By Dr. John Philips, Past District Governor of District 1040 and Chairman International Fellowship of Rotarian Doctors
Natural disasters such as floods and earthquakes bring the best out of Rotarians. We roll up our sleeves, rattle tins, raise money and deliver support, care and assistance.
When a Rotarian colleague recently told me he was disappointed with the outcome of his club’s emergency assistance efforts to another country some years ago, I was not surprised. “Our results were most unimpressive. The disaster relief help we had provided was a gut reaction, unplanned, disorganized, and driven by the international community” he told me.
Historically, developed countries have often tried to impose their own solutions for challenges faced by developing countries. We can stop this through Rotary.
A few years back, I saw a large wooden box in a hospital in Tanzania. The box contained an x-ray machine donated by a North American group. The box was never opened. The hospital did not have electricity and did not know what to do with the machine.
Through the Rotary network, we have opportunities to build sound international partnerships to work on service projects outside of our immediate communities. I was privileged to meet a group of West African Rotarians in Abidjan last month at the 10th annual West Africa Project Fair. The event was created in 2005 by Rotarians from 15 West African countries to facilitate international partnerships to help address the primary challenges in the region. This year, the Fair was hosted in Cote d’Ivoire by District 9101.
The West Africa Project Fair was a unique opportunity to build international partnerships while experiencing a new culture and creating life-long friendships. We met local Rotarians and Rotaractors to learn about their priorities and talk about club and district projects in need of assistance. More than 30 West African projects were exhibited during the Fair– all well planned and well explained.
I was part of a group of 34 international visitors from Canada, England, Guadalupe, Mauritius, Rwanda, Turkey and the United States. We met more than 100 participants from West Africa: Benin, Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, and Senegal. We listened to presentations from The Rotary Foundation on the new grant model and sustainability, Rotary’s project resources, Rotary’s Areas of Focus, and stewardship. We met with each project exhibitor to learn about their initiative and discuss projects in hopes of working with each of our clubs and districts back home to partner on at least one of the exhibited projects.
We toured Abidjan with our hosts, visited with the U.S. Ambassador to Cote d’Ivoire and Embassy staff, and attended a welcome reception with cultural shows. We also participated in a Polio immunization day accompanied by Cote d’Ivoire’s Minister of Mines and Industry and the Country Director for the Center for Disease Control. We visited a Global Grant project site, met with the Prime Minister of Cote d’Ivoire and attended a dinner hosted by the Prime Minister and the Minister of Mines and Industry.
I came away proud to belong to the Rotary family and burning with a desire to do more, to make a difference. I want to say to my friend, who was “most unimpressed” by his efforts to help a developing country: it is time we rethink the way we do international projects.
We are an army of friends with bountiful expertise and experience that can be leveraged to help the community prosper. As international partners, it’s our turn to express our desire to help and then close our mouths, open our ears, and work in partnership to support our international friends.
The end result will be most thrilling.
The 2016 West Africa Project Fair will be hosted 19-26 October in Port Harcourt, Nigeria. More information about the 2016-17 project fairs will be available here throughout the coming weeks.