Forming international service partnerships at the Colombia Project Fair

By Steven Kirby, member of the Rotary Club of Hercules, California, USA

In an effort to expand Rotarian involvement in international service, my District 5160’s International Service Chair (DISC) introduced a new grant opportunity for clubs to attend a project fair. Clubs could apply for $2000 USD grants for selected club members to attend a project fair in the Americas or $2500 USD for a project fair in another region. Funds could be used for registration, transportation, accommodations, and food. Six clubs were awarded grants to fund members who attended project fairs in Costa Rica, Colombia, and Kenya.

I attended the Colombia Project Fair in Bucaramanga. One of the great things about this project fair and the presenters was that each project was selected and organized to address guidelines for international grants. These districts in Colombia were fully prepared to work closely with international partners to meet the requirements for grants. I found all four clubs I met to be very hospitable and highly dedicated to Rotary and their projects. They all expressed interest and willingness to begin communications with other clubs and to begin working together towards relationships which foster cooperation on projects.

I arrived a couple days early and stayed a couple days after the fair ended to attend local Rotary meetings and visit local club projects. I was fortunate to attend four of the local seven club meetings and visit three club projects.

The first project I visited was an elementary school that had contaminated drinking water. The students got sick after the government provided a school food program. Through an assessment, the local club determined that this was caused by the drinking water. They coordinated a project which filtered the water and supported the school. Currently, there is increased attendance and plans by the government to rebuild the school. I started a pen pal letter program with a classroom there, and our teachers, the parent-teacher association (PTA), and local Rotary club plan to raise funds to provide materials based on their list of needs.

The second project I visited was near a food processing center where, unfortunately, the working parents were bringing their children with them to work. As this was a highly unacceptable situation, the local Rotary club worked with the government to build a school nearby and, as a project, helped to provide the school a small activity field. The club now plans to develop the activity area into a mini-soccer field with other sports activities to encourage community participation with the school.

The third project I visited was within an impoverished area of the region where many single-family mothers with pre-school aged children live. There were no facilities for children aged 1-4, so the local Rotary club is working with the government and their community to provide a pre-school for these children. Currently they are fundraising and preparing to build a school fence around the field and the buildings.

Since I was fortunate enough to visit these projects personally, they are part of my basis for explaining and encouraging international involvement to other Rotary clubs. Our area has eight Rotary clubs, and Bucaramanga, Colombia has seven clubs. It has been my goal to encourage all our local clubs to engage in communications with the Rotary clubs in Bucaramanga. After I returned from the fair, I spent the next few months guest speaking at local clubs in the San Francisco East Bay Area.

In conversations with another local Rotary club, I learned that there might be an opportunity to support a dental project through a Rotary club in Bucaramanga. Also, in conversations another local club, I found that we might begin to engage in reciprocal exchanges. Additionally, conversations have begun around the idea that our eight clubs could coordinate a larger project, raise funds together, and apply them to a future Global Grant. There are so many possibilities.

Project fairs are a great way to get involved in international service. These regional events connect clubs that are seeking international service projects with those that are interested in collaborating with global partners. Check out upcoming fairs.


Consider attending a project fair to also find international projects for your club, and surrounding clubs, to help support. Districts may use part of their designated funds to offset travel expenses to a project fair. Contact a project fair organizer directly to register for an upcoming fair.

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