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Impressions of the District Conference

By Graham Suggett - Posted on 18 November 2014

District 1060 Conference at Bristol in November 2014

It is a while since I have attended a conference and had forgotten just what a pleasurable experience it is to listen to inspirational, and often humorous, speakers, explore a new city and above all partake in the fellowship. As all present are Rotarians, there are no barriers to surmount and one is straight into an exchange of ideas, views, reminiscences, family tales etc. no matter whether it is at a coffee break, or at the meal table or the hotel bar. Inger and I had the added pleasure this year to assist Paul and Bala to host the representative of the Rotary International President.

Over the years Conference has shrunk both in attendance and content with this year having only two half-days of conferencing; of which I give an overview.

Gary Thacker, representing Gary Huang the RI President, spoke twice of which the following bullet points were made:

  • Find solutions, not excuses.
  • Better to light a single candle than sit and curse the darkness.
  • Tell others of the projects of which you are proud and, who knows, they may spread throughout the world.
  • RI’s three strategic objectives are to Strengthen Clubs, undertake more Humanitarian Work and create Awareness.
  • The World is changing and we must change with it.
  • Our greatest challenge is the fear of change.
  • Are we prepared to change to attract new members?
  • If we were to join a Rotary Club now; would we join our Club and, if not, why not?
  • Rotary laid the foundations for what became known as UNESCO.
  • Peace is not just the absence of war; it is about feeling secure and having food, water, shelter and education.
  • Peace comes through understanding.
  • The Rotary Foundation (TRF) is the charity which enables Rotary to function. e.g. In 1985 there were 350,000 new cases of Poliomyelitis, in 2013 there were only 416.
  • TRF has no expertise in dealing on the spot with disasters. Instead, it uses fund to reinstate the infrastructure once the emergency is past and, as such, receives little publicity. e.g. £120,000 into Haiti and £100,000 into the Philippines after the typhoons to repair and rebuild schools.
  • Believe in the Power of One. One idea, one candle, one brick etc. is all it takes to start a project. One person talking to another is all it takes to get a new member.

Margaret Fenton. Rotary World Peace Fellow (RWPF)

Having been enthralled and inspired by the Australian RWPF Sharon Edington who spoke at the Foundation Seminar in February, I was expecting much of Margaret and therefore very disappointed when she failed to deliver. Clearly an ambitious, high flying, accomplished photographer and globe trotter with an enviable record of working with underprivileged children throughout the world, she gave little insight into what Rotary is achieving with its Peace Fellow education and training programmes being delivered by five Universities to 50 enthusiastic and experienced young people each year who then go forth and implement global projects.

Louise Moss. Chairman-Elect Rotaract in GB and I.

A splendid rousing performance from an enthusiastic supporter of Rotaract and Rotary.

Currently Rotaract has 7,500 members in 150 Clubs worldwide with 60 Clubs in the British Isles with 800 members. We have three in District 1060 (Leamington and Warwick, Birmingham, Aston University) with another in the process of being formed. Rotary and Rotaract, for the under 30s, have the same objectives as she clearly demonstrated and we must work together. There was one key bullet point for consideration.

  • The Chairman of Littlehampton Rotary Club Youth Service Committee is a Rotaractor and Rotaract have a place on the Rotary Club Council.

Judith Stewart. Macmillan Cancer Support Regional Legacy Manager.

An accomplished speaker giving a polished presentation supported by a video with people relating their experiences of having support from Macmillan Cancer Support (MCS). That she put over her message well is demonstrated by the £4,454 collected for Macmillan at the Gala Dinner and Hoe Down. Key points were: -

  • Macmillan provides doctors, pharmacists, physiotherapists etc. as well as nurses.
  • The help line receives, on average, 387 telephone calls and e-mails per day which costs MCS  £12,115.
  • The good news is that more people are surviving cancer and more people living longer with the disease due to earlier and better diagnosis BUT as people in general are now living longer it means that more people will be contracting cancer.
  • Two million people have cancer and this number will be double in 15 years’ time.
  • To-day (on average) 12 people in Coventry and Warwickshire and 26 in Birmingham will receive the news that they have cancer of which probably 5,000 will die.
  • No one should face cancer alone.
  • Information empowers people to take control over cancer.

Rosie Swale Pope. Adventurer Extraordinaire.

I was exhausted just listening to this break neck speed illustrated talk given for nearly an hour with no apparent pause for breath by a 68 year-old lady.

What a lady, 27 marathons in 27 days pulling her cart; record solo Atlantic crossing an a 17 ft. plywood boat; speed trek to Everest Base Camp; twice completed the toughest foot race on Earth the Marathon de Sables; running through Kosovo and Albania to help post-war relief; 3,000 miles on horseback from Atacama to Patagonia; Horseback exploration of the ancient Maya Kingdom; running 1,000 miles unsupported across lava deserts and glaciers in Iceland; running solo around the World (via Alaska, Greenland and Russia) from 2003 to 2008 to promote awareness of prostate cancer. She is currently running across America and broke her journey to speak to Conference.

An extraordinary story-teller who had us all enthralled and amused but also delivered some powerful messages: -

  • The resilience of the human spirit.
  • Passionately take hold of noble dreams and then triumph over adversity.
  • For change to work, it has to be a friend.
  • It is not what you take from life, it is what you give.

Ellie Targett. A WWII incredible adventure.

A particularly poignant presentation for us as it revived memories for Inger as Ellie took us on an illustrated journey through wartime Norway describing her father’s exploits as a scientist, ‘Milorg’ resistance worker and escapee. 500,000 Nazi Germany troops occupied Norway on the Ninth of April 1940 smelling of the hard fat they used to waterproof their jackboots. Hitler mistakenly thought his troops could interbreed with these blond-haired blue-eyed Scandinavians to produce a Super Race. Instead he united the country against the tyranny and an underground movement was soon flourishing. Sven Sømme, a marine biologist with an expertise in salmon and a regular traveller throughout Norway was a natural recruit to the resistance having already been producing a clandestine newsletter based on the BBC newscasts which he received on an illegal, hidden radio.

Having been betrayed, he was imprisoned but escaped in transit to Gestapo headquarters in Dombås for execution. He then set off across the widest part of Norway to escape to neutral Sweden wearing his office clothes and having no provisions. Sven wrote a detailed account of his wartime experiences and 200 mile night-time trek across the mountain; which is what Ellie relayed to Conference. Many young Norwegians had done likewise but what made this escape live was that Ellie and her sister retraced Sven’s footsteps using his notes as a guide. She took us through the journey in detail and one then realised just how tough a journey it had been because the two ladies really suffered, despite having modern clothing and equipment, plenty of food, were able to walk in daylight and could interface with people on the way.

Thanks to Sven Sømme and people like him, by opposing tyranny and dictatorship, we have our freedom to-day.

James Onions. District 1140 Foundation Chairman.

The Sand Dams project involves building concrete dams across dried-up river beds which over a period of three to four seasons fill up with sand. The sand traps the flood water and stops it evaporating or being contaminated and 40% of it is recoverable from wells. 35% 0f people and 50% of livestock live in dry areas. However, Kenya for example, is not short of water, the problem is that it all comes at once and up to 85% runs off and is wasted. Apart from the obvious outcome of providing water throughout the year there are other spin-offs. Instead of village people being 12 hours from water and thus spending a day in obtaining fresh water they are now only 30 minutes away and can use the time for other activities including going to school. Water enables fresh vegetables to be grown and fish ponds developed which can be tended using the time previously spent on fetching water. Surplus produce is sold to bring in income to pay for such things as education. Trees are planted around the dams thus improving the environment and improving the microclimate to shelter the vegetable terraces. All of which also prevents the previous erosion caused by the rush of flood water. The dams are built using voluntary labour and are virtually operational and maintenance-free.

A charity called Excellent Development, which is accredited to ‘the UN Convention to combat Desertification’, is responsible for overseeing the Sand Dam projects. 14 Rotary Districts and 104 Rotary Clubs have supported the Sand Dam project to the tune of £183,000. To-date 15 self-help groups have been established, 11 dams built and 3 more in the process of being built and one school has been provided with a water tank. The project is recognised for both Global and DDF grants and District 1060 has so far pledged £6,735.

Anita Tippin. Chairman of Inner Wheel District 6.

Ninety years ago the Inner Wheel Movement was founded by Margarette Oliver Golding and in her honour Asteroid Number 8148 was named ‘Golding’.

Anita gave a visual presentation consisting of a photograph and description from every Inner Wheel Club in the District depicting a project of which they were proud. This is a technique which Rotary Conference in 2015 would benefit from emulating.

Geoff Mackley. A man of many parts.

Conference was brought to an uproarious and humorous conclusion by Rotarian Geoff Mackay from Northern Ireland. We had a good hour of his home-spun wisdom and experiences, illustrated by anecdotes, slides and videos, all perfectly timed. Enough material to keep the Blue Book quips section full for a year). Within the comedy were some serious messages including: -

  • What do you want to do next? …. What is stopping you?
  • Do not get in a rut, try something new.
  • None of us are hungry, thirsty or afraid, unlike many others throughout the World.
  • Try something different.
  • Mao Tse-Tung said ‘the longest journey stars with the first step’. When did you last take a first step?
  • Let the next generation make the mistakes we learned from.
  • If you don’t try, you will never know.
  • When was the last time you took a risk?
  • Be the change you want to see (Gandhi).
  • If you want to make a change to-morrow, start to-day.

A time for Reflection and Remembrance.

Conference normally commences the Sunday plenary session with a non-denominational service (usually not well supported). This Conference dared to be different. We started later than normal with Ellie Targett’s talk (see above) and followed the war-time theme with a loud and horrifying video of troops rushing from the trenches in World War One into exploding shells and machine gun fire. Then followed a period of calm reflection as poems written by the seven WWI poets were read to us. Following which we were streamed into the Cenotaph radio commentary and stood with the remainder of the country in two minutes of silent contemplation. Congratulations to Peter Smith and his team for this memorable interlude.

Graham Suggett.