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

Migrant Camp

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.”