Grasping Chance Encounters

A service story sprinkled with serendipity – how we organized support for the first ever Rotary sponsored global peace education project in Beirut, Lebanon.

A Chance Encounter

My friend Assaad Mounzer and I were sharing box lunches at Wytheville Community College under the maple trees.  We were facilitators at the summer 2016 Rotary Leadership Institute, enjoying the decompression of friendly chat. I asked Assaad the special service question – “what’s next for you in Rotary?” He reflected a moment then shared his dream to take peace education to Beirut through NewGen Peacebuilders. Assaad has family roots and Rotary friends in Lebanon. Assaad was then well underway organizing NewGen Peacebuilders in our District.  Assaad meant it!  I said “let’s do it”!

Together we would develop a service story gathering project partners and earning a Rotary Foundation Global Grant – a story bridging supporting Districts, Clubs and Rotarians for Peace.

The bridge must first connect Project Partners – our Rotary District 7570 in Western Virginia / Northeast Tennessee with District 2452 in Lebanon – along with six other countries (Armenia, Bahrain, Cyprus, Georgia, Jordan, Palestine, Sudan and United Arab Emirates).  The bridge would feature NewGen Peacebuilders as a solid service partner.  Beyond that, the bridge would require supporting spans then unknown.

NewGen Peacebuilder Magic

NewGen Peacebuilders is an amazing program that frames and applies peace building skills used by Rotary Peace Fellows.  It is led by Rotary Peace Fellow Patricia Shafer.  The program forms teams delivering peace building projects.  Each project can morph into a long-term service opportunity for Rotary – a service return on investment! In Rotary we have an effective and scalable partner in NewGen Peacebuilders. More about NGP Here.

Promoting Peace Education projects carries unique challenges.  Beyond visualizing the project, partners must understand the program benefits.  Fortunately, Patricia often delivers keynotes at Rotary Conferences – indeed I met Patricia at a conference in Asheville, North Carolina!

Rotary Magic

Patricia, Assaad and I share a common beliefs in force of serendipity – an unplanned fortunate discovery during an adventure.  Serendipity brought us together! We must be mindful of such chance encounters. When grasped, serendipity leads to beneficial relationships – and service opportunities crystallize! Past Rotary International President Barry Rassin calls it Rotary Magic.

Share your passion -> good things happen. Rotary Clubs and Districts have treasure chests of underachieved ideas needing support. Rotary Foundation matching funds are a large part of the solution – but the service opportunity exceeds our resources.  Rotary Clubs and Rotarians fill the gap. The “bottom line” is that attracting the financial and service support for a global project is a daunting task. How do we do it? Believe in Rotary Magic – connected by a Passion for Peace!

A Solid Foundation

In January before their appointed official year of service, District Governors-Elect from around the world assemble under one roof for training. All 530 Governors joined by partners – the ultimate Rotary networking and learning opportunity!  In a chance encounter during our Assembly in January 2017, my wife Ginger & I had breakfast with counterparts from D2452, Governor-Elect Christina Covotsou-Patroclou and her husband Patroclos.  Enjoying our company, we expressed hope to meet again – perhaps Virginia/Tennessee, perhaps their home country Cyprus in a friendship exchange.

Five months later, at the June 2017 International Convention in Atlanta. Assaad & I met with George Beyrouti of the Beirut Cosmopolitan Club and NewGen Director of Operations Elizabeth Peacock. That meeting is pictured above. George, a friend of Assaad’s, brought deep experience in global projects as Deputy Director 2452 Governor.  Elizabeth brought experience in organizing the NewGen program.  Overlooking Centennial Park, we committed to deliver NewGen Peacebuilders to Beirut Lebanon, partnering Rotary Districts 7570 in Virginia/Tennessee and 2452 in eight countries including Lebanon. We shared passionate support.

Bridging Rotary Districts, Clubs and Rotarians sharing a Passion for Peace

We shared our fledgling service opportunity with Rotary Friends in District Leadership having a passion for peace. 

  • Leaders from five Rotary Districts committed:
    • District 7570 Western Virginia / Northeast Tennessee – District Governor Tim Carter committed to the project, since he believed in the program, having seen NewGen Peacebuilders locally for college students, under Assaad’s direction.
    • District 2452 Lebanon: District Governor Christina, hearing from George, shared a belief in the program.
    • District 7600 Eastern Virginia Past District Governors Chuck Aranson and Stephen Beer became early supporters having heard Patricia at a District Conference – their District Foundation Committee believed in the program.
    • District 5950 Minnesota: Past District Governor Tim Murphy, serving as Rotary International President’s Representative at our 2018 District 7570 Conference, met Patricia as a keynote speaker – quickly grasped and believed in the program. Tim spearheaded Minnesota support.
    • District 6560 Central Indiana: George reached out to his friend – past District 6560 Governor Salim Najjar, from Central Indiana.  Salim quickly grasped and believed in the program.   Salim spearheaded Indiana support.

We introduced the program to Rotary “friends and family” – both Clubs and Rotarians.

  • Five Rotary Clubs in Lebanon pledged support, responding to George:
    • Grant Host Beirut Cosmopolitan Rotary Club, typically sponsoring multiple global projects each year.
    • Rotary Club de Beyrouth, the original club chartered in Lebanon. Beyrouth is the French pronunciation of Beirut.
    • Rotary Club of Tripoli-Maarad, a small club that makes a big difference on the local, regional and international levels.
    • Rotary Club of Kesrouan, located a little north of Beirut and supporting local and global projects since its founding in 1978.
    • Rotary Club of Saida, located on the Mediterranean coast south of Beirut – the club celebrated its 65th anniversary this year with multiple community and global projects.
  • Eight Rotarians in the Southeastern US pledged support:
    • Tom Smith, Past District 7680 Governor and long-time supporter of NewGen Peacebuilders, arranged for support from his home Charlotte South Club. Charlotte is the home of NewGen Peacebuilders.
    • Rich Graves, Past District 7630 Governor, Maryland & Delaware. We introduced Rich to Patricia Shafer at a Rotary Zone Institute.
    • Shelley Brouillette, President 2013-14 Johnson City, Tennessee Club. Past District 7570 Foundation Annual Fund Chair. Shelley has Hands-on experience with global projects in Kenya and Tanzania.  I saw Shelley’s passion for global projects first-hand in Kapsowar, Kenya.
    • Paula Alston, President 2013-14, Blacksburg Virginia Club. Past District 7570 Area Governor.  Paula led a 2018 Group Study Exchange Team to Southern Caribbean.
    • Gary Tucker, District 7570 Area Governor 2016-18, Kingsport Tennessee. Member of the District Action Group for Peace.
    • Marc Hudson, District 7570 Area Governor 2016-2019, Harrisonburg-Rocktown Satellite Club, Virginia. Marc became a NewGen Mentor when the program was introduced to Lexington, Virgnina. Considerable hands-on global project experience as an optometrist.
    • Mark Fenyk, District 7570 Area Governor 2018-20, Marion, Virginia Club. Member of the District Action Group for Peace.
    • Philo Hall, President 2017-18, Blacksburg Virginia Club. Member of the District Action Group for Peace.

George, Assaad & I pitched in a bit as project sponsors.

All Connected

This service story is sprinkled with serendipity – chance encounters that crystallized to support what will be the first ever Rotary sponsored peace education global project in Lebanon! All connected by a Passion for Peace, five Rotary Districts having 12,500 active members, five clubs and eleven Rotarians support this project.

Thank you sincerely for your Passion for Peace!

Thank you for grasping chance encounters!

Join us as the adventure continues


NewGen Peacebuilders taking its Peace Education to Beirut, Lebanon

NewGen Peacebuilders (NGP) is a peace education and mentoring program for high school and university students. NGP is endorsed by the Rotary Action Group for Peace and is gaining momentum beyond eight USA-based and two International Rotary Districts in South America. We are seeking partners to introduce NGP to Beirut Lebanon, including a “train the Trainer” component to sustain the program. This will be the first time a Rotary Foundation Global Grant has funded peace education and mentoring in Lebanon.

Led by Rotary Peace Fellow Patricia Shafer, the program incorporates best practices in youth leadership, conflict transformation and peacebuilding featuring Team Action Peace Projects.

Capture Water

Peace Projects address core issues such as education inequality, poverty, environmental challenges, and refugee inclusion. NGP content reflects global issues and opportunities while adapting to local language, culture and circumstance.

Participants earn the NewGen Peacebuilder Certificate and gain hands-on experience in peace-centered problem-solving.

A recent graduate said “College history classes focus on preventing war, and that has its place, but I love the NewGen focus on promoting peace.”  Graduates align well towards Rotaract, Rotary Ambassadorial Scholarships and Rotary Peace Fellowships along their path of diplomacy and world understanding.

NGP Argentina Students

In 2017-18, NGP was introduced in D4920-Central Argentina, funded by a Global Grant sponsored by D5130-Northern California and the Rotary Club of Santa Rosa. The program introduced NGP in three locations near Buenos Aires.

The “train the Trainer” element will expand NGP into 12 Argentinean cities. The locally equipped NGP Facilitators are supported by passionate Rotarians, NGP staff, and a proprietary on-line training tool.  The Santa Rosa Club also introduced NGP into local community secondary schools creating opportunities for cross-cultural dialogue with Argentina participants.

Ranking of Events

Also during 2017, D7570 (Virginia/Tennessee) introduced NGP with a cohort from six universities within its district. District leadership has since expanded NGP into secondary schools.

Based on solid relationships with Rotarians in Beirut Lebanon, D7570 and D2452 (Lebanon and eight other Mid-East Countries) agreed at the 2017 International Convention to introduce NGP to a university level cohort in Beirut, building on the Global Grant model established in Argentina. The Host Partner is the Beirut Cosmopolitan Club and International Partner is D7570. After keynoting the 2018 Presidential Peacebuilding Conference in Beirut, Patricia Shafer gathered local citizens’ direct experiences from conflicts in Lebanon and Syria as the basis for the grant Community Needs Assessment.

We are seeking District & Club level Global Grant Supporters. The total Beirut Lebanon project budget is $97,000. We have $65,000 committed. Supporters will be invited to observe and participate in the Beirut Lebanon project and further understand the opportunity of the NGP program within their Communities, Districts and beyond. NGP Beirut will occur in Calendar Year 2019.


Eighty students from multiple universities and diverse religious and socio-economic backgrounds will be selected to participate in NGP Beirut.  Thirty project mentors, including Rotarians and Rotaractors, will bring passion and service experience.

Together, they will achieve a high level of community engagement in a 21st-century approach to peacebuilding.

The project includes three phases: (1) On-site and virtual training leading to Team Action Peace Projects; (2) Teams form across diverse backgrounds, select and implement Team Action Peace Projects based on shared passions. Teams share results with the broader community in understanding the role of Rotary in global peacebuilding; (3) “train the Trainer” to certify Local NGP Facilitators.

Please join our “Peace Train” – next stop Beirut Lebanon!

Additional Information


Thank You for Supporting NewGen Peacebuilders!


El Oasis Soacha Center is Ready for Community Service!

How in the world did we turn this…..

Image Before

into this….


Led by the 24 Member Rotary Club of Bogota Laureles, supported by three Districts and eight Rotary Clubs in the Southeastern US, Rotary has created a unique, safe community center in Soacha benefiting 250 children and creating community leaders through evening conflict resolution programs.

With a few finishing touches, El Oasis will provide a safe place for children.   Sister Luz Marina now has the keys!IMG_2198

How does a $325,000 project come together?  Passion, Skill, and Rotary Magic!  The driving force included (pictured below L-R) Rotarians Bernardo Martinez-Villalba (General Contractor), Alejendro Molino (Windows & Doors) and Udo Rungeler (Computers, Books and Furnishings).   What a team!

Bernardo Udo and Alejandro cropped

Bogota Laureles Rotarians focused on two years of fundraising during the design phase while Rotary District 7570 led the Rotary Global Grant application.  During construction, Bernardo, Alejandro and Udo applied their skills towards completing the building in just over 12 months — fantastic!  This seems like a long time ago…


As for the Rotary Magic – its the glue, the shared feeling of purpose that brings together Clubs across continents along with expert guidance from The Rotary Foundation staff.  That, and the magic of helping kids in Soacha already enjoying a meal at El Oasis:


Check out our July 23rd El Oasis video tour  HERE




Stumbling Across a Movement: NewGen Peacebuilders Empowers Young Adults

American inventor Charles Kettering said “Keep on going, and chances are you will stumble onto something, perhaps when you are least expecting it. I never heard of anyone ever stumbling on something sitting down.”   On a Saturday in May 2016, I got off my tail, visited a neighboring Rotary District Conference and stumbled upon NewGen Peacebuilders, a movement led by Rotary Peace Fellow Patricia Shafer.  That Saturday meeting with Patricia was the spark for NewGen Peacebuilders in our Rotary District.

NewGen Peacebuilders is a program that centers on peace and conflict resolution, a Cause for Rotary Action.  The program forms a cohort of college or high school students through application & interview.  The program provides a series of weekend workshop/retreats, independent study and webinars covering conflict resolution, human rights, gender & race equality using nonviolent communication, conflict transformation and peacebuilding techniques.  Students form teams based on passions for issues – then apply techniques towards team peace education projects.  Peace education projects, like service projects, begin in the Community.  Think Global Act Local.  The result was peace education projects in communities like yours.

The program attracts those destined for international exchange, ambassadorial scholars, even Peace Fellows along their paths of diplomacy and world understanding.  We in Rotary expect to see these students again – each is worthy of our support.

Rotary District 7570 introduced the NewGen Peacebuilder program to college and university students in September 2017.  Our charter class of 21 students gathered from five Virginia Campuses including Mary Baldwin, James Madison, Washington & Lee, Virginia Tech, and Bluefield College.  An amazing cohort!  Meet our Charter Students in this “DG Moment” Video.

Weekend Workshops were held at Washington & Lee University.  The workshops were led by Rotary Peace Fellows and NewGen Co-Founders Patricia Shafer and Phil Gittins.  Students were assisted by a passionate group of District 7570 Rotarian Mentors having conflict resolution experience and skills, led by Bluefield Rotarian Assaad Mounzer.   Lexington Rotarians provided lodging and meals for students.

Classes involved facilitated group discussions…

Faciliatatd Group disc

Students selected and justified the most meaningful events towards peace:

Ranking of Events

Students unbundled major current issues using The Conflict Tree.  Check out this Basic Conflict Tree Explanation Here

Root Cause Analsis.JPG

Teams formed based on passions for various Core Issues.  Teams then set out to better understand the Core Issue components through Mind Mapping

Mind Mapping

Real-time research, data mining and mentor guidance resulted in a deeper understanding of the Core Issue.

Formation of Team Peace Projexts

More research….


….followed by discussion and synthesis of group peace education project proposals….

In Depth Discussion


Well considered team projects resulted.  For example, one project called Keep It Clean: Water Quality Awareness and Advocacy addressed the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and water quality in Staunton, Virginia.  Check out the short presentation Here

Capture Water

Another Project called Connected Across Culture: Facilitating Refugee/Police Dialogue – created a cross cultural awareness program including the Sudanese Community and Police in Harrisonburg, Virginia, resulting in new dialogue among 40 Sudanese Adults, 11 Children and five Officers.  Check out the short presentation Here


NewGen Peacebuilders has a place in our Cause for Peace & Conflict Resolution, and we look forward to expanding the program within our District and introducing the program to Rotarian friends beyond our District – hopefully next in Beirut Lebanon.

Consider “stumbling” into NewGen Peacebuilders.  You will meet amazing young adults and become more aware of community issues.  Contact Me for more.

Effective Healthcare in Appalachia: Our Mobile Vision Unit

Blank Skin MVU Truck & TrailerCropped

This unassuming rig will soon deliver vision care to over 1,000 Appalachian Neighbors per year  – thanks to the collaborative efforts of Rotary District 7570, The Rotary Foundation, Friends in Need, Appalachian Miles for Smiles, Remote Area Medical (RAM-USA), the Lions Club, The Health Wagon and Cigna Health.   Now there’s a partnership focused on doing good in our world!

We will reach patients who would otherwise not receive optical care from lack of local providers and/or inability to pay.  Patients will receive a comprehensive eye exam, eyeglasses (lenses to be ground on centrally located RAM USA equipment & frames provided by the Lions Club), referrals for diagnosed eye disease and general health indications (including hypertension and diabetes).  A comprehensive eye examination does a lot of good!

Cigna Health donated the 40 foot diesel-powered and air conditioned trailer.  Here’s a look at the inside prior to renovation – looks kinda tight!

Inside MVU blank

Rotary will outfit the trailer with three optical evaluation stations and one ophthalmic eye examination station.  Friends in Need will operate the unit alongside the Appalachian Miles for Smiles  The total renovation cost is $50,000 – including $10,000 being raised by Rotarians in local clubs and $40,000 in Rotary Foundation matching funds.   Rotarians will dedicate 860 hours to transform the trailer into a Mobile Vision Unit in the summer of 2018, the result much like the Dental Unit already in operation:

RAM Oral Surgery

How did this happen?  It started with a solid partnership with Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia Rotarians along with the founders of Appalachian Miles for Smiles.  We shared the vision that mobile health is an effective delivery system in Appalachia.  Next we visited the Remote Area Medical Health Fair in Wise Virginia, summer 2016:

Joe and John

Johnson City retired Orthodontist John Bradshaw (L) and Kingsport Pediatrician Joe Ley, both active Rotarians, toured the Wise health fair with then Rotary District Governor-Elect Dick Ray and were amazed at the scale and efficiency of the RAM event – treating  1,000 patients with comprehensive health services in three days.   Founded by Stan Brock (remember “Wild Kingdom”?), these are Huge Events

Dr Joe Bruce John

Led by RAM-USA Medical Director Dr. Joe Smiddy (L) and Rotarian Bruce Sites (R), we saw tightly coordinated intake, diagnosis and delivery of about 300 glasses per day as one part of the health fair.  The glasses were ground “on-site” at the health fair.

Making Glasses

It took multiple tents and examination areas for vision care at the Wise health fair.  A more mobile approach is for the Mobile Vision Unit to “be on the road” – arriving in the patient’s community, delivering free examination, diagnosis and prescription, and referring to partner practitioners/hospitals when needed.  Glasses are ground centrally and mailed to the patient within a few days.  Picture the Mobile Vision and Dental Units trekking along – doing good in our world!

Learn more about Mobile Health Delivery at The Health Wagon

Mobile Health was pioneered by The Health Wagon of Virginia – which continues in practice and provides program expertise based on 20 years of mobile health experience.  See this Moving 60 Minutes Overtime Segment

Get Involved!

Help fund the Mobile Vision Unit – Contact Me – Click “Contact” at the top of page.

Sign up for “hands-on” service — contact Friends in Need Healthcare – Bruce Sites




Soacha Community Center Nears Completion – Soon Filled with 250 Children per Day & Community Leadership Training per Night!

Finishing touches are being applied – painting and fixtures – with help from the Bogota Laureles Rotaract Club!  In June we will furnish the center with desks, tables, computers, books, music and art supplies.  In July we will have a safe nurturing center for child literacy and community leadership development!


Thanks to the Rotaract Club of Bogota Laureles!



Thanks also to Bogota Laureles Rotarians Bernardo Martinez-Villalba and Udo Rungeler, pictured below.  Bernardo is the General Contractor and Udo serves as Project Coordinator.  Fantastic work!


The Center will begin Operations in July with 250 children of Soacha mainly ages five to seven enrolled in basic education and literacy classes during the day.  Social Workers will lead community leadership develop meetings in the evenings – expected to reach over 500 leadership training over the initial two year period.  The Center will provide a center of safety from the dangers of the streets.

Thanks Bogota Laureles Rotary Club in leading this major project, and building the over 3,000 square foot center for the benefit of those in Soacha.  The new building – locally funded – combined with the $125,000 project to equip the building and start operations, results in a combined $250,000+ project towards child literacy and community peace, partially funded by The Rotary Foundation.

Sponsoring USA Rotarians – mark your calendars for November – we will travel to Bogota to visit our friends and celebrate operations just after Thanksgiving.  Details forthcoming.




Soacha Colombia Update: Funded Going Up!

Great News!  Our project is fully funded and the community center is expected to be completed in the First Quarter 2018.  Soon windows and doors will be installed, plumbing & wiring as the structure will take on the look of a community oasis, education and peace center.  Thanks everyone for your support!

Soacha Colombia Community Center Structure Nears Completion!


Our Soacha Community Center Structure nears completion!  Host Club Rotarians from the Bogota Laureles Club visited the construction site Saturday May 13th and were pleased with the progress.  Next step – windows, doors, roofing to “dry in” the 4,500 square foot structure and allow for secure completion this summer.


Our Soacha Community Center will house Community Peace, Basic Child Education and Nutrition Programs for this transient community near Bogota.   We will help 500 in the Peace Program and 250 at a time in the Basic Education Program.  Thousands will benefit over the project life.   Bogota Rotarians are constructing the structure, financed from Personal and Club Funds, separate from the Rotary Grant.  Together this is a $250,000 project – equipping a Community Center from a vacant lot!


Please remember this project – and especially the kids of Soacha, who (a limited number) continue to study in rented facilities nearby, – they are still hopeful – and deserve a future to continue these smiles!  Following are photos from the quick May 13th visit, as reported by our Rotarian friend Udo Rungeler:

Dear Rotarians:
This morning a group of Rotarians of our Rotary Club Bogota Laureles went to Soacha to see  for themselves the progress in our project.  We are just putting the roof on the last floor (third floor) and you will also notice the amount of iron we put in on the roof, since two water tanks go on top and the approximate weight of tanks and water is in the neighborhood of ten tons.
Some of the kids, future beneficiaries of this community center, entertained us with folklore dances and music from their homeland (Chocó close to Panama), during our brief stopover at the rented school.
Well, we have come almost to the end of our funds as you can imagine and the finishing of this Global Grant depends now on when we receive the money from the grant.
Best regards, Udo



Next Steps

We expect a summer 2017 trip to Colombia to observe the completed structure and request the initial grant draw for furnishing the building.  If interested in traveling, please contact me!

For Rotarians who wish to help fund our project:   Go to your My Rotary Account.  Click “Take Action”, then “Give Now”, then scroll to bottom of page under “Give to a Foundation Approved Project” Click “Give Now”  Our seven digit Grant Number is 1642035.  As of  May 14 we need $6,000 to complete the project!  Thank you for your interest and support!

For those not in Rotary, we have a Go Fund Me Account

Photo Credit:  All photos were shot on site during the May 13th site visit but Bogota Laureles Club  – Thank You!

Connections Lead to International Exchanges

Make new friends, but keep the old, one is silver and the other gold

Rotary International Assembly gathers more representatives than the United Nations.  Rotary’s 540 District Governors connected with each other and International Leadership in San Diego last week.  The focus was service, the theme “Rotary: Making A Difference”, and the tone was certainly…International.  Those thinking that Rotary is predominately an American Organization should know – 71% of Rotarians are not American, thus Rotary International.

While absorbing world-class presentations, goals and programs at the 2017 International Assembly, I was drawn to the blend of Asian, Indian, European, African and American cultures and participants.  As the week progressed, District Governors-Elect connected and shared the inevitable: “What’s Next?”.  Connections easily developed into exchange plans towards potential global projects based on shared causes.  Opportunities abound for health, literacy, community development, water and sanitation service projects within the overarching goal of global peace and cultural understanding.

Golden Re-Connections
While enjoying new acquaintances, we were warmed by renewed service based friendships.  In San Diego I reconnected with Kenya Past District Governor Geeta Manek from Nairobi, Kenya.

In 2012 Geeta, as Nairobi Kenya’s District 9200 Governor, facilitated our joint project to provide $500,000 of medical equipment to Kapsowar Mission Hospital.  Our 2012 Kapsowar project was a model of sustainability, validated by follow-on projects.  Geeta’s 2017 role was International Assembly Training Leader – her service passion continues.

Ginger & I were thrilled to reconnect with Matti and Virpi Honkala from Finland, also International Training Leaders.


We first met Matti in 2004 when he led a Group Study Exchange Team from Finland to Tennessee and Virginia.  Matti was our house guest and we greatly enjoyed his company.  Re-connections are truly golden.

New Connections
During International Assembly, Past RI President Carl Wilhem-Stenhammar, Sweden, stated: “If every Young Adult exchanged into another country, we would have world peace”.  Exchanges extend connections, change lives of participants and Make a Difference in the World.  Rotary District 2240 in the Czech Republic & Slovakia facilitates over 1,000 Youth Exchanges every year.  What a standard! Do you desire world peace? Then promote and sponsor Youth Exchange!

Group Study/Cultural Exchanges are renewing – “back by popular demand”. Teams of four young professionals or Rotaractors are led by a Rotarian, both outbound and inbound, for four week visits. We expect team members to return with reports of life changing leadership, cultural and vocational experiences and suggested future global service projects. Our District 7570 plans to exchange with Mumbai India (Winter 2017). We met District 3060 Governor Classmate Ruchir and Sohangi Johni, District 3060, Gujarat, India at International Assembly and “hit it off” during a breakout class.  Ruchir previously served as a Group Study Exchange Leader into France.  Our District previously exchanged with the Punjab District of Northwestern India.

We are exploring an exchange with Suriname/Guyana/Trinidad (Spring 2018).  This expands a close relationship from a wheelchair distribution project in 2014 in Trinidad.  District 7030 Governor  Classmate Waddy and Shirley Sowma from Paramaribo, Suriname are close friends, having met at earlier zone training events.

Rotarians have opportunities to participate in Friendship Exchanges as short term home to home immersions for fun and understanding.  We are exploring Friendship Exchanges in:

  • Queensland, Australia
  • Veracruz and Quintana-Roo, Mexico
  • Santiago, Chile
  • Ontario, Canada
  • North Rhine-Westphalia State of Germany, and
  • Limassol, Cyprus

These global connections will generate friendships and Make a Difference as lasting steps towards Global Understanding.

Rotary’s International Assembly is the District Governor-Elect’s jumping off point for Services Stories – opportunities ahead!

It Starts with Friendship

Together, friends change lives in Bogota

Service project trips are powerful.  Journeys become adventures.  Acquaintances become friends.  Friends share passion for service and missions develop.  Lives change.  That’s what we do in Rotary – change lives, but not without friends.

Bogota was not on my “bucket list”.   But when 2013-14 Rotary District 7570 Governor Woody Sadler invited me to join in a wheelchair distribution trip to Bogota, I felt an urge to go: partly for service, partly trusting Woody, partly as a travel daredevil.  Family calendars clicked and soon my wife Ginger and two of our adult children Warren and Mary Ables joined a dozen Rotarians and me for a week in Bogota.

What happened next was magic.  Our host Rotarians warmly received us at El Dorado Airport and delivered us to our lodging across town (town being an understatement, Bogota is a city of eight million).  “Host Rotarians”  quickly became Udo, Leonor, Bernardo, Alejandro, Jose, and many more.  Friendships surged while delivering wheelchairs to victims of crude land mines from the civil war in the countryside.  To share the emotion of real humanitarian service is to share one’s soul.  Job well done!


Afterwards, while touring deep in a Colombian Salt Mine Cathedral, the inevitable Rotary Moment happened.  Deep in the Zipaquira Cathedral, Udo Rungeler and I agreed to “do a bigger project together”.    Rotary’s founding fathers had it right:  acquaintance is the opportunity for service.   More so, service is the start of enduring friendship.

Together we decided that our focus should be on Community Peace in at-risk areas of Bogota.  We identified the Sisters of the Catholic Church in USME as a service partner, and developed a small unoccupied building adjacent to the church as a Peace and Basic Education Center.  We sponsored a Community Peace Program nurturing Community Leaders – a role much needed in transient neighborhoods.


During the grand opening followup trip our Rotarian relationships deepened.


Lives changed…




Job well done!  Afterwards, over bowls of ajiaco soup, another Rotary Moment – “what’s next”?  Agreeing that Community Peace is the centerpiece of Rotary’s Six Areas of Focus, we decided to take our Community Center model to a more desperate part of town – Soacha!

Soacha is on the southwestern edge of Bogota, having 500,000 residents mostly fled from dangerous rural Colombia. The flight from rural conflict to this “shantytown” leaves 100,000 children victims of malnutrition, violence, drugs and illiteracy.  Soacha children are exposed to urban dangers in the “classroom streets” at a young age.  Many children live in single-parent households relocated from rural areas to shanty construction and little if any household wages.   During our initial trip into Soacha, we knew this project would be “something completely different”.  No tour bus here, four wheel drive!


We met with two Sisters of the Compania Santa Theresa de Jesus Church, who serve 100 children ages 3 to 12 in rented, cramped space.  The children receive a soya meal and books to read in class.


Public Schools are overcrowded, some of these children are lucky enough for one half day school.


For the younger ones, this is safety from the streets.  These are the lucky ones…


So many more to help…


Soacha children deserve a meal, a book, and a reason to dance like those in USME…


We agreed to build Soacha Community Center, and much like USME, provide Peace, Basic Education and Nutrition Programs.   We will help 500 in the Peace Program and 250 at a time in the Basic Education Program.  Thousands will benefit over the project life.  Rotarians from Bogota will construct the 4,500 square foot building shell financed from Club Funds, separate from the Rotary Grant.  Together this is a $250,000 project – equipping a Community Center from a vacant lot!


The unique style, designed by Nestor Medina Architects, captures natural sunlight on each floor in a secure setting.    The first floor will include kitchen and cafeteria areas doubling for community center meetings.   The second floor will hold classrooms, computer center, and library, while the top floor will be partially covered for physical activity and performances.


Our Timeline:  Our Global Grant was approved November 30.  We are collecting funds to complete the financing – and need $18,000 to complete the financing.  Building has begun, and the kids are excited!  This young fellow insisted on helping  his mom unload bricks destined for the center!


We will return to Bogota in May 2017 to inspect the completed shell building and agree on final build-out specifications, and visit with the children who will directly benefit from Rotarian friendship!


Next Steps

Join us!  Please contact me if you wish to travel with us to Colombia in May 2017!

For Rotarians who wish to help fund our project:   Go to your My Rotary Account.  Click “Take Action”, then “Give Now”, then scroll to bottom of page under “Give to a Foundation Approved Project” Click “Give Now”  Our seven digit Grant Number is 1642035.  As of December 25 we need $18,000 to complete the project!  Thank you for your interest and support!

For those not in Rotary, we have a Go Fund Me Account

Photo Credit:  All photos were shot on site during our visits to Bogota – mostly by Rotarian Xiao-yin Byrom, Manassas VA Club – Thank You!