By Camille Ronzio, member of Rotary Club of Eugene Southtowne, OR, USA, and District 5110 Rotary Friendship Exchange Chair
I never thought Rotary International winning second place in the December 2013 United Miles contest would have a personal connection to my life. Using a portion of the awarded miles, Rotary District 5110 (USA) won the opportunity to offer free round trip tickets to four Rotarians from our district to embark on a service-oriented Rotary Friendship Exchange (RFE). I had the opportunity to lead this team – a mixed group of young faces and experienced travelers, some new to the RFE program and some program veterans.
Working with RFE district chair Alexandre Iote from District 2241 (Romania and Moldova), we planned an exchange introducing RFE to two new areas in his district. Our plans included a joint service project as well as many cultural and fellowship experiences that would introduce us to the countries’ amazingly resilient, generous and warm people.
On the May exchange in Romania and Moldova, we saw two countries trying to restore their roads, buildings, economies and town squares. We also saw commonalities that unite us as Rotarians: the desire to build good will and friendships, and the commitment to service. Reflecting back on the experience, team member Ted Stevens said “the trip expanded our knowledge in countless ways,” and Tyson Woodard remarked that “it was truly an educational and awe-inspiring adventure.”
Here is a glimpse of our exchange:
When we arrived in Timisoara, Romania, we were met by group of young, vibrant Rotarians who incorporate the whole family into Rotary: Rotakids, Interact, Rotaract, and spouses – they even have a band made up of Rotarians and their family members. What a memorable first night!
We partnered on a number of service with our various hosts throughout District 2241:
- Our team collected funds to help revive a dated playground located near apartment complexes housing young families. We gained many ideas for future projects as we talked with a young man who was rescued from an unsafe environment as a child and now manages a house for abandoned children.
- We met with a Rotarian who built Deborah’s House, a safe haven
for young women who are victims of trafficking or abuse. I will never forget the conversation with the young girl practicing her English who proudly showed me her room, or the smiles and hugs our team received when we gave each girl a new pair of shoes. These are just the beginnings of longer-term projects!
- Onward in the city of Sighetu Marmatiei, Romania, local Rotarians met us in a hotel and restaurant owned by a club member. We
were greeted with homemade sour cherry liquor, music and dancing! Here we met Gabriela Rosus, a Rotarian who took time away from her job to organize our stay and show us around. She runs a non-governmental organization which moves children from orphanages to foster homes. We met her special-needs children who wore big smiles and lived in a loving environment. We saw how she utilizes every resource she has.
- “Merry Cemetery” – I will always remember the painted carved markers telling the story of each person buried in this cemetery. A local Rotarian told us about his father who is buried there. On this stop we also visited the prison memorial to the victims of Communism – a truly somber and moving tribute to a period of history that still affects the people of Romania.
- A van ride took us to Suceava, Romania, where we stayed overnight. The local Rotarians arranged local folk dance entertainment, and treated us to a wonderful traditional meal, a hike, and a tour of one of the famous painted monasteries of the Bucovina region.
- The next day, another van organized by Moldovan Rotarians – all women – their bilingual daughters and Rotaract members greeted us for the trip to Chisinau, Moldova. Upon arrival in the city, we were treated to the traditional welcome braided bread dipped in salt and paired with Moldovan red wine. Local music and dancing again filled the room! We visited an upcoming center dedicated to keeping local crafts, music and culture alive for young people, a project supported by several Rotarians. We bought some of their crafts and discussed ideas for supporting this effort in the future.
Long live friendships and eye opening experiences!
Team members Don Arkell and Laurie Power said it best: “We caught glimpses of the everyday lives of our hosts and how they, through Rotary, make life better for the less privileged. We can now put faces on unfolding geopolitical events in the region with appreciation for the challenges our new friends may undertake.” You can see more pictures from our exchange on our exchange Facebook page.
We will welcome our Romanian and Moldovan hosts to District 5110 in August, and we already agreed to have another exchange between our districts in 2017. Potential team members from both districts are lining up to participate!
Learn more about Rotary Friendship Exchanges online and contact your District Rotary Friendship Exchange Chair for information about how you can get involved.
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