By Gianna Consalvo, Rotary Service and Engagement Staff
The 2022-23 Rotary Friendship Exchange Photo Award theme was Rotary Friendship Exchanges Re-Imagined. Through Rotary Friendship Exchanges, we experience new cultures, expand our global understanding and perspectives, and immerse ourselves in unparalleled travel and service experiences while building life-long friendships. During the past two years, we’ve been inspired by the new ways that our districts have re-imagined participation in Rotary Friendship Exchanges. Submissions showcased innovative ways districts have re-imagined the Rotary Friendship Exchange program to fit evolving needs.
Winner: Districts 9210 (Zambia) and 7010 (Ontario, Canada)
Between April and May of 2022, District 9210 had a successful inbound Rotary Friendship Exchange from District 7010, Ontario, Canada. They home-hosted a team of 14 Rotarians and 2 non-Rotarians. This exchange should have taken place in April 2020 but due to Covid-19, all activities were postponed until 2022. The relationship between the two districts became stronger, made possible as they continued with virtual meetings until they were able to travel internationally. Hosting responsibilities were shared between clubs across three regions throughout our country: Central, Southern, and Copperbelt. Activities included fellowship dinners, presentations, and project visits.
Runner Up: Districts 1860 (Germany) and 9212 (Africa)
In 2020, Districts 9212 and 1860 wanted to conduct a Rotary Friendship Exchange but were stalled by pandemic lockdowns. Finally, in May 2022, the 11-member German team visited projects of District 1860 in Kenya and participated actively in the District Conference and Assembly in the city of Diani. Especially advantageous was the fact that four Rotaractors were part of the German team. The mixture of young and old gives the team an inner dynamic and brings Rotarians and Rotaractors closer together. The hosts made a point of accommodating the guests privately. At Rotarian meetings in which they participated, travel funds were donated to the German team as part of the “Happy Dollars campaign”, which they found very touching. Many new contacts were made and joint projects were outlined at the District Conference and Assembly. The return visit of the team from Kenya took place in June 2022. Three clubs – Rotary Club Ingelheim, Rotary Club Bad Bergzabern, and Rotary Club St. Wendel – arranged the program. The hosts made a point of accommodating the guests privately. Now the Kenyan team knows that the best-tasting wines come from District 1860. Especially important was the active participation of the Kenya Rotary Friendship Exchange team at the district conference in Mannheim.
Runner Up: Districts 7680 (USA) and 2430 (Turkey)
In their own words:
Imagine going on your first Friendship Exchange from District 7680, USA. The plan is to visit District 2430 in Central Turkey, from Ankara to the Black Sea, from Cappadocia to Istanbul. You have no expectations. You realize there will be new people, different religions and cultures, and language challenges. Just imagine what might unify the trip into one cohesive memory that would ultimately encapsulate it all. This picture tells our story. The venue is a small town in Eastern Turkey. There is a parade bringing awareness to polio eradication. There are local folk and Rotarians, men on crutches, and women in wheelchairs. The local Rotarians ask us to participate. So, Rotarians Ineke Wilson (originally from the Netherlands) and Maya Tsekova (from Bulgaria) grab a banner. They are soon joined by another Friendship Exchange Team member from District 9110 in Nigeria. The parade continues and a local woman and her son gesture that they would like to join. They are warmly welcomed. After marching for a mile and promoting a common cause, those artificial barriers of language, religion and culture disappear and are replaced by non-judgmental mutual respect -a Rotary language of love. In the end, holding that banner was an international coalition that included a Dutch-American, a Bulgarian, a Nigerian, a Muslim woman from Turkey and her son all working toward a central goal. They were all brought together by the Rotary Friendship Exchange. In Turkish, the sign read “End Polio Now!” This is Rotary International at its best!
Do you have a Rotary Friendship Exchange planned for this Rotary year? Find an exchange partner using the Exchange Finder Map and save those pictures to participate in next year’s award!
Rotary Friendship Exchange (RFE), an international exchange program for Rotary members and friends, allows participants to take turns hosting one another in their homes, clubs, and communities. Traveling as individuals, couples, families, or groups, RFEs include Rotary members and friends.
Participation in an RFE can be centered around a shared vocation, learning about the culture of your host country, or on a service project. Whether your exchange focuses on one of these topics or incorporates all three, you’re sure to have a fantastic experience in fellowship with Rotary members. Exchanges can take place virtually, in person, or incorporate elements of each throughout the exchange process.
In 2020, the Rotary Friendship Exchange Award was established with the goal of recognizing one district that had outstanding participation in the program throughout the year. Participating districts submit a photo or short essay for consideration. Read more about past winners from 2020-21 and 2021-22.