Common waters

By Wayne Hearn

August 2007

Surface above self

The International Fellowship of Rotarian Scuba Divers swims away with first prize for the most creative motto: Surface Above Self.

This 44-member fellowship, hailing from five countries, is among the most active and energetic, organizing one or two diving expeditions per year to exotic locations. Not surprisingly, the group's online photo gallery and newsletter contain some amazing images.

Each trip is about a week long, with divers often living aboard the boat. That was the case in February, when they dove around Socorro Island off Mexico's western coast. Fellowship president Dan Lockwood says a land-based trip to Curaçao is planned for early 2008, followed by a shipboard trip to either Belize or Thailand.

"The Socorro trip actually took 10 days due to the distance from the archipelago to the harbor," says Lockwood, of the Rotary Club of St. Clair, Mich., USA. "When you spend that much time with a small group of people, you really get to know them. The topics of conversation usually cover careers, families, Rotary, and diving. Diving is so much more fun when you dive with people you know."

Lockwood says he always tries to arrive at each trip's destination a few days early to attend a nearby Rotary club meeting. Usually, the fellowship members donate to or volunteer for a local club service project while they're in town. They've helped buy computers for an elementary school in Ecuador and playground equipment in Costa Rica.

One of the fellowship's most ambitious efforts raised more than US$6,000 to upgrade the Nacamaki Medical Project on Koro, one of the Fiji islands. The clinic provides much-needed health care services to 900 people in nine villages.

"I've seen our members with tears in their eyes after visiting some of these projects," Lockwood says.

But there's no denying that it's the underwater experience that gives the scuba diving fellowship its cachet. In what other Rotary group would you hear an otherwise regular guy like Lockwood mention, almost nonchalantly, that he "was stalked by a giant manta ray" in the waters off Socorro Island - and has the video to prove it? 

Keeping Rotarians on key

Anyone who's attended an RI Convention has heard the International Fellowship of Rotarian Musicians. Not heard of them, but, literally, heard.

The music fellowship is a staple at the convention's bustling social hub, the House of Friendship, where its members play instruments and sing in harmony, providing a live soundtrack to Rotary's most important meeting.

Founded in 1972, the fellowship leads and performs at musical events from the club level on up. Its ranks are open to any musically inclined Rotarian, from professional musicians to hobbyists to shower-stall Carusos.

"As a performing vocalist, I naturally gravitated toward the music fellowship in Rotary," says the group's chair, Susan DuPree, a classically trained soprano whose day job is as a clinical psychologist.

"Meeting and networking with musicians and lovers of music throughout the Rotary world has given me more insight and respect for the broad spectrum of musical genres out there," adds DuPree, of the Rotary Club of Pleasanton North, Calif., USA. The fellowship now has more than 400 members from 27 countries.

Recognizing that music is a valuable component of a well- rounded education and healthy society, the fellowship also works with Rotary clubs in communities with music-related needs. Recent projects include helping reestablish a music program at a school in the Caribbean island nation of Grenada, partnering with the Mr. Holland's Opus Foundation to replace instruments at a New Orleans performing arts school damaged by Hurricane Katrina, and funding a mobile van to bring music books and recordings to preschool programs in outlying districts of Manila, Philippines.

DuPree says the fellowship also is "moving into the 21st century" by creating an interactive membership directory on its Web site and forming a nonprofit, 501(c)(3) foundation to receive donations for more service projects, which will supplement the money in its donor advised fund, established through The Rotary Foundation.

"These projects represent the true spirit of our fellowship and what Rotary is all about," says DuPree. "It's one thing to say that we promote music, and quite another to put music into the hands of our young people. It is this actualizing of our mission that brings us the most joy." 

Travel agents stay on course

The International Fellowship of Travel Agents is a solid example of how Rotary can benefit a club member both professionally and personally.

With about 200 members in more than 30 countries, this vocation-based fellowship provides a trusted network of consultants to help Rotarian travel agents plan clients' trips.

"As a professional, I would much rather arrange travel or get advice from a fellow Rotarian who lives and works in an area of the world where I am sending my customer," says fellowship chair Bob Robar, of the Rotary Club of Downtown Gainesville, Fla., USA. "Plus, when we travel ourselves, and a fellowship member greets us at the airport, we get to know the city or the country as only a native knows it, and that gives us a much more personal perspective that we can pass along to our customers."

For an industry facing an array of challenges, such as the growing number of travelers who make their own arrangements online, that personal touch helps its members stay competitive.

"Yes, many people just rely on an Internet site or a fancy brochure," Robar acknowledges. "But we can network together, and many times that can result in excellent travel deals."

And Rotary club membership is rife with travel opportunities - district conferences, zone institutes, the annual RI Convention, plus thousands of hands-on service projects the world over. While traveling, it's only natural for Rotarians to gravitate to agents certain to be committed to ethical business practices.

The fellowship is also involved in humanitarian service and is currently launching a campaign through the Wheelchair Foundation to provide wheelchairs to people with disabilities in developing countries.

"We want to help provide mobility - the ability to travel - to people who perhaps have no other means to get around and explore even their own corner of the world," Robar says.

Who doesn't love cricket?

Mike Jackson is a Rotarian on a mission. The affable Brit is determined to enlighten his American colleagues about his favorite sport: cricket.

"I feel it is unfair that American Rotarians are being deprived of the pleasure," says Jackson, secretary of the International Fellowship of Cricketing Rotarians and a member of the Rotary Club of Fordingbridge, England. "So I am going to devote my life to educating America about cricket."

Sensing a tough sell, he sweetens the pot, vowing to donate $1 to The Rotary Foundation for every American Rotarian who joins the fellowship.

Like baseball, cricket involves bats, balls, runs, fielders, and umpires. But the player an American would call the pitcher is the "bowler," and the term pitch itself refers to the center of the oval playing field.

Cricket's origins go back at least to 14th-century England. As the British Empire expanded, cricket spread with it, and the game is now very popular in former British holdings such as Australia, India, New Zealand, Pakistan, South Africa, and Sri Lanka.

Past RI Director Geoffrey Pike founded the fellowship in 1993. Since then, every few years the group holds a world festival, where Rotarian teams from the major cricketing countries engage in a week of friendly but spirited competition. Sri Lanka is set to host the fifth world festival this month.

The events also generate opportunities for volunteer service, bringing together Rotarians from nearly a dozen nations. For example, after the South Asian tsunami ravaged the Indian coastline in December 2004, clubs from Australia and the United Kingdom partnered with clubs in India on relief and recovery projects because of connections made through the cricket fellowship.

Now, says Jackson, it's time for U.S. Rotarians to get in on the action.

"I personally invite you to our next world festival," he says. "No previous experience needed, and we'll even provide coaching from world-class players. Are you up to the challenge, America?"

And don't forget the $1-per-head "bounty" for the Foundation.

Wine, fellowship, and service -  a winning trio   

Good wine is a good familiar creature, if it be well used. - William Shakespeare

As might be expected, members of the Rotarian's Wine Appreciation Fellowship are eager to share their joie de vivre with all.

"The wine fellowship is all about fun, fellowship, and learning about wine," says its president, Conrad C. Heede, of the Rotary Club of Grapevine, Texas, USA. "We have members who bring guests to our wine dinners, and they eventually become Rotarians."

At the RI Convention, the fellowship usually holds a wine dinner and encourages all its members - who now number more than 450 from 27 countries - to bring a favorite wine from home. With so many nationalities represented, the selection rivals even the best wine cellars.

Heede fondly recalls a dinner cruise at the 2003 convention in Brisbane, Australia: "Some Rotarians from Nigeria had joined us. They wore their traditional [dress], and their dancing was the highlight of the night. They got everybody going, and a good time was had by all. We manned a booth at the House of Friendship and doubled our membership."

The fellowship is already looking forward to the 2008 convention in Los Angeles, after which members will embark on a California winery tour retracing the route taken in the wine-themed movie Sideways.

Heede also notes that wine dinners and tastings are very effective fundraisers. His club held a dinner that raised $3,000 for an avoidable blindness project in India, which grew to $18,000 with additional contributions from individual Rotarians and a $6,000 match from The Rotary Foundation.

The fellowship is now working on another Foundation- funded project to provide clean water to families on a Navajo reservation in New Mexico, USA.

"Our fellowship allows us to share our hobby with Rotarians around the world, and it also provides the means to further Rotary service," says Heede.

The Bard would approve: The fellowship's wines are certainly "well used."


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