By David H. Griggs, member of the E-Club of Lake Atitlán-Panajachel, Guatemala
A District International Service Chair recently wrote to me about his struggle to get his clubs more involved in international projects. My response to him was to keep working at it – getting a club involved in international service can be a challenge. If you could get even one person from your district (even you!) to attend a project fair, the gained enthusiasm may be a valuable catalyst for getting involved in international projects. Here’s my story.
I had been a Rotarian back in New England, U.S., in the 1970’s. Then I changed jobs, moved to a different state, and dropped out of Rotary.
Years passed. Four years ago, I retired and moved to Guatemala for the winter (no snow to shovel). Fellow ex-pats brought me to several lunches with their local Rotary members. Then, the time arrived for the annual Uniendo America Project Fair, hosted in the nearby city of Antigua. Not knowing what to expect, I tagged along with a couple of members.
To say that my mind was expanded is an understatement. When I belonged to Rotary decades ago in the United States, I remember that my club raised money for college scholarships for local students, hosted and sent exchange students, and had lunch together. This was before the End Polio Now campaign, before women were allowed in Rotary, and before the spectacular growth of Rotaract and Interact clubs for younger people.
The Uniendo America Project Fair opened my eyes to the wonders of international service. Central American Rotary clubs hosted booths promoting projects reflecting Rotary’s primary priorities: providing clean water and sanitation, saving mothers and babies, supporting education, fighting disease, growing local economies, and promoting peace and conflict resolution.
We learned about club-led projects that were helping people in communities throughout Central America. We had the opportunity to meet local people and talk with them about their needs and projects. As an addition to the conference, I enjoyed a visit to a small school on the outskirts of Antigua which was seeking funding to support the growth of the school.
Meeting people and networking is always a highlight of any Rotary event. There were numerous international Rotarian visitors from the United States and Canada. Some of them had been coming to the project fair for years and shared their experiences supporting projects with Central American clubs as a result of the partnerships they had made at previous fairs. I learned from these “old-timers” the enriching impact international service has to individuals and to the clubs involved. Others, like me, were newcomers learning first-hand about the wonderful opportunities that were on display. Meals together, coffee-break conversations, and social events enhanced the experience.
My experience has been with Uniendo America in Central America. Other project fairs are held in Europe, Africa, other regions of Central and South America. I encourage you to attend any of these events that are the most convenient and interesting to you. View a list of all fairs and share them with the members of your club.
Rotarians are encouraged to bring their spouses and spend a few extra days exploring the host country. In Belize this year, you could go scuba diving and snorkeling in the longest barrier reef in the Western Hemisphere, go sailing on the Caribbean Sea, or visit Mayan ruins, to name just a few options.
The 2018 Uniendo America Project Fair will be hosted at the Best Western Plus Belize Biltmore Plaza Hotel, 25-27 January. To take advantage of reduced rates, book your room by 31 December. Register for the fair online and contact me with any questions.