By Živilė Savickaitė, 2020-21 Rotary Friendship Exchange for District 1462, Lithuania, and Charter President of Rotary Club Vilnius Vytis
The 2020 pandemic has been a difficult challenge for everyone in every corner of the world. Even though the virus closed many doors with people locked down at home, online solutions provided new opportunities for safe interactions that had not been considered before. Rotary Friendship Exchange (RFE) is no exception to utilizing these online solutions.
When the pandemic developed in Lithuania, Rotary District 1462 decided to proactively use virtual tools to stay connected. District 1462 started their Rotary Friendship Exchange program in 2018 and gave several teams the unforgettable experience and joy of discovering new places and cultures. Rotarians visited India (District 3141) and USA (District 5330). Having such inspiring impressions motivated the Rotarians in our district to bring our RFE program online.
The RFE program allows Rotary members and friends to get to know other countries and their cultures, along with local Rotary friends from around the world. Close and direct communication with the local Rotarians and Rotaractors provides lasting impressions on the participants of the exchange and allows them to feel the culture of the country and get to know it much deeper than on any ordinary trip. Furthermore, exchanges inspire long-term relationships between clubs and countries; participating clubs often become twin clubs, partners for global grants, and collaborators on international projects. The most important outcome of these exchanges is lasting friendships. Considering all of these root attributes of the program, we saw no reason that a cultural exchange couldn’t be achieved online. The internet provided an opportunity to experience the world directly from home.
The RFE Committee of District 1462 collected and exchanged RFE coordinators’ contacts who were interested in organising exchanges online. More than 70 Rotary districts responded, which reflected the excitement about continuing the program despite travel restrictions. Due to these coordination efforts, a virtual exchanges were set with Brazil (District 4740) and Ukraine (District 2232) which included introduction of cultures, heritage, history, Rotary activities, and social initiatives of participating countries and clubs. Moreover, together with the District efforts clubs were also organizing virtual exchanges with their twin clubs individually involving activities such as cooking lessons.
Rotary opens up many opportunities, including the opportunity to change the world, by sharing different cultures, different experiences, and to grow friendships that know no borders – regardless of the form of participation. Participants of the program shared that the virtual experience was equally interesting and fun, gave great emotions for all, and was a memorable activity of the year at the club.