It is a public service movement embraced in more than 200 countries across seven continents.
Originally chartered in the US back in 1905, it today boasts a foundation that is close to reaching the $1 billion mark in financial assets, a tipping point to becoming a self-sustaining charitable entity.
It boasts more than 1.2 million members around the world, and is nearing its goal to globally eradicate polio, with just three countries—Nigeria, Afghanistan and Pakistan—yet to be declared polio free based on having no new cases reported for a one year period .
This and for many other reasons, the annual convention here in Kelowna this weekend of District 5060 for Rotary International will have much to celebrate.
Covering an area from the Oregon-Washington border north to Clearwater, B.C., representing 59 Rotary clubs in all including nine in Central Okanagan, some 400 Rotarians will descend on the UBC Okanagan campus facilities for the convention, marking the conclusion of the one-year term for district governor Bruce Falkins, a member of the Kelowna-Sunrise Rotary Club.
The Rotarians will be joined by 30 Rotary international exchange students representing numerous countries, and Rotarian Dan Espinosa, from the Philippines, who is here on behalf of the Rotary International president K.R. “Ravi” Ravindran, a native of Sri Lanka.
But the international aspects of Rotary aside, Falkins said his fellow Rotarians will gather to recognize the growth of new membership in Rotary.
“A few years ago, Rotary was often thought of as an old man’s club, but it now seems to have gone the other way where young people are wanting to join and get involved in Rotary,” said Falkins.
He says that presents the unique dynamic of younger professionals and business owners getting to interact with those who have gone before them, and to learn from those experiences in business, life and commitment to helping their community. Falkins said Rotary has also taken steps to appeal to younger people through programs like Rotaract and Interact, which is something of a farm system at the high school and young professional levels for potential future Rotarians.
They learn about Rotary, and about working together and sharing their own skills and resources with others to tackle positive community projects, big or small.
The same goes for the Rotary student exchange program, something that Falkins says 10 or 15 years later is looked upon by participants has having changed the direction of their lives.
Falkins said it broadens a young person’s horizons about how people in the world aren’t that much different from one another in their hopes and dreams, their likes and dislikes.
“At any given time there are about 8,000 students participating in this program around the world, experiencing a different part of the world while being hosted by Rotarians’ families,” Falkins said.
“I’ve talked with some participants who say 10 or 15 years later in life how important that experience was in shaping what they have done with their lives and their careers since.”
One significant source of pride for the local Rotary Clubs was their involvement in the creation of the Rotary Centre for the Arts.
“The city approached us about the idea as a 100th anniversary project for the city,” Falkins recalled. “I know personally I’m pretty proud of our contribution to make the arts centre a reality and to have our name on it. When I’m driving and I hear about an event taking place at Mary Irwin Theatre in the Rotary Centre for the Arts, I feel pretty good to hear that.”
But at the same time, Falkins said smaller projects, such as $500 donations for the police to buy bullet-proof vests for police dogs or to buy floating pontoons so physically challenged young people can learn how to sail, offer equal satisfaction.
“When you are able to help a segment of your community in some way, no matter how big or small, that community service is what Rotary is all about,” Falkins said.
He added that Rotary is also about family, indicated prominently with the theme to this weekend’s convention, The Family of Rotary.
Falkins said being a Rotarian means being part of an extended family that grows for him with every new member he meets.
“To accomplish anything in the world such as our campaign to end polio, you can’t do it alone, you need the support of other people throughout the world and that is what Rotary is all about,” Falkins said.
“Every stranger you meet who is a Rotarian from that point on becomes you friend because of that Rotary connection.”
Falkins says when he wears his Rotary pin, he’s often stopped by out of town Rotarians who take the time to introduce themselves.
“One of the reasons for the convention theme of Family of Rotary is because we are family…I like to say I have 1.2 million friends around the world, I just haven’t met them all yet.”
Among the convention activities will be a gala dinner and awards banquet on Saturday, highlighted by the inaugural awarding of the Harold R. Henderson Award in honour of the late Harold Henderson, who was a Kelowna dentist and Rotarian for 54 years. Henderson son Bruce and daughter-in-law Peggy will present the award.
As well, 36 Rotarians will join the international exchange students today working in teams of four to paint fish on storm drains around Kelowna, to reinforce the message not to use storm drains for disposing of chemical products because of the harmful downstream impact that can create.
And another session on Saturday called Every Girl, Every Month, Period will see convention participants assemble reusable sanitary napkin packages for use in Third World countries and disaster-stricken areas such as Nepal and Haiti.