Sunday, November 27, 2011

Rotary District Conference - Cara Cugley

This year’s Rotary District Conference was held in West Chester on November 11th and 12th. Unfortunately, none of us were able to go on Friday, but Isaac and I were both able to be there on Saturday. On Saturday, Isaac and I met up and headed into the city where we met up with Jeb, a member of our sponsor Rotary Club of Philadelphia who was gracious enough to offer to drive us to and from the conference.

Once we arrived at the conference, we were welcomed by Anna and a few of my old Rotary acquaintances from when I was in Interact. After breakfast, we went into the hall where we were woken up by the African rhythms of Griot Wa Umoja that had us up on our feet dancing to
the music. Bonnie Korengel, our District Governor, gave the welcome speech that laid out our schedule for the day.

The first speaker of the day was Lynn McConville, who was standing in for Kathryn Hall, founder of Power Up Gambia. Kathryn was a sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania working towards a Pre-Med track when she went help out in Gambia. While working over in Gambia at a hospital, Kathryn was shocked at the lack of electricity available to run the lights and machines in the hospital. When Kathryn asked the head of the hospital how she could continue to help once back home, he told her about his idea of getting solar power panels installed at the hospital. Unfortunately, he lacked the fudns to make this dream a reality. So when Kathryn came back from Gambia, she had a mission of raising $300,000 in order to make that hospital’s dream of solar power into a reality. Between her efforts and Rotary’s contributions, the money was raised and Kathryn traveled back to Gambia to see the panels installed. This project had a chain-reaction. Power Up Gambia is now raising money to install solar power panels into its third hospital in Gambia. This project is just one example of how the dream of one can become the mission of many.

After enjoying the rhythms of the talented young Irish Step Dancers, we heard the riveting story behind the Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation from Alex’s father, Jay Scott. He told us all about Alex’s struggle with childhood cancer and her ambitious goals of raising money for childhood cancer through a lemonade stand. We also heard from 8-year-old Althea Hutchinson, a top fundraiser for Alex’s Lemonade Stand with her own story of her battle against childhood cancer. After hearing these inspirational stories, a basket went around collecting money for the foundation and, along with money from auctioned off Eagles tickets and money raised by local Interact clubs, the Rotary donated over two thousand dollars to the foundation.

In our first Breakout Session, we attended the New Generations of Rotarians session run by Anna. During this session, Rotarians got to learn more about the structure and projects of our
District EarlyAct, Interact, and Rotaract clubs. Many Rotarians asked questions regarding how to either start their own new generation clubs in their areas or how to get involved with their local clubs. The interest in these clubs was refreshing. It was nice to hear how much the Rotarians value our work and are how interested they are in investing in and shaping the future generations to take over.

During lunch, Isaac and I got to eat incredible food while talking to and getting to know local Rotarians. After lunch, the Parade of Flags took place where we were introduced to all the District’s International Exchange Students. Next, we got to hear from Karen Rogers, a popular local TV personality who previously received the Rotary Ambassadorial Scholarship. She recounted her personal journey and how Rotary became a part of it. She thanked the Rotary for their faith in her and for the amazing experience she received as a Rotary Scholar in Wales. Following Karen’s speech, Lt. D.F. Pace shared his experience with the Rotary in Thailand where he studied violence prevention, meditation, and compromise building for 3 months. As a District
Peace Fellowship Winner, he now uses his new knowledge in his everyday experiences and conflicts as a police officer here in Philadelphia.

The last speech of the day was given by Rotary International President’s Representative Ann Lee Hussey about Polio Eradication. She shared her personal struggle with polio as a polio survivor, as well as the ongoing efforts of the Rotary to eradicate polio around the world. Rotary’s continued efforts and overwhelming success is inspiring and instills motivation in all of us to continue their efforts here through Purple Pinkie projects. Following Ann Lee’s speech, we went to the final Breakout Sessions. Isaac and I attended the District Rotaract Meeting. During this meeting, each Rotaract Club that was present went around and described all the projects they’ve been working on this year and their future project plans. It was a nice chance to meet fellow Rotaractors and share ideas.

Overall, the day was an incredible experience. It was nice to catch up with my old Rotary acquaintances and to meet new Rotarians. It was also really interesting to share project ideas and experiences that Rotary clubs and new generation clubs (EarlyAct, Interact, and Rotaract) have been working on and plan to work on. I recommend that everyone who has the chance goes next year! It’s a great experience that you’ll never forget and that will inspire you to be more involved with all the Rotary’s incredible projects and partnered foundations.

Monday, November 14, 2011

A Rotaract Halloween at the Guang Ai Orphanage - Emily Hsiao

One of my favorite things about being a part of the Rotary family is the international community of which you’re automatically a part. From being an Interactor in high school, I’ve been able to visit Rotary Clubs and Rotaracts in Ann Arbor, Tokyo, Shanghai, Philly, and now, Beijing. My friends in Rotaract have had similar experiences in Italy, Germany, England, etc. All you have to do is go to the Rotary website and call the club up–and you can volunteer, make friends, and network. How awesome is that?

In Tokyo, I was able to go to a Rotary Club party during the summer of 2009 and went to a District Rotaract potluck this past summer. I also met up again with a Rotarian with whom I’d connected during that 2009 summer and we exchanged ideas for fundraising and gathering members.

In Shanghai, I was especially grateful for Rotaract because I lived there alone without many contacts. I started going to their meetings during the summer of 2010 and went again every Monday the next winter. Because I was there for a longer period of time, I was able to participate in their events and volunteer. A highlight of the winter was definitely our Rotaract Shanghai Photo Exhibition at the Italian Consulate. We put together this amateur exhibition as a fundraiser for wheelchairs for the Anhui province in conjunction with the Huaqiao Foundation. It was a silent auction and we had wine and cheese as well as a booth selling postcards with the photos. They just had a Boat party last month and met their goal of 35000 RMB for the wheelchairs! Huaqiao will double this and they will be distributing the 140 wheelchairs soon.

It was no surprise that when I came to Beijing, I also joined Rotaract here. Unfortunately, their meetings are quite far from my place, so I’m not able to go to their meetings every week. But I was able to participate in one of their events last week: Halloween at the Guang Ai Orphanage!

It was an adventure trying to find the place. Having gone to interview at a career fair that morning, I was already in a cram to get there on time. My friend DH from CIEE volunteered to come along. We took the subway (3 transfers) for about 2 hours. From there, we met up with Clare (Penn) and two other volunteers she had met at the station. They had gone to buy 100 apples for the event. Ben, one of the volunteers, joked around with the local Chinese passerby, trying to sell the apples (haggling, of course) as we waited for the bus. When the bus finally came, we hopped on. But when the conductor (I don’t know what you call them for buses…she actually gives you tickets…) asked us where we were going, we realized we had no idea. So Ben tried to say “Guang Ai Orphanage” in as many different combinations of Chinese tones as we could think of (we didn’t have the Chinese characters, only the phonetic spelling). The conductor still didn’t know, so we called the coordinator and asked her where to get off.

When we got off the bus, the orphanage was nowhere to be seen. We were in the middle of a polluted myriad of construction work. We walked to a nearby building and asked the guard how we might be able to get to the orphanage. No one had any idea what we were talking about. Finally, there was a lady who told us we needed to take a cab. We walked to an intersection and tried to hail one, but the lady came running after us five minutes later. She had a 黑车, or illegal cab, get us to the orphanage.

When we got there, it was so much fun. All of the kids were in a small room passing around balloons, cutting out masks, and drawing jack-o-lanterns on the balloons. There must have been about 30 volunteers (and 30 kids!). We played games: mummy wrapping, apple bobbing, and “pass-the pumpkin”–one of those teamwork games where you have to pass a balloon down a line as quickly as you can with certain restrictions.

The kids (and we!) had a great time. They were all smiles at the end. The boys were especially into the mummy-wrapping and apple-bobbing; the girls had more fun planning strategies for the “pass-the-pumpkin” game. Some kids had more fun popping the balloons than blowing them up.

Halloween as a kid was always dressing up, putting a coat over my costume (the woes of Michigan Octobers), and going trick-or-treating. I loved the neighbors who went all out in decorating their house with spooky contraptions, ghouls, and witches. There was always that one house where the parents would go all out and scare you as you came in through the door before giving you candy. I loved it.

This Halloween wasn’t so bad, either.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Philly Cares Day - Cara Cugley

Philly Cares Day was a very fulfilling and enriching experience. Shamil and I met up with the awesome Rotaractors from Columbia who woke up at 4:50am to travel down here to Philly to give us a hand. God bless them for that! After a crazy adventure with Septa involving trains and shuttle buses, we finally met up with Anna and her boyfriend who were kind enough to pick us up at the train station and drive us the rest of the way to the school.

Once we got to the school, we met the principal of the school, along with all the other teacher, parent and student volunteers who came out to give a hand. The principal told us a little bit about the school. It is in the process of moving its current library into a new library in the basement and converting the old library into smart classrooms. Most of the Rotaractors and some teachers were designated to work in the library where we made boxes and proceeded to pack up the shelves of books into the boxes. Outside, the rest of the volunteers worked on fixing up the gardens by pulling weeds, planting flowers, and raking up leaves.
We also had plenty of time to talk with the various other volunteers and it was so nice to get to know them. The Columbia Rotaractors are fantastic and were so fun to hang out with all day! It was a great bonding experience. Overall, the entire day was a great experience and I recommend that everyone come out and volunteer for it next year!