Bridging the cultural divide
If you saw some new faces in Sooke last week, they may have been part of a cultural exchange between Rotary Districts in Canada and India.
Back in January, Neil and Maggie Flynn visited Gujarat, India in a Rotary Fellowship Exchange (RFE). Over several weeks they were housed and fed by local Rotarians and toured around the region famed as the birthplace of Gandhi. Last week those hosts turned visitors and stopped in Sooke for three nights on their voyage across Vancouver Island and western Washington. The visitors were treated to a whirlwind tour of Sooke’s sights and activities including artist studios, beach walks, salmon conservation and salmon fishing plus visits to all of the local Rotary supported projects.
The service aspect of Rotary is highly visible in our community, but the club’s second pillar is fellowship, emphasizing friendship locally and across borders. Friendship exchanges are between districts, where a delegation visits another region, staying in Rotarians’ homes to learn about the culture. And in return, a delegation from the other country responds in turn.
Vipul Patel, from Vapi, explains how taking part in a Friendship Exchange is more than just tourism.
“A tourist visits other countries to see the monuments. A businessman comes to make money. A politician comes to make a name. RFE is such a unique program, you meet person to person, and learn about the culture.”
And everyone involved did indeed learn some memorable cultural lessons, seeing up close the vast differences in geography, religion, history, and economy, as well as things as fundamental as eating habits. But maybe more surprising, after getting used to each other’s customs, was realizing how fundamentally similar we all are; sharing the human traits of pursuing a happy and healthy life, working to provide for ourselves and our loved ones, wanting the best for our children, and finding fun where we can as our lives unfold.
Narendra Saboo, from Surat Seaface, emphasizes that a Friendship Exchange, “is not only travelling distances, going to homes and looking at places, it is travelling distances from heart to heart, building homes away from homes, and building memories that will be treasured for a lifetime.”
A memorable visit indeed, for both the visitors and the visited. After a lunch presentation at the Prestige Hotel on Wednesday, Sooke Rotary president, Deb Johnston, handed off the Gujarat visitors to the care of the Oak Bay club, wishing them well on the rest of their journey.