By Kholiwe Mkandawire, RI Staff
Through Rotary Friendship Exchanges (RFEs), we experience new cultures, expand our global understanding and perspectives, and immerse ourselves in unparalleled travel and service opportunities while building life-long friendships. The Rotary Friendship Exchange Photo Award showcases memorable exchanges around the world. The 2021-22 award theme was Embracing Diversity. Participants were asked to show how their exchange embraced diversity and diverse ideas by learning something new and reimagining how their district could participate in an exchange during the pandemic. We received amazing photos and strategies that demonstrated diversity and are excited to announce this year’s winner and runner up.
Winner: Districts 2202 (Spain) and 4921 (Argentina)
An innovative, rewarding, and successful experience
By Montserrat Moral, 2020-21 District 2202 RFE Chair; in collaboration with José Luis Marino, District 4921 RFE Chair, Francesc Ozerans, District 4921 Assistant Governor, and Giselle Dubois, member of the Rotary Club of Sant Cugat del Vallès
Participating in Rotary Friendship Exchanges (RFEs) is a tradition among our clubs, but in 2020, the pandemic limited our ability to hold face-to-face meetings. So, we needed to think creatively and explore new possibilities. Through the will and friendship between District 4921 Assistant Governor Francesc Ozerans and me, we created the Virtual RFE Project.
Following the guidelines for virtual exchanges developed by District 2022, we designed a program to foster friendship and exchange knowledge not only between members in Spain and Argentina, but also among members of the same district. The project was presented as a virtual trip, where each of the “travelers” had to act as host and guide in their own land.
We started by hosting a call with the clubs in both districts. The response was excellent, and we ended up forming three paired working groups in both Argentina and Spain. Each group was tasked with:
- Designating a leader.
- Developing a calendar of meetings for the exchanges.
- Choosing what topics would be covered.
- Deciding how to present the topics.
- Creating a shared virtual space, such as a Facebook group.
Using this basic structure, each pair of groups undertook their own journey.
The virtual exchanges took place from November 2020 to May 2021. A total of 83 participants from 10 clubs from Spain and 24 clubs from Argentina took part. The meetings covered topics including holiday parties, gastronomy, popular customs, and history and geography. Many thanks to all the participants for their magnificent presentations.
We asked participants to evaluate the exchange process, and they were highly satisfied with the experience. 72% of participants responded to the survey. Below are highlights from the results:
- 100% of participants would recommend the experience.
- 91% thought that the knowledge they learned would useful during a future trip.
- 87% were very satisfied with the activities.
- 83% rated the presentations as “very good” and 17% rated them “good.”
This project, novel and ambitious, has been very positive. I hope that we will inspire others to host virtual friendship exchanges in the future.
Runner up: District 4455, Peru
District 4455 hosted an exchange in 2019 in Lima, Peru between members of their district and District 4700 in Brazil. They described their exchange as an unforgettable experience.