Rotary Friendship Exchange Visit to District 3201
12 Rotarians and partners took part in the RIFE visit to Kerala and Tamil Nadu
from 10th-26th February 2013. The exchange was organised by PDG Brian Murray of
Yeovil Rotary Club.
Rotarians from 8 different clubs were represented from an area from Bath to
Sherborne and Westbury to Crewkerne. It was a great opportunity for fellowship
and to forge links with other clubs in the District.
District 1200 will host the returning team from June 11th-22nd with Sherborne
and Yeovil hosting the 11th-15th section.
Huge competition for 19 places on return team so we may not see our hosts on
this occasion. It took 7 hours to travel from Coimbatore back to Cochin which gives some idea of the size of the district.
District 3201 centred their hosting in our arrival city of Kochi(Cochin), then
Trichur and Coimbatore. The first and last cities support about 30 Rotary Club
Membership of Rotary Clubs in India is much sought after and some clubs have
female members. A debate at the District Conference highlighted the need to
increase the balance of membership.
Meetings tend to be more formal, beginning with the Four Way Test, introduction
of all past and present office holders including Major Donors and finishing with
the National Anthem. The first club we visited , owned their own building and
100% of the Membership held Paul Harris Awards. Major Donors are held in high esteem and have their own badge to show their contribution.
The hospitality of the receiving Clubs was overwhelming and our feet never
touched the floor. The welcome began at Cochin airport with hosts greeting us
with garlands of flowers before transporting us home for a brief rest before a
full day’s programme.
During the two week visit we were hosted by members of many clubs in each of the
three cities, not just the hosting Rotarian families.
Everything in India seems to be on a huge scale but the commitment of Rotarians
was also on a huge scale over a period of time and on a day to day basis. We saw
admirable examples of Rotary in Action, which ranged from delivering a box of
disinfectant to the Home for the Elderly and Infirm, to a club raising $50,000
in 40 days to equip a Chemo ward. We also saw fine examples of both District and
International Rotary clubs working together.
The programme was extremely varied and included visits to Rotarian supported
projects, cultural venues, family and religious events , and a vast textile mill
which makes clothes for Marks and Spencer etc. with an excellent social and
community responsibility owned by a Rotarian . The huge complex also included a
new University. It was so large that we travelled to each department by car.
We took part in the Polio Immunisation Progamme and met the 88 year old Rotarian
who began the programme in India. He was presented with the’ Champion of Pulse
Polio ‘ award at the District Conference.
We visited an Ayurvedic nursery where 800 plants were being grown, and an
Ayurvedic hospital and medicine production plant with its own
Rotary sponsored bustop outside .
Three other hospitals were visited ,including the Sankara Eye Care Institution
which champions the Gift of Vision project. Sankara proactively reaches out to
the rural blind poor.80% of the people treated are funded by revenue from the
20% of the hospital’s fee paying patients.
Local clubs support the Chemo ward and dialysis wards in another hospital for
the poor. Rotarians pledge to donate money on family birthdays and
Two clubs are working to support rehabilitations and vocational training for
financially weaker patients in the Spinal Unit of the Ganga Hospital.
Rotary clubs also provide support for the cardiac children’s unit in a local
hospital,through fund raising activities.
A day centre for those suffering from Alzheimers has been set up and is
visited on a daily basis by a Rotarian and weekly by a Rotarian psychiatrist.
On the social side, we cruised on the Backwaters on Valentines’s day and were
presented with a houseboat decorated on a heart shaped theme, ‘romantic’ food,
dancing and even a stop off for a Cornetto for me ! We saw miles of paddyfields,
exotically painted houses, life along the river, including the school water buses
We meditated in a 100 m diameter dome for our well being, joined in a temple
festival, complete with a cast of thousands, elephants with dancing men
on their backs and a large band of drummers and horn players, drank tender
coconut from the shell and experienced the thrill of rally driving in the
streets of India and through the Nilgiri hills.
We dressed up in local costumes for a formal dinner, were invited to a house
warming with 100+ guests, visited the oldest Synagogue in India, several very
interesting museums and art galleries and met the local Catholic bishop, who
gave us a crucifix as a momento. St Thomas Catholicism is the most common religion there.
We watched the Kathakali dancers being made up and their subsequent performance.
Some of us fished using the graceful Chinese fishing nets and caught one eel.
Others chose to have an Ayurvedic massage.
The Crocodile Dundee of India gave a lecture, with a PowerPoint presentation and live
poisonous snakes in jam jars. The commentary concluded with,” if bitten by this
one, call the undertaker “!
We saw where Vasco da Gama had lived and worshipped.
And ……we also ate and ate for England and India. The food was amazing and so
varied that we were happy to eat it for breakfast ,lunch and dinner. Our only
request was for smaller quantities as everywhere we went people wanted to feed
us. Saris were welcome garments with ample expansion room by the end of the
trip.The men in the party also tried out some of the male Indian fashion item. Towards the end of the trip , we were ‘treated to roast chicken with roast potatoes and trifle, in case we missed home cooking. How wrong could they be !!
As a group, I couldn’t have wished for more amenable companions and we laughed
incessantly, even when comparing the size of our expanding waistlines, swollen
ankles and mosquito bites!
Our hosts went out of their way to make our stay as memorable as possible.
The trip from every point of view was far in excess of any expectation I had and
I may even keep very quiet about any future trips ,in order to minimise the
number of people who might want to take part !
As one Rotarian said, “We like you. You speak our language. ” This may have been
taken out of context but it summed up the whole experience for me. India was as
they say on the advert, ” Incredible India. ” It was also wonderful to see
Rotary at its best, in action.