Opulence, Poverty and Rotary

Greetings and salutations, one and all. It feels longer (perhaps that’s a slight trace of jet lag still talking), but we have only been in Bangalore for a few days now. They have been some of the fastest, most secure, most hectic, most educational days of my existence. For those who haven’t been in the loop, I have journeyed halfway around the world with a Group Study Exchange Team from Rotary District No. 5080 to experience life and culture in Bangalore, India in the state of Karnataka. As I type this, I am listening to Miss Earth 2010 Nicole Faria, the first Indian to win this title, discuss environmental issues at the 35th Rotary District 3190 Conference. In a country that is still a budding democracy and where corruption often interferes with the best intentions, Rotary is a vital link between those who have-not and the opportunity for education, clean water and improved health. About 600 million people in the nation live on 26 rupees per capita, per day (almost half a dollar). Rotary international has worked with other organizations to build schools, decrease pollution and work for gender equality throughout the country and the world. Though If I have come to realize anything in my short stay here, it’s that it is just as slothful and inaccurate to lump Indians into one ethnic and social group as it is to do so with Americans. Their country is just as diverse and multi-cultured as our own, with multiple languages, living styles and customs. Throughout our stay, we are taking up residence with eight host families, all Rotarians, and all guiding us toward a better understanding of their way of life. Today’s conference includes a gathering of over 2,000 Rotarians and their family members, coming together to achieve vital change and progress their district requires. My teammates, four other young professionals, each with their own lives and personalities, sit next to me preparing ourselves to give what our Colville Toastmaster’s team would refer to as our “Icebreaker” speech to a crowd of over 600 people (gulp). This is where we introduce ourselves individually as team to our host district and impart to them what our lives are like back home. As I think of where we are all from (Canada and Washington) and where that has led us, to Bangalore today, it’s difficult to convey that surreal feeling of being in a place so different than what we are accustomed to, but so similar in that the people of Bangalore share our hopes for love, success and prosperity, as well as fears of failure and loss (though it’s arguable that we in the United States and Canada have considerably less to fear in terms of impoverishment). Though Rotary is not and cannot be the be-all-end-all for everything and everyone, the fact that these people have come together to do what they believe is right by their own and all of humanity lends a refreshing recognition that there are those who are determined to walk their talk and not bemoan the sad, sorry state of the world. These are people who have reached within to embrace their own humanity, and I know that we all have so much to learn from their example during our stay here. Stay tuned, dear readers. There is more to come.