ImageIn January 2012, a team of 10 Rotarians from Vancouver Island and northwest Washington State were the recipients of an exuberant welcome as they participated in a Rotary Friendship Exchange in the state of Gujarat in northwestern India.  Parksville was represented by Angela Dadoush, Rotary Club of Parksville and Diana and Massey Matsuda, Rotary Club of Parksville AM.  Travelling to the cities of Surat, Baroda, Nadiad, Bhavnagar and Rajkot, team members were billeted with Indian families, observing daily life, customs and family structures in a fashion never possible from a hotel room.

India is a country of total sensory overload – the sights, sounds, smells and tastes are larger than life, the contradictions endless; yet the kindness and generosity of spirit ever present.  The traffic is chaotic … a mass of wagons, cars, buses, brightly decorated trucks, motorbikes, cows, bicycles, stray dogs, horses, rickshaws and the odd camel. But amidst the chaos of honking horns and swirling mass of humanity, there is a certain rhythm, even nonchalance, on the roads … and not a whiff of road rage.

 

The birthplace of Ghandi, Gujarat is rich in history and steeped in religion, as witnessed through visits to temples and mosques, palaces and museums.  Behind-the-scenes tours of diamond, textile and sweets factories completed the picture of Gujarat as a thriving industrialized state.

As Rotarians, a major purpose of our trip was to see Rotary in action.  Indeed, the Rotary Friendship Exchange is designed not only for participants to experience other cultures and make lasting friendships, but also to create a foundation for international activities and service projects.

We visited the wards of a hospital, toured an eye institute, saw babies in their cradles at an orphanage, chatted with children in their schoolrooms, spent time at a seniors’ home, and watched an extraordinary dance performance of hearing impaired children - all projects supported by local Rotary clubs.

At the end of the Exchange came the opportunity to participate in a polio immunization clinic in the slums of Agra, a few hours from Delhi. The eradication of polio has been a major project of Rotary since 1985 and while we were in India, the country announced its first year with no new cases of polio reported.  This milestone is a major victory in the global effort to eradicate polio and leaves only three countries with endemic polio — Pakistan, Nigeria and Afghanistan.

In May of 2012, 8 Indian Rotarians completed this Friendship Exchange through a return visit to Canada.  Their first stop was Parksville where we tried to show off the best of Oceanside, drawing upon the common thread of Rotary to strengthen the bonds between our two countries.

Photo by Ian K. Dewar.