So if you are a little interested in the wider International experience of a Rotary Convention after reading of our adventure consider enjoying Toronto with lots of District 9800 friends who will be attending.
DGE Bronwyn Stephens on the Rotary International Convention
Rotarians were there with a common purpose. We were humanitarians wanting to share our vision for a better world, living together in harmony by way of our areas of focus Peace and conflict prevention/resolution, Disease prevention and treatment, Water and sanitation, Maternal and child health, Basic education and literacy and Economic and community development and through our Rotary Foundation. There were plenary sessions every day and I do not think I’m exaggerating to say hundreds of breakout sessions.
A Peace Conference and a Rotaract Conference prefaced the meeting. Dr Bernice King (Martin Luther King’s daughter) resonated. She opened her remarks with a statement from Mother Theresa: “Peace begins with a smile”. I got that. Although the peace conference was “stand alone” it pervaded and accentuated the whole of the convention. When a Japanese Hiroshima survivor described the lead up to the bomb being dropped, his return to the area, and then finding his aunt in her bed, having hemorrhaged and passed to the next world, it caused a profound stillness in the room. The breakout session was allocated 40 minutes but we urged him to continue his story and his simple closing statement of “there must be no nuclear war” was met with a wave of applaud and a standing ovation.
Peace featured in breakout sessions in the conference and Stephanie Woollard shared “Seven Women”, and now several thousand world citizens experience of peace and empowerment, both in Nepal and those that support the Nepalese people. It was a privilege to be in the audience. PDG Ian Knight your photo is now fully shared on the World stage as Steph’s first customer. Reliving Steph’s journey shares many messages. One person’s capacity to enable many opportunities for others; risk taking and the vulnerability it exposes; allowing others to share in your own journey and how that allows others so many smiles; the personal development in personal giving; living day by day but with a clear goal and purpose and what a world Rotary has allowed Steph and I to meet and develop our humanitarian spirits in.
Steph spoke also during the Sustainable Business awards breakout session. Another winning project was “LaunchDETROIT” from Rotary District 6400 in Detroit USA. LaunchDETROIT supports and develops entrepreneurs and small businesses in under-resourced communities by providing access to business loans, business development services, and networking opportunities. During the presentation, I found myself translating this model in my imagination into our communities, particularly as an opportunity for new migrants. Fascinating video footage of this working in action is available from their website. I notice that RC Werribee have featured this in their club meetings.
“Food Plant Solutions” were presented in breakout session tackling environment issues. It was acknowledged that a Hobart Rotarian Bruce French developed the program which identifies the nutritional content of food that can be planted in developing countries. For example, in Papua New Guinea 100g Yam has 20mg Vit C. So, we can share what foods are great for pregnant mums, developing children and aged citizens for example. Seeing this project championed on the world stage brought a lump to my throat particularly because Echuca Rotarian Reece Teehan (dec) was so generous in giving me a copy of “Food Plant Solutions” for Cambodia several years ago, and here it was, being shared with the world.
Rotary Action Groups featured heavily. The Anti Slavery Action Group held a candlelight vigil where we reflected on the ways that world citizens are enslaved. Music and candles heightened the reflection on this important issue. Hopefully others were also called to tangible action like I was and joined the action group. It was a joy to visit the booth and meet with Stephen Sypula who is from UK and a firm Rotary friend of our own Malcolm Baird (RC Brighton North), and since returning home being contacted by Tony Stokes (RC Box Hill Central). It reinforces our small Rotary world.
It was great to meet occasionally with friends from our District. Making new friends from all parts of the world was humbling, and also forg-ing connections for Clubs in our District who wish to match International Grants in their region was a super privilege. You may be surprised I haven’t been describing the big ticket speakers of the conference. There were certainly a lot of them. Stellar speakers featured in the general sessions and many of them were then to be found sharing conversation in the “House of Friendship” as our marketplace is so aptly named.
RI President John Germ convened a morning’s session on polio eradication strategies with Bill Gates, co-chair of The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, leading the discussion. With polio on the brink of eradication, nations from around the world and key donors pledged more than $1 billion to energize the global fight to end the paralyzing disease. The historic pledges of new will go toward drastically shrinking the $1.5 billion gap in the funding that the partners of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative say is needed to reduce polio cases to zero worldwide. Just five cases have been reported this year, the lowest number in history.
Bill Gates, said ending polio would be one of the world’s greatest achievements. "Polio is the thing I spend the most time on. Every day I look at my email to see if we have a new case," Gates said. "I'm very inspired to be part of this. I'm also very humbled."
John Germ announced that Rotary would increase its commitment and raise $50 million per year over the next three years. Rotary has raised more than $1.7 billion to fight the disease since 1985. “Right now, every time a new case is identified, it really could be the last one the world ever sees,” Germ said. Bill Gates explained that, starting 1 July, his foundation will extend its 2-to-1 match to cover up to $50 million in donations to Rotary for each of the next three years. The match and donations to Rotary would add up to $150 million per year over the next three years, which will add up to $450 million to the fight. The new funding will go toward polio eradication efforts such as disease surveillance, responses to any outbreaks, and the vaccination of more than 400 million children annually.
For the list of million $ donors go to rotary.org/en/polio-pledges-2017-convention
There were other standout general session speakers – Dr Andrew Young who was Martin Luther King’s friend and ally. He was instrumental in freeing Nelson Mandela from jail. He created the Atlanta Olympic game’s winning pitch. Not speaking to a script he sat and chatted about the world, his life, shared reflections wondered how people could expect him to be humble when they went and named the middle street in the city after him! And he had us laughing and crying, shaking our heads and smiling all in the one second.
Brittany Arthur, a Victorian Ambassadorial Scholar made us so proud to be Aussies, and from Victoria. She is the speaker I will end this reflection with. In 2003, a Rotary Youth Exchange student sat next to Brittany Arthur in class at her Victorian suburban school in Australia, and changed her life forever. Inspired to study abroad, Arthur graduated from universities in Australia, Germany, and Japan. She received a scholarship from the Japanese Ministry of Education and was a Rotary Foundation Ambassadorial Scholar in Germany. She has been a Rotaract President in Birmingham UK and a Rotary Committee member for the Alumni of Young Rotarians. Now as a world citizen living in Germany she will be leading her Rotary Club speaking German only. She is a member of the Youth Alumni and urges engagement with Youth who have been touched so profoundly with our wonderful programs. She believes that Youth value so much the opportunity that Rotary affords and two stand out reasons are that it gives them the opportunity to work with a mentor or coach, and also because they get to work with projects that they love. youtu.be/F9DCanipB6c