pretoria and later, District Governor for Rotary District 9400. She moved to Canada 28 years ago, but makes regular visits back to South Africa.

For the past five years, Rotarians and others from the Edmonton area have accompanied Carin and her husband Stephan, a past president of the Edmonton Strathcona club, on these visits.

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A group of Rotarians and others from Edmonton area visit New Hope School

While in South Africa and Zambia, they have had opportunities to meet local Rotarians and to visit New Hope School. During previous school visits, donations from the Rotary Club of Edmonton Strathcona were presented.

“Last year, Patrick Gibson, who is the Foundation chair for our club, was with us. When he came back, he said we needed to apply for a Rotary grant,” Carin says. “That started the process to raise funds for New Hope School.”

Carin say that the main objective of the project is to ensure that the students, especially young women, have a way to support themselves as adults. “These programs will be implemented through a new sewing room and a hair salon room.”

Both programs will be self-sustaining. Students in the beauty salon will provide services such as manicures and pedicures. The sewing machines will be used to make tablecloths and placemats to sell.

Funds raised will also allow New Hope School to install a safe playground for children with disabilities, expand the physical education program and help accommodate students in the school’s hostel. 

“Some of these students come from other cities and even other countries in Africa, so they are away from their families,” Carin says.

“At this stage, they are only housed Monday to Friday and these kids need to be shipped out somewhere else on the weekend. This will allow the school to have these kids full time.”

To learn more, visit the Global Grants website or contact Wayne McCutcheon (RC of St. Albert), who is the chair of our District’s Grants Sub-Committee.

 

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Meet Rotarians from other clubs this fall, in Montreal or Edmonton

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If you missed the Rotary International Convention in Toronto in June but are looking to experience Rotary beyond the club level, here is some good news for you.

There will be two opportunities this fall to join gatherings of Rotarians from other clubs.

First, there is the Zones 24 and 32 Conference in Montreal, September 20 – 22. A month later, the District 5370 Conference will be held in Edmonton.

The zone conference is a first-time event. In the past, participation in zone institutes was pretty much limited to those in leadership roles at the district and zone level, but this year in Montreal will be different.

“This year’s committee decided they wanted to open it up to more people than just future, current and past District Governors and other district leaders,” says Laura Morie (RC of Westlock), who was District Governor in 2016-17.

There will still be a training component for District Governor nominees, District Governors-elect and current District Governors, which was an important reason for zone institutes in the past, but there will also be sessions that will appeal to all Rotarians.

“The conference will provide attendees with a macro view of Rotary, where they can see the global reach and positive potential of collaborating outside your own sphere,” Laura says.

“There will be breakout sessions related to membership, The Rotary Foundation and public image, and this year we have a focus on developing our youth and the programs we offer.”

Laura and District 5370 Youth Services Chair Tamara Larson (RC of Edmonton Whyte Avenue) have been invited to play a key role in the youth component of the conference.

“We are going to do the Rotaract portion. Our District has been fully involved in the youth programs for the last 10 years, since youth services became an avenue of service. We have had tremendous success. We actually have more Interact and Rotaract clubs in the District than we do Rotary clubs,” Laura says.

Scholarships available for youth participation in the Zone Conference

To encourage youth participant, District 5370 is offering 10 scholarships to support the attendance of young Rotary leaders, aged 18 to 25, to attend Rotary NOW. 

The scholarships include registration, accommodation and airfare.

Two additional scholarships are available for Rotarians aged 26 to 40 to attend the convention.

Ask your club president or youth services chair for additional information, which Tamara has sent to both. You can also contact Tamara directly (Larson.tamarac@gmail.com or 587-783-8880).

During two days of interactive sessions, youth participants will share thoughts on education and literacy, human rights, the environment, employment and social justice, through innovative working groups, inspirational speakers and service project opportunities.

On Friday, September 21, which is International Peace Day, the young Rotary leaders will have the opportunity to work with a Rotary Peace Fellow and to learn about Peace Fellowships, and Rotary Peace Centres.

The scholarship application process requires interested young people to write an essay, in which they describe their Rotary career path, including past and present roles and responsibilities along with future goals, and how attending the zone conference will support them in achieving their Rotary goals and objectives.

Applications for scholarships should be emailed to Tamara at youthawards5370@gmail.com by August 15.

In addition to encouraging young people to apply for District scholarships, Laura has another suggestion for clubs. “We would like different clubs to decide that, over and above the District initiative to get kids there, perhaps the club could see its way to sponsoring a dynamic young person who they feel has a Rotary career ahead of them,” she says. 

“The registration fee is $275. There are hostels, so accommodation is $120 and whatever the airfare is. Ballpark $1,000 per person. This might be a Rotaractor or a Rotarian in early career, who will be able to bring ideas back and take action.”

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District 5370 Conference October 18 – 21

The second opportunity to attend a multi-club event will be the District 5370 Conference, at the Shaw Conference Centre in Edmonton, October 18 – 21.

“Planning for the conference is actually coming along really well,” says conference chair Spencer Mueller (RC of Edmonton West). 

“Our committee has been working on putting the conference together for well over a year and a half. Now, we are at the stage of putting the final touches on things,” he says.

“We have an excellent venue in the Shaw Conference Centre. Our conference will be occurring at a wonderful time in the river valley and our speaker lineup is incredibly strong, featuring fantastic topics and speakers from all over the world.

The conference kicks off Thursday evening with a Peace Building dinner, which reflects the priority District Governor Ingrid Neitsch has placed on District 5370 becoming a Rotary Peacebuilding District. Additional details will be released shortly about the dinner, which is being held in conjunction with the annual Paul Harris Society dinner. There’s a separate registration fee for this event.

Both Friday and Saturday will include a full schedule of keynote speakers and breakout sessions.

“Now, the big focus is on getting people to continue to register,” says Spencer. “We realize that for many people things slow down and Rotary takes a bit of a lower priority during the summer months. We’re hoping for a strong response when people get back into routine after the September long weekend.”

The committee is offering a special reduced registration rate for those who have never attended a District conference. “We’re really trying to encourage both Rotarians and non-Rotarians to attend the conference. In our lineup there’s something for everybody. Our lineup of speakers is very strong, even in comparison to the Rotary International convention in Toronto,” Spencer says.

The registration fee includes access to the House of Friendship, breakfast and lunch on Friday and Saturday, and the Governor’s Ball on Saturday evening.

“The Governor’s Ball will have a 1920s theme. We have a wonderful live, large band, the Trocadero Orchestra, playing for the event. It’s going to be a great way to wrap up this Rotary Conference.”

Spencer encourages Rotarians to visit the conference website. “All the details and registration information are on that website and people can register right from there. 

Edmonton Rotarian creates a gift fit for a vice president

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Ed Korbyl of Columbia Awards examines a scotch glass similar to the ones he engraved for RI vice president Dean Rohrs.

How do you thank someone who has served on the Rotary International Board of Directors as the representative of more than 63,000 Rotarians?

It’s a question that the Zone 24 and 32 District Governors for 2015-16 and 2016-17 asked themselves. How to express appreciation to Dean Rohrs (RC of Langley, BC) for her support during their time as the leaders of their districts?

Dean was elected to represent Zones 24 and 32 on the RI Board of Directors from July 2016 to June 2018. During her second year on the board, RI President Ian Riseley (RC of Sandringham, Australia) appointed Dean to serve as the vice president of Rotary International, making her only the third woman to hold this position in the 107-year history of Rotary.

“They wanted a gift that she could use and a gift that we could engrave as an acknowledgement of her service on the board of Rotary International,” says Linda Robertson (RC of Edmonton Northeast), who served as District Governor in 2014-15 and is the current chair of the District Services Committee.

She had a suggestion.

“I knew that both (Dean and her husband Rhino) enjoy scotch,” she says. The decision was to present them with a set of scotch glasses.

But where to purchase them and who should engrave them?

Linda had another suggestion.

“Ed was the logical person to go to,” Linda says, referring to longtime Edmonton Rotarian Ed Korbyl (RC of Edmonton Gateway).

Ed and his son, Richard (RC of Edmonton Urban Spirits) own Columbia Awards, a company to which several Rotary clubs go in search of name badges, plaques and other gifts.

“I felt honoured to have been asked to supply the glasses. It was a chance to be creative,” Ed says. 

“Hopefully, the vice president enjoyed the ‘spirit’ of the occasion.”

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A presidential hug for Dean Rohrs from RI President Ian Riseley.

The gift was presented to Dean during the Beyond Borders evening for Rotarians from the two zones, held at the Hockey Hall of Fame during the Rotary International Convention in Toronto, in June. The presentation was made in the room where the Stanley Cup is displayed.

PDG Neil Berg  (RC of Red Deer East), who represented the 2016-17 DG class, and Wendy Walsh-DeMaria (RC of Rocky Point, New York), representing the 2017-18 class, made the presentation.

When other district governors were invited to the microphone to say “one word” about Dean, Laura Morie (RC of Westlock), who was District Governor in 2016-17, described her as a “superstar.”  2017-18 District Governor Frank Reitz (RC of Fort McMurray) said she was “purposeful.”

Zone 24, which consists of 16 districts—5370 is one—includes all of Canada, a small portion of the United States along the border, Alaska, and the French islands of St. Pierre and Miquelon. Twenty districts from nine northeast American states plus Bermuda make up Zone 32.

The position of RI Director for Zones 24 and 32 alternates every two years between the two zones. The current director, who assumed office on July 1, is Jeff Cadorette (RC of Media, Pennsylvania, in Zone 32). His term will end in June 2020, at which time a Rotarian from Zone 24 will join the board.

Dean and Jennifer Jones (RC of Windsor-Roseland, Ontario), who previously served as RI vice president will both attend the 2018 District Conference in Edmonton, October 18-20.

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Becoming a Rotary Peacebuilder District during 2018-19 tops list of goals for Incoming District Governor

 

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2018-19 DG Ingrid Neitsch describes her Peacebuilding District goal during the Changeover Event on June 11

During of her year as District Governor, Ingrid Neitsch (RC of Edmonton West) hopes to see our District designated as a Peacebuilder District by Rotary International.

“One of my most important goals that inspires me is to establish a new incentive and direction in our District to become a recognized Rotary Peacebuilder District by March 31, 2019,” Ingrid told 120 Rotarians who attended the District Changeover Event on June 11, at the Chateau Louis Hotel and Convention Centre in Edmonton.

“One of Rotary International’s objectives pertains to peace and conflict resolution. This resonates with me and I believe that Rotarians have the infrastructure, the influence and the capabilities to lead the world in peace building initiatives,” she said.

Becoming a Peacebuilder District requires a minimum donation of US$25,000 to support Rotary Peace Centers, which are located at universities in six different countries, including Chulalongkorn University in Thailand, where John Lamming, the most recent Rotary Peace Fellow from District 5370, completed a professional development certificate in 2013.

Another Rotary Peace Fellowship application endorsed by District 5370 is awaiting approval by The Rotary Foundation.

TRF also recently supported two other students with Rotary Global Grant Scholarships. Meghan Casey completed a master’s degree in human rights and international migration at the University of Kent’s Brussels School of International Studies, and Amy Smith is currently studying at the University of Queensland, in Australia, towards a master’s degree in development practices.

Ingrid will officially become District Governor on July 1, succeeding Frank Reitz (RC of Fort McMurray) who had an opportunity on June 11 to reflect on the past year.

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Frank Reitz reflects on his year as District Governor during June 11 Changeover Event

He compared the last three years, which included two years preparing to step into the role as District Governor, to being on a roller-coaster.

“It has been an awesome ride,” he said. “It’s a long way up there. Then you get to the top of the roller-coaster and it seems that two and a half seconds later, you’re at the bottom and some guy says, ‘It’s over. Get out!’

“Throughout the year, I was reminded that we must change to remain relevant, but our values as Rotarians will never change. We are people of action,” Frank said.

While the number of Rotarians in District 5370 didn’t increase over the past year, Frank pointed to improved member retention as a measure of success. He also noted the growth of youth programs, concluding that, “We are meeting the needs of the youth.”

As they travelled throughout the District, Frank and his spouse, Barbara, learned about the programs and projects of the 57 clubs they visited. “These are impressive and relevant to their communities,” he said.

He noted that support for The Rotary Foundation is strong within the District. All clubs supported the Foundation and donations from District 5370 Rotarians are the second highest in the zone, on a per-capita basis. Nearly all clubs also contributed to Polio Plus.

In her presentation, Ingrid suggested that peace building may become as relevant to young Rotarians as eradicating polio was to previous generations of Rotarians. 

“Many [younger members] do not even know what polio represented, nor the fact that Rotary and its partners are on the brink of eliminating this disease globally,” she said. “However, these millennials are bombarded each day with news of turmoil and unrest across the world. We need to focus on peace building.”

In addition to sharing her peace building message during her travels throughout the District, Ingrid will also talk about other goals related to membership, the Foundation and Rotary’s public image, which are included in the District’s Strategic Plan. 

“Rotary is facing a membership challenge around the world, but particularly in North America. Our own District has seen a steady, overall decline in the last several years,” she said.

“I believe we can reverse that trend. We have neighbouring districts in our zone that have seen steady growth in the last five years. So can we!”

She described The Rotary Foundation as “the backbone of all the grants that fund our many projects,” noting the efforts of Foundation chair Wayne Kaufman (RC of Edmonton Riverview) and his committee to raise awareness about the importance and impact of Foundation giving.

“Our plan is to continue the club visits to educate members about the Foundation and to share success stories of successful Rotary grants throughout the year, so that members and the public are more aware of the work of the Foundation,” she said.

Shifting her focus to Rotary’s public image, Ingrid said, “We need a strong communication plan, to raise awareness in our community about the amazing work of Rotary Clubs. This is particularly relevant in the urban corridor, where there are many service clubs vying for attention and support.”

The strategic plan also expresses commitments to support the District’s youth programs and to prepare club officers to lead their clubs.

Ingrid described her final two goals as, “both connected to fun. We plan to incorporate the arts into Rotary events and to celebrate Rotary and life balance.

“The arts add the colour and texture to our lives, whether it is beautiful music, an intriguing theatre performance, or a stunning visual masterpiece. We have many talented individuals in our clubs, and I want to promote and support the arts in our Rotary events,” she said.

“As for celebrating, as I visit each club, I plan to acknowledge and share with our membership the important work Rotarians do each day across our District, as positive change-makers in our communities.”

She concluded with a brief preview of the District Conference, including the attendance of two women who have become leaders of Rotary worldwide. 

“Rotary International has had only three female vice-presidents in its 113-year history, including current vice-president Dean Rohrs and former vice-president Jennifer Jones. Both are confirmed for our conference.”

Ingrid also promised an 18-piece orchestra for the 1920’s themed Governor’s Ball, “that pays homage to the era of Rotary’s founder Paul Harris and his boys of Chicago and the early glory days of Rotary.”

Ingrid will begin her visits to all 57 clubs by mid-July.

“I am looking forward to visiting all the clubs in our District to see first-hand all the important work that makes an impact in our communities. We have so many talented and experienced individuals in our District, who possess vast knowledge and skills in leading companies, excelling in their professions and providing leadership in their own communities.

“I am confident that our District is ready to be a leader in the areas of peace and conflict resolution in the Rotary world, adapting new ideas for membership engagement and attraction, and continuing to have positive impact in our communities!”

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Volunteering with Project Amigo was a life-changing experience for former district governor

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Children from a migrant camp

In 2008, Past District Governor (2005-06)  Elly Contreras (Rotary E-Club of Canada One) and her husband and fellow Rotarian, Ramiro, arrived in Colima, Mexico, for a volunteer week with Project Amigo, with the expectation that “we will be changing lives.”

What they didn’t realize was that the lives that would be changed were theirs. 

“Ten years ago, we came for a week of volunteering, not expecting the enormous impact it would make on our lives,” Elly says. 

“I became a different person, with an appreciation for life I never expected. The little seed that was planted by Project Amigo grew and created a bond that brought me closer to the culture [of Mexico] and its people. I am proud to be part of the lives of so many young people who have so much potential. I have seen them develop into confident young adults. All they need are people like us, who empower them, support them and tell them they are worthy.”

Project Amigo was established in 1984, by two Rotarians from California, to provide educational opportunities to children from poor Mexican families who would likely have little hope without the organization’s support. The Project Amigo Canada Society was formed in 2008, with Elly as its first president.

Darrel Martin (RC of Edmonton Northeast), the current president of the board of directors for Project Amigo Canada, says, “Project Amigo takes kids from elementary school age up now to university. Seventy-one have graduated from university. When I first went there in 2008 there wouldn’t have been anyone in university.

“There is a lot of pressure from the family to go to work to help the family, because these families have almost no money,” Darrel says. “For boys, if their fathers work in the sugar cane field, there’s pressure on them to go to work in the sugar cane field. That’s part of the cultural thing we are working against with the program, but as time goes by, more and more are graduating and getting jobs and people see that is a good thing.”

He believes that attitudes are changing. 

“Parents are realizing the bigger picture and thinking that my son or daughter is going to be able to do more for this family if we suck it up now and allow them to go to school. 

During Project Amigo workweeks, volunteers assist with construction projects,  deliver books and other materials to schools, and work with the children.

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Project Amigo staff and volunteers

Many of the volunteers are Rotarians, but not all. “There have been non-Rotarians who have gone down there, and then come back and joined Rotary,” Darrel says.

To learn more about workweeks, or to volunteer to spend a week in Cofridia, in the state of Colima, visit the Project Amigo Canada website.

Since their first workweek, Ramiro and Elly returned often to work with the Project Amigo staff and now spend half the year in Mexico, where Elly serves as the Canadian Intermediary/Co-ordinator with Project Amigo.

“We have learned so much about this beautiful culture, its kind people and the hardship many of the indigenous people face on a daily basis,” she says.

“We have seen shy, insecure, barefooted, snotty-nosed eight-year-olds from the migrant camps, with no way out of the continuous cycle of poverty, develop into confident students, excited to have finished high school and enrolled in university—something which is unheard of in this culture. We have met many grateful parents, proud of having their child as the first one in their family continuing beyond primary school.”

Darrel sees evidence of the value of the program in the success of some of its graduates. “The village of Cofridia has had two mayors, who both are lawyers, who have come through the program,” he says.

Another example of the program’s success is a young man who completed university and now works for an export company. “I asked him, ‘What would have become of you if it had not been for Project Amigo?’ He said, ‘I would be working in the sugar cane fields.’ ”

In addition to participating in volunteer workweeks, you can support Project Amigo by sponsoring individual students. Currently, more than 300 students are supported in this fashion, including 76 who have Canadian sponsors: 39 in elementary school, 11 in junior high, 12 in high school, 13 in university and one in technical school.

“Our goal is to increase the number of students sponsored by Canadians to 100 by the end of 2018,” Elly says.

It costs $135 to sponsor a student in elementary school and $765 for a junior/senior high student. With the cost to sponsor a university or technical school student $5,000 or more, it’s common for several individuals or Rotary clubs to combine their resources for those sponsorships.

Representatives of Project Amigo have a booth at the RI Convention in Toronto and are often in the House of Friendship at District conferences.

“Project Amigo has changed my life,” Elly says. “It has given me a better understanding of who I am as a person. It may change yours too.”

 

2018: the best year to attend a Rotary International Convention

RotaryConvention2018District Governor Frank Reitz hopes that Rotarians from District 5370 will take advantage of the proximity of the 2018 Rotary International Convention to attend it when it takes place June 23 to 27, in downtown Toronto. 

Click here to register.

“It’s not going to be any closer than in 2018 for several years,” District Governor Frank Reitz says. “It’s going to be more affordable because hotels and other expenses will be in Canadian dollars.”

Wait until next year to attend a RI Convention and you will face a transatlantic flight, including the requirement to make connections at two or more airports before arriving in the host city, Hamburg, Germany. In subsequent years, conventions are scheduled for Honolulu (2020) and Taipei, Taiwan (2021). 

The RI Convention won’t be in North America (Houston, Texas) again until 2022 and won’t return to Canada until 2025, when it’s scheduled for Calgary.

“I think that a RI convention is a great event for any Rotarian to attend. You are able to getter a better sense of Rotary as a worldwide organization of which your club is part,” Frank says. 

“When 25- to 30,000 Rotarians get together as a community, it’s a good opportunity to see Rotary from different perspectives and realize its potential to have a positive impact in so many ways, in so many places,” Frank says. “It’s a view of Rotary beyond the District.”

Other frequent convention attendees agree. 

From her first convention in Buenos Aires, Brazil, in 2000, Past District Governor (2005-2006) Elly Contreras (Rotary E-Club of Canada One) was hooked. 

“I was so immensely impressed and learned so much that I wanted to go back,” she said. And go back she did, attending the 2001 convention in San Antonio, Texas, prior to becoming president of the Rotary Club of Stony Plain. “It made everything so much easier,” she said. “I was motivated to lead my club.”

Since that convention, she has attended nine more.

Elly encourages others Rotarians to attend to develop “a better understanding of Rotary, beyond the club and District level.”

 Past District Governor (2008-2009) Ross Tyson (RC of Edmonton Northeast) lists several reasons to attend conventions. “Knowledge, a lifetime list of friends in different countries, and the opportunity to meet so many like-minded people.

“Plus you get to see countries that you might not otherwise plan to visit,” which for Ross has included Korea, Thailand and Portugal. The first of the 12 conventions he attended was in Taipei, Taiwan, in 1995.  

Ross feels there are several benefits for Rotarians who attend a RI convention. “They will be surprised, if it is their first convention, by all the Rotary information and the world of Rotary. It will change your mindset about Rotary,” he says. “Conventions are hands-down the best learning experience for Rotarians.”

Telling Rotary’s story: make it personal and local

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The image from September 2015 was disturbing: the lifeless body of a three-year-old boy, clad in a red T-shirt, lying face down on a Turkish beach where he had washed ashore.

Many of us may have thought, “That’s terrible. Someone should do something to help these people.”

That could have been the end of it. We were all aware of the Syrian refugee crisis. We had read newspaper articles and seen the pictures on television screens. The boy was another victim of the war in Syria and the hopes of families to escape the turmoil of their homeland.

Typically, these tragic images are driven from our minds by a parade of other, equally horrific pictures of other victims of war, famine and natural disasters. But there is a reason this event did not quickly fade from of our collective memory.

Within days of the photo appearing, a Vancouver hairdresser stepped forward. She identified the boy on the beach as her brother’s son. Having escaped Syria, her brother had hoped to bring his family to Canada.

This was no longer just about the tragic end of a young life on a remote, rocky beach. The story of Alan Kurdi had become a Canadian story—one that galvanized Canadians into action over the plight of Syrian refugees. It prompted the Canadian government to increase refugee intake numbers and further prompted thousands of ordinary citizens to sponsor other refugees privately.

Journalists look for the local angle

Tip O’Neill, a former speaker of the United States House of Representatives is credited with coining the phrase, “All politics are local.”

I believe that journalists would make a similar observation. “All news is local.” They understand that readers and viewers become more engaged if there is a local angle to a big event or major announcement. They use the experiences of just one person, one family or one organization to report the larger story.

  • We are better able to understand changes to the Canada Child Benefit when we hear a mother tell us how it will impact her family.
  • We care more when a report describes how a Canadian aid worker—ideally with a connection to the local community— is helping in the wake of an earthquake half a world away.
  • We are interested in the insights of a Canadian living in an American neighbourhood where Trump supporters surround her.

The appeal of this type of reporting is not only the local angle, but that the reporters are telling stories. They are not just providing facts and figures.

People love stories. We fondly remember our parents reading bedtime stories. As adults we read novels, watch TV dramas and go to the movies.

Suppose J.K. Rowling had written a book filled with statistics and historical facts about an educational institution—when the school was founded, the number of students enrolled by year, a list of courses offered, names of some of its illustrious graduates, etc. That isn’t the formula to produce an international bestseller. We would never have heard of Hogwarts and Rowling might still be on welfare.

But she didn’t write a fact-filled book. She told us about the adventures of Harry Potter and his friends at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft. She told us stories.

Often the answer when Rotarians are asked, “What is Rotary?” goes something like this:

“Rotary is the world’s oldest service club. Paul Harris and four other businessmen established the first club in Chicago in 1905. Since then, Rotary has spread to more than 200 countries and territories. There are 1.2 million Rotarians in more than 32,000 clubs worldwide.”

I could go on, but I won’t. And you shouldn’t either, because no one outside your club cares. In fact, most Rotarians don’t really care, either.

Explain your personal “Why” 

A better response would be to reframe the question: “Why are you a Rotarian? What is your Rotary story?”

As the media demonstrates daily, the best way to inform and explain is to tell the stories of individuals. The story of Alan Kurdi connected us emotionally with the plight of Syrian refugees.

Use your Rotary story to help people understand what Rotarians do—and to care about what you do. They may show polite interest, but likely won’t really care that your club serves meals to the homeless, that members of your club mentor students at the local high school or that your club supports a medical team that travels to a developing country. But your story can create an emotional connection that makes them care:

  • What did you see when you looked into the eyes of a homeless woman when you filled her plate with food? How did that make you feel?
  • How did a student, who you had been mentoring, react when he finally mastered a difficult math concept? How did that affect you?
  • What did an impoverished resident of a developing country say when he discovered he was pain-free for the first time in years, due to a medical mission supported by Rotarians? How did that make you feel?

What does your club do? What difference does it make? And how does that make you feel?

What the photo and story of Alan Kurdi did was put a face on the plight of Syrian refugees. It’s difficult to get our minds around the concept of millions of refugees, but it’s easy to comprehend the tragic tale of one little three-year-old in a red T-shirt on a remote, rocky beach in Turkey.

No one will remember that there are 1.2 million Rotarians in more than 32,000 clubs in more than 200 countries, but they will remember your story, the one that answers the question, “Why am I a Rotarian?” Now, go tell your story—to other Rotarians, to your family and friends, and to your community. Become Rotary’s image in your world.

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P.S. Dave Leiber, a columnist for The Dallas Morning News, is a master storyteller. In this TEDx talk, Dave describes his V-Shaped Storytelling Formula. It is well worth viewing.

Also read How to Tell Your Stories Effectively by Rotarian Jerome Martin (RC of Edmonton West) for more insight into storytelling.