March 30, 2014 by tvo320
This past weekend, I attended the annual Rotary District 9600 Conference at the Maroochydore RSL! Each year, all of the local Rotary clubs in the district gather to hear engaging speakers, participate in meaningful discussions, and reunite with old friends. I am so sad to say that this will be the last one I attend as a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar. Friday evening was an opportunity for everyone to mingle with no scheduled events. I was able to meet up with some of the Rotary Peace Fellows that just arrived for the year. Of the four that attended the conference, Bobbi and Devin are from the States, Yoko is from Japan, and Rita is from Hungary.
Saturday was full on with former Rotary Peace Fellow Erica Rose Jeffrey opening the conference speaking about her experience with peace through movement who managed to convince everyone to get out of our chairs to “dance” with chopsticks! Even though my partner and I could not speak, we found numerous ways to move, turn, and play with the chopstick. I also learned that 60%-90% of communication is non-verbal which is fascinating as we tend to focus on verbal so much more.
The next speaker blew my mind. Her name was Vivianne and she told us of her journey from being born in Sudan of Syrian descent to Australia becoming her home. For over twenty years, she worked for UNHCR helping refugees in Sudan, Belarus, Bangladesh, Bosnia, and Armenia to name a few. Her story about a village in Bangladesh that believed that if people with HIV had sexual relations with five year old girls, they would be healed, was just one of the many onerous situations she faced on a daily basis. Tragically, she could not do much because the situation was too political. When her life became endangered, she herself became a refugee which led to her arrival in Australia. In 1981, her UNHCR team was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize and every team member received a Nobel Peace Prize Certificate for the outstanding contribution she has given in working with refugees.
Then, the afternoon session welcomed Terri and Bindi Erwin to talk about “Conversation, it’s not just about wildlife.” I had the most wonderful opportunity to meet them and have a brief conversation. They had just returned from a long stint in the States meeting with several organizations and filming. I was so happy to share with them my experience visiting Australia Zoo which they really appreciated. We both talked our names which sound the same but just spelled differently. Terri told me that Steve used to call her “Terri boy Terri.” They are doing so many incredible research projects and collaborating with so many local and global institutions. It’s wild thinking that Steve is gone. He’s often remembered and lives on in all his videos, through his family, the highway named after him, and of course his crocs at Australia Zoo.
Our evening Saturday ended with a fantastic sit down dinner that included us playing a game of “Heads and Tails” (I won!), watching an incredible indigenous performance, and dancing the night away. Devin was invited to learn an indigenous dance which was a very special opportunity. Unfortunately, women are not allowed to take part. We were able to take a photo with them after the performance and speak with them. They study at the Aboriginal Centre for the Performing Art and hope to pass on the dances and traditions to the younger generations through their role as teachers. Rotary knows how to wind down and have a great time. Many Rotarians were on the dance floor including my host parents!
On Sunday, some of the clubs spoke of their community projects such as the Bribie Island Farm Project that focuses on raising cattle on the Bisley Farm at Arethusa College and send the processed beef to charity. The aim is to have the farm become self sustaining as the cattle breed and give students the opportunity to learn cattle handling, farm maintenance, and even a thing or two about being a cowboy! I would love to visit the farm as my godparents used to raise cattle and were asked by the Australian government to come and teach other farmers about their practices.
In addition to the conference, the House of Friendship in the lobby had several booths highlighting all the different projects and programs that Rotary clubs participates in such as Rotary Youth Exchange and LifeStraw. LifeStraw is one of the most amazing things I have ever seen. It’s a personal water filter that will provide clean safe drinking water in any situation, even if the water is contaminated!! LifeStraw Australia matches all donations to the Rotary Club of Buderim which means that two lifesaving straws are donated for the price of one. Rotarians then distribute them when and where they are needed.
The amount of goodness that Rotary does throughout the world is not recognized enough. It’s my hope that I can assist in shedding more light about the amazingness Rotary is doing around the entire world! I had a great time with my sponsor club, Rotary Club of Pine Rivers. President Gary and his wife Debbie, President Elect Les, and my host counselor/father and District Governor Elect 2015-2016 Alan and Sandy sat together and discussed how to address the membership issue within Rotary and then to provide suggestions. Alan is very passionate about this subject as he’s the District’s Membership Chair as well. I think he got the attendees attention which is the first step when wanting to make a change, having your voice heard. I also spent a lot of time with Papua New Guinea Rotary Club of Kokopo President Tony because he was staying with us for the weekend too. He’s an amazing individual and has been Club President for ten years. He said that he loves helping others and his dedication to maintaining a leadership role in Rotary is a testament to that. I hope that I can make a difference in the world as Rotary does every day.
Feel free to check out the rest of my photos from the conference here.