ROTARACT: CONNECTING THE WORLD IN THE TIME OF COVID-19

I met Rotaract in 2012 and in that year I also joined it. Honestly, before, I had never heard of it and I joined it for a rather absurd reason, linked to a dictionary of Kashubis downloaded with my first laptop, but it is a long story with which I will not bore you. Rotaract is an association promoted by Rotary International, in the past, it represented the pure youth branch, but recently things have changed slightly. Simplifying, we could call it a voluntary association, with its well-defined rites and organization, spread practically everywhere in the world. The name Rotaract is the combination of the words “Rotary” and “Action”, it was chosen following a survey among students from the University of Houston, Texas. Rotaract acts locally, through clubs, led by a President and, just this year, it was my turn to be the President of my club. Needless to say, this year each project has turned into an intervention aimed at tackling, in our small way, the pandemic in progress. Our contribution was mainly linked to the purchase of medical equipment, both for the healthcare facilities in our area and for our town. But Rotaract does not only act at the club level, on the contrary, but it also acts above all through collaboration at the zone, district and so on. Having a good connection with my district representative (DRR Alberto Pesce, from Brescia, Italy), I thought of interviewing him about this emergency we are living, having a special relationship with Mauritius, I also decided to interview the representative of that district far away from me in terms of kilometres (DRR Kate Ah-Kang from Rodrigues, Mauritius). Therefore, I have to thank the two interviewees for their availability, as well as the Assistant District Rotaract Representative for Mauritius, Ariana Sevene, who helped me in carrying out this interview.

How has the impact of COVID-19 been in your District? What has been your first thought?

Alberto: The District I represent has been the first place in Europe being hit by COVID-19. We scored the infamous record of the first district cancelling every event on February 21st: my District gathers some of the most infected cities in the world (Brescia, Cremona, Lodi, Piacenza etc.). Going back to that day (February 21st) I remember thinking that it would not have been a problem that we could quickly solve, but I couldn’t have imagined something like this.

Kate: District 9220 is a multi-country district: Comoros, Djibouti, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mayotte, Reunion, Rodrigues, Seychelles. It was the first time (historic for the district) that Rodrigues was organising the Rotary Youth Leadership Awards, from 10th to 13th, Rotaract- Interact Conference and Assembly on 14th March, with the departure of participants from the island on 15th March. With the committee, we have been planning the RYLA months ahead, since months before the world knew about COVID-19. By March 2020, things were getting pretty serious and alarming with respect to COVID-19 and some Rotaractors even decided to not participate to the Rotaract Conference and Assembly, being afraid for their safety, which can be understood. We maintained RYLA, the opening ceremony was on the 10th and the first case of the District was confirmed on the 11th March in Reunion Island, followed by Seychelles on 14th March. These information raised questions and feeling of insecurities among the RYLA participants. But, most participants were able to go back home safely. However, some were staying a few more days to travel and discover Rodrigues Island but since Mauritius was closing its borders, we had to make all necessary arrangement with authorities to help our District New Generation Chair, Gladys Abdallah, to get a flight back to Reunion Island as soon as possible. Same was the case for a Rotaractor from Comoros, who had transit flights, to whom support was given by Rotarians and Rotaractors from Kenya through the intervention of our DGN Dinesh and other Rotarians of District 9220. These are beautiful examples of connections that Rotary creates. This has been the major challenge we thought we won’t overcome. The impact has been mainly in our means of communication. Many online board meetings, informative videos about COVID-19 preventive measures, among others. Another major impact is no Rotary Conference and Assembly. The last Rotary gathering has been the RYLA 2020 in Rodrigues.

How did you react, as Rotaract, to this situation?

Alberto: We decided to help some hospitals in our district, and in three days we donated 3000 Euros to four important hospitals in our District: Brescia, Cremona, Lodi and Pavia. My team and I also tried to include our 30 clubs in different projects, so that we could help not only hospitals but also the people living in those cities. District 2050 collected more than 30.000 euros in donations and in utilities like masks, tablets for patients etc.. As a DRR I am very proud of my Clubs and their Presidents for the sensibility they showed during these hard times.

Kate: I, personally, my first reaction was to communicate with my Island leaders to encourage them to close borders between Mauritius and Rodrigues to keep the island safe, which they did. Mauritius confirmed COVID cases on 19 March 2020. Rodrigues (my island) has no COVID-19 cases up-to-date. And as a Rotaractor and Educator, despite confinement, I communicated with my students to educate them on this disease, precautions to take and why they had to respect confinement. On the Rotaract District 9220 page, posters were shared to educate Rotaractors and population at large. I participated in various Rotaract projects online about COVID-19, especially to the making of a video by my Rotaract club on good practices to adopt against the disease. On a larger scale, I am so proud of the Rotaractors of District 9220 for their impact. Most, if not all, Rotaract clubs have shown honour to this year’s theme, “Rotary connects the world”. Many clubs have participated in International Joint E-meetings, International Joint Bulletins, making-of videos to educate on COVID-19, RYLA 2020 friendship online meetings, clubs projects such as donation of 2 nebulizers, steamer for faster disinfection of ambulances, food, masks, poem competition, yoga/meditation sessions as fundraising projects. Some of these projects were the collaboration of Rotaract Clubs and Rotary Clubs, Leo Clubs (Lions), among others.

How did you deal with this emergency without being able to meet your collaborators? What has changed?

Alberto: Everything has changed. My team and I could virtually meet thanks to online platforms like Zoom. District management already was really smart and cloud-oriented: since May 2019 we have been using Google Drive to share files so that everything is online. Unfortunately, up to now the social part of our Association is missing. We used to host huge district’s event in order to share ideas, schedule lots of meetings and host interesting speakers, followed by dinner and party all together not only to have fun but also to meet new people and we hope to go back to something similar really soon.

Kate: For communication with Rotaractors in our countries, online by using Email or Whatsapp. Usual means. What was different is the communication with members in my Rotaract Club, Interact Clubs and Rotary Club in my island. During confinement, we were not able to meet at all so as to respect the guidelines of the authorities. But after confinement, we were able to meet up again and the board 2020-2021, we recently met to finalise the changing over ceremony of the club, which will be held on Saturday 6th June. For Rotaractors
in the district, it has been pretty the same thing. Online club meetings, adaptation to new lifestyle.

In 100 words, what do you wish about future?

Alberto: I wish Rotaract will go back to its social normality, which in my opinion was a very important aspect among the many Rotaract has. I wish we will soon go out without masks, and being able to smile to each other again; it may sound poetic but seeing masked people everywhere takes everyone in a really sad atmosphere.

Kate: Vaccine for COVID-19, no such diseases which changes completely our lifestyle, more investment in the health sector by all governments in the world
May we all keep the same solidarity mindset once COVID-19 is gone.

To conclude, as a Rotaractor I can say that once again the Rotaract has made an effort, in the possible ways, to do something good, adapting to the places and situations that, as we can see, can be extremely different, but there are always, anyway, contact points, even thousands of miles of away.

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