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Touring a Brazilian Favela

Jan and I were a little apprehensive about touring a favela – (slum) – one of the worlds largest – in Rio de Janeiro.  Is it cool to tour someone’s misfortune?   In the end,  we were glad we did.  The 2 hour walk through was fascinating and it gave us insight into a huge issue.  The tour guide was very respectful and encouraged us to listen and learn.  And we did.  I don’t think we could solve the world’s problems ourselves but education goes a long way towards it.  We stopped and bought a few things from the locals including a baked treat.  A bit of commerce we hope is of assistance.  We left with a greater understanding of the way life is for far too many.    Click the pics for a quick slide show.

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Rocinha (little farm) is the largest favela in Brazil, and is located in Rio de Janeiro‘s South Zone. Rocinha is built on a steep hillside overlooking Rio de Janeiro, and is located about one kilometre from a nearby beach. Most of the favela is on a very steep hill, with many trees surrounding it. 69,161 (census 2010) people live in Rocinha, making it the most populous favela in Brazil.


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Drop of a lifetime

Polio Immunization Day in India

Polio Immunization Day in India

January, 2015 I did a Rotary Friendship Exchange (RFE) in India.  For two weeks Jan and I toured the state of Gujharat.  13 of us resided with Rotarians in 4 different towns.  The local Rotarians showed us their Rotary projects,  community facilities and events.  An RFE is not a holiday – it’s an experience.  One such experience is pictured left.  It just so happened we were there on a National Immunization Day.  Rotary is well known for working to eradicate polio from the world. Rotary has almost achieved it!  It remains endemic in 3 countries only.  A year ago India was declared polio free.  Every year N.I.D.’s set out to immunize local children against polio.  Although polio free the clinics must carry on for a few years as polio is in neighbouring Pakistan, for now. Rotarians help man the N.I.D. booths.  We got to assist.  Here I am giving two polio drops to a youngster.  It made me weepy.  For years I have supported the Rotary Foundation and talked about Rotary’s  End Polio Now program.  I never thought I would be at an N.I.D. in India.  Very moving.

India has been quite the experience.  The sights and sounds, the food, the air, the tastes, the smells.  The warmth, the humanity.  Incredible.   I found it exhausting yet exhilarating..   Jan nd I made lifetime friends and learned an immense amount.  We have new appreciations for home and the home of 1.2 billion people.  We have seen riches and desperation, hope and despair.  Jan and I always wanted to visit India.  The RFE made it  a unique way to discover the true India.  We also made a difference by assisting several Rotary projects.   And yes,  gave two drops to young people  who will never have to worry about the ravages of polio.

A Rotary funded hospital in Vapi, India - with the RFE team

A Rotary funded hospital in Vapi, India – with the RFE team

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Alaska by Cruise Ship

Our ship in port in Ketchican, Alaska

Our ship in port in Ketchican, Alaska

Jan and I did a one week cruise from Vancouver to Alaska this July, 2014.  We stayed for 3 nights in Anchorage and then flew home.   We hadn’t done a cruise for a few years.  It was Holland America.   I always wanted to see Alaska but didn’t relish the thought of driving. (We live one hour from mile zero of the Alaska Highway). 

So I’ll get this out right away.  We aren’t in a great rush to cruise again.  Too much food,  too hard to be active.  BUT,  having said that – we really enjoyed. The food was fine,  very good at times.  The scenery was breathtaking.  I mean to cruise up to a glacier spilling into the ocean is pretty unique.  We had great weather for that area.  We loved the opportunities to explore a few small Alaskan towns.  Best part of the cruise –  a good sized deck off our room. And it was a good size!  Our room was almost as big as a standard hotel room!  Nothing small about it.   We really enjoyed the deck.  After the cruise we landed at Seward, Alaska and from their took a train to Anchorage.   It was about 3 and a half hours and we really enjoyed it.  Relaxing and incredible scenery. 

One of my fav photos, taken with my Blackberry out the train window.

One of my fav photos, taken with my Blackberry out the train window.

We didn’t see much wildlife it seems but then again we see bears and moose all the time so we didn’t look too hard.  The average age on the cruise ship was certainly a fair bit older than Jan and I.  There were a few families with kids but not many.  It wasn’t hard to go to bed early and get a good nights rest.

The three nights in Anchorage were terrific. Great food, fun hiking around and exploring.  We rented a car.   I have never fished in my life much so Jan and I went salmon fishing with a guide.  It is stunning to see the salmon run.  I had a few close calls.  Jan caught a couple.  Very exciting for both of us.

It was a heck of opportunity to see Alaska.  On a cruise ship passing through the islands of the coast was mesmerizing.  Time with Jan together on a cruise ship fun.  I guess we have the rest of our life to walk off all those calories.  The cruise ship crowd made us feel young.

It was a trip well worth taking.  Alaska is so beautiful.  A cruise up that coast unforgettable.

Jan and the one that didn't get away!  Beautiful sockeye salmon

Jan and one that didn’t get away! Beautiful sockeye salmon

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Representing the President of Rotary International

SpeakingI was honoured to represent the President of Rotary International, Ron Burton – at a Rotary District Conference in California.    There are 532 districts in the world,  every one has a conference annually.  The standing R.I. President can’t attend them all so a rep is sent.  Jan and I were chosen!   The event was at Temecula, CA.  The rep (commonly called RIP REP) is to give inspiring addresses to the delegates and update them on news from Rotary International.  The conference is to inform, inspire and have fun!   We did it all.Balloon ride  We did a tour of the Los Angeles port,  we got to meet the past and future governors of District 5320,  we even did a hot air balloon ride.  Temecula is wine country!   We did some great power walking,  we cycled and boated even.  We were invited to local Rotarians home.   They sure made us feel special.  The conference seemed a smashing hit.

I gave 4 talks.  A greeting, a  talk on media and PR,  a keynote and a farewell.

It was an honour and a thrill.  We were treated like gold by our aide PDG Bret Gerdes.  We made some great friends for sure.  We learned a lot and wow we listened a lot.  I hope we made a positive impact on the attendees.    I would say being chosen to be  a RIP REP was  areal highlight of my Rotary “career”.  So far!  Something I learned, too is – around the world Rotarians seem much the same.  Passionate, proud, fun, willing to share.  They sure did!.

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20 Days in South Africa – Rotary Friendship Exchange

Rotarians support this clinic that does a lot of work with HIV Aids.  We saw many fantastic Rotary projects.

Rotarians support this clinic that does a lot of work with HIV Aids. We saw many fantastic Rotary projects.

Have you ever traveled and  asked yourself “How do the locals live?  What makes this community tick?”.  I have – and Jan and I were fortunate to get those questions answered.  A Rotary Friendship Exchange is when a group of you visit a district,  home-stay,  and the local Rotarians show you around.  Then they visit your home district.    We visited Johannesburg and region for about 3 weeks.  Every 3 days we moved to a new community where a new Rotary club hosted our group.  In the morning we got up and they showed us their community,  their Rotary projects,  their events and celebrations.  It was exhausting but a rare privilege.  We went to Rotary meetings where we spoke about our country.   We


District 6, Cape Town. At the height of apartheid 60,000 blacks were removed from here, their homes bulldozed but these few. They were forced to live in townships.

learned about their country, their culture,  their challenges, their success stories.  Our hosts families treated us like next of kin.  11 of us from District 5370 enjoyed laughs and tears.  We were entertained royally.  We were awed at their Rotary projects.  Highlights include the Mandela Apartheid Museum,  a few days in neighbouring country Swaziland.  (42% of the population HIV positive!)  Seeing the wildlife at Kruger Park.  And making life long friends in South Africa.

With the passing of Nelson Mandela just days after we left I feel it’s a rare gift to be able to get a taste of what Mandela meant to the South Africans.  While there it was as if the spirit of Madiba was everywhere.  You cannot explain to those outside of SA how much he meant to the citizens of that country.

I know you are wondering - "Are there blacks in Rotary Clubs in South Africa?"  Yes.  But more-so in some regions.  Change is slow but it is happening.  This is the President of a club where I spoke.

I know you are wondering – “Are there blacks in Rotary Clubs in South Africa?” Yes. But more-so in some regions. Change is slow but it is happening. This is the President of a club where I spoke.

Travel is such a gift.  To travel to a land like South Africa and stay in the homes of Rotarians is something that’s hard to describe to others.  We lived with the South Africans.  We danced,  we laughed, we cried.  We shared in their Rotary projects.  We talked about the struggles of apartheid and the progress since.  One host is credited with sponsoring the first black into his Rotary Club.  It was such an honour to spend time with him.

South Africa has been described as a dangerous country.   I imagine it is.  We saw a lot of fences and barbed wire.  Security gates are the norm.  Life is certainly different there.   South Africa is a first world country with third world problems.  At many events there were two types of people.  Blacks serving us, the whites.  But at other events and other regions it was much more mixed.   South Africa has a long way to go – but they are getting there.  There are success stories.

In our final days we visited  a township.  An area set aside for blacks to live during apartheid.  To this day the

A township outside Capetown.

A township outside Capetown.

townships remain. Thousands and thousands of blacks still live in townships just like Nelson Mandela did.  It is a community teaming with life, but teaming with challenges.  Segregated from the rest of the cities and towns they are world away from the rest of the country.  Such a sobering stroll for Jan and I and yet – how different is that from what we have in Canada – we call them reserves.

Some adventures can change you. I think this did.  This was not a vacation – it was an experience, a  gift thanks to Rotary International and the Rotary Friendship Exchange program.

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Japan. Respect. Culture. History. Beauty.

A garden in Hiroshima.  Caline Strach is  Interact President who earned the trip with us via a contest.  Karly and mom.

A garden in Hiroshima. Caline Strach is an Interact President who earned the trip with us via a contest. Karly and mom.

A trip of a lifetime.   Japan was 12 nights of amazing sights and friendships.  The trip was one of the best ever.   Karly got to see her host family in Koriyama,  the Peace Forum in Hirsoshima was impressive,  the people were quite unlike North Americans.   We had 4 fabulous nights in Koriyama, Fukushima hosted by Rotarians.  Tokyo was incredible.     I want to go back.   Some of the highlights:

* Hiroshima was very green.  The Peace Park where they remember the atomic bomb drop is something I could never forget.
* Touring the sight of where the tsunami hit land in Fukushima is hard to describe.  Even after 2 years –  immense work remains.
* The Rotary members in Koriyama treated us so well.  We saw Japan in a way you couldn’t if you were on your own.
* The people have a quiet respect for one another.  Very admirable.
* We spent time with 2 PR people from Tepco, the company that operates the nuclear power plant that was shut down after the earthquake.  They have 1600 staff dedicated to improving the lives of the 150,000 people who will receive compensation as a result of the plant.  The 2 apologized to us for the problem.  It will take 35 years to clean up.

Where water hit the land..   Befoe the tsunami this was a neighbourhood like any other.  It was haunting and emotional to drive through and stroll about.   We picked up tiny toys where children once played.

Where water hit the land.. Before the tsunami this was a neighbourhood like any other. It was haunting and emotional to drive through and stroll about. We picked up tiny toys where children once played.

* Tokyo was a pleasure the 2 different nights we stayed.
* Meeting 2 special people –  Ako was a Rotary Group Study Exchange student who stayed with us for 4 days,  7 years ago.   Michiko was an exchange student who lived with us for 4 months about the same time.  First time we saw both since.  Very special.
* Standing in a train station someone said “stand back a train is coming”.  I thought nothing of it until one zipped by – at 300 KM’s an hour!
* The food is very different.  Lots of raw fish.   I did not put on weight.
*Rotarians are the same around the world.  All wanting to do more,  all proud of their accomplishments.  This summer my district will host 5 Japanese youth – all displaced from their homes due to the Tepco plant.  Rotarians working together.
* Seeing and hearing daughter Karly speak Japanese.  magic. So proud.
* Tea ceremony.  An honour.

We had the most incredible two weeks.  We attended a Rotary Peace Forum,  we bought along a future leader (Caline),  we experienced Karly’s Japanese families,  we saw old dear friends and made new ones.  What a trip.

Very special out for supper in Koriyama.  All past host families for Karly.

Very special out for supper in Koriyama. All past host families for Karly.










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Four and a Half Million Dollars Raised

Lots of smiles with 12/13 President of Rotary International Sakuji Tanaka

Lots of smiles with 12/13 President of Rotary International Sakuji Tanaka

This was a thrill of a lifetime and I am so honoured to be a part of it. Raising 4.5 million dollars!   The media release says it all below.

A unique fundraiser occurred Saturday evening, May 11, 2013 in Edmonton, Alberta that successfully raised 4.5 million dollars for the Rotary Foundation – well over the target of one million dollars.  Organizers were particularly excited to have in attendance the President of Rotary International, Sakuji Tanaka.  Kevin Hilgers is the Governor for the district that includes northern Alberta, NW Saskatchewan, NE British Columbia and Northwest Territories.  “The fundraiser was unique whereby we asked Rotarians to include the Rotary Foundation via their will and estate planning.  In other words –  become a member of the Foundation’s Bequest Society.    We asked them to provide documents so we could substantiate and track the commitments, and certainly recognize them for their efforts.

Our object was to find over one million dollars of new commitments to the Rotary Foundation. This also included members who chose outright gifts of cash to the Foundation.  We marketed this for almost a year.  It wrapped up May 11 with the Million Dollar Dinner. In the end a check totaling just under 4.5 million dollars was handed to President Tanaka in front of a crowd of 150 supporters of the Foundation.  Even after we printed that check we had several more commitments come in so in fact we are over the 4.5 million mark.  Many in the room were stunned at the amount raised.  4.5 million dollars in commitments to the Rotary Foundation!  We will make a difference tomorrow and in the future, locally and around the world – thanks to these individuals we recognized at this event”.

Hilgers adds, “The picture (attached) says it all.  It’s not every day you can “wow” the President of Rotary International in your own hometown.  It certainly was a thrill in many ways.”  Lastly some advice for any other Rotary Districts who wish to hold such an event.  “We had a team that put on a terrific event.  It really sparked interest in this sort of fundraising.  It captured the imagination and excitement of Rotarians. If anyone wishes to look into doing a Million Dollar Dinner we would be happy to share.  I would highly recommend doing this.  It’s a very fresh approach and one that obviously inspired many”.

UPDATE – I had so many ask about this unique fundraiser I built a “How-To” website so others can easily do the same.

Update:  The magazine Rotary Canada did a story on the event, click here.


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