Many of you know I’m a Rotarian and write about Rotary programs that mean a lot to me but I rarely write about anything personal. Today is different. I’m going to tell you a story that affected my Rotary life and my belief in Rotary’s mission of peace and understanding. Some background first: Group Study Exchange (GSE) is a very important program of The Rotary Foundation. Two Rotary districts from different parts of the world exchange vocational teams of, usually, 4 non-Rotarians with a Rotary team leader. Teams may be multi-vocational or represent a single vocation.. The team spends a month in the host district learning the way their vocation is practiced, participating in events, living with Rotary host families for a week at a time, immersed in the culture.
Back in 1999 I hosted a member of the Group Study Exchange team from Peru, composed of medical professionals. Diana Fuentes was an ophthalmologist, a delightful woman with a great personality. When we met I was happy to find out that she was quite proficient in English. I also learned that she had just been awarded a fellowship to London University Hospital and I would need to help her with the many details. Peru to New York to London – what an adventure. In 1999 I had a simple computer, dial-up connection to the internet, an email address – no Face Book, Twitter, iPhone, but it turned out that we had all we needed plus Rotary.
The first order of business was to contact Diana’s sister in Peru to mail the needed paperwork to London. That took an email or two but was completed quite quickly. Then Diana had to be certified as fluent in English. This was not so easy because we had no contact information for the professor who had tutored her in English. Late one night as we huddled over the computer, searching for him, we found an email address. Fingers crossed we sent an email asking him for the certification. Up at 6 AM we ran to the computer and saw an answer. But it was from his secretary with the news that he was hiking in the Himalayas and had no communication tools with him. Stymied and time was running out.
Then Diana remembered that she had met the president of a Rotary Club when she was in London. But she couldn’t remember his name. Knowing that Rotarians around the world have strong bonds I suggested we send an email out to as many London Rotary Clubs we could find. Our plan was to send this email in the early evening. But we didn’t need to wait that long. Rotarians in London had already heard about the fellowship and the president of one of the clubs walked into London University and certified Diana in English!! An amazing story of the far-reaching arms of Rotary.
Even now, thinking back, I feel the tremendous impact this had on me. Here we were halfway around the world and people we didn’t know (Rotarians) reached out to help. As with so many things, Rotary cuts through red tape, works directly with other Rotarians; it’s just the way it is in Rotary.
As with all things, change is coming to the GSE. In July 2013 it will morph into Vocational Training Teams. These teams will work in different districts, training their counterparts in new and better ways to do things. Although things are changing I believe that the message of peace and understanding will always shine through and look forward to meeting the new teams.