By Mark Wilson, Rotary Club of London
After a long flight from London, I arrived in Durban, South Africa, in 2011 to begin a short-term Rotary Youth Exchange, sponsored by the Rotary Club of Canterbury Sunrise and hosted by Westville Rotary. I did not know what or who would be greeting me, so I had a bit of anxiety which I can clearly remember to this day.
In hindsight, of course, I had nothing to fear as I stepped off the plane into King Shaka International Airport. What followed was an adventure like nothing I had ever experienced before. Enjoying many opportunities to volunteer made me feel as though I was making a contribution to the world. And taking time to listen to my hosts, I learned a lot about South Africa.
The meaning of kindness
But by far the most memorable part of the trip was the people. Rotary members and their families inspired me, and those interactions had a lasting impact on me. Rotarians showed me the meaning of kindness, generosity, and love. I thank Rotary and the wonderful people in South Africa for giving me first-hand experience of our shared core values. It was the best introduction anyone could hope to have into the global family.
Prior to my exchange, I had been a member of Interact since age 16, and then a member of Rotaract, twice president of both clubs. I had the opportunity to speak at many district conferences and visit many more Rotary clubs with the aim of encouraging Rotarians to continue to support young people.
In August of this year, at 26, I became a Rotarian, inducted into the Rotary Club of London. Not long after, RI President John Germ emailed me: “Mark: your story is a great one,” encouraging me to share it.
The moral to my story is that we are a family and we should never lose sight of that. Not unlike any family that has lasted this long, we have learned that love and a common cause can unite despite our disparities. As we continue to grow, we must continue to embrace all who seek to serve humanity, regardless of age, gender, sexuality, ability, religion, race or otherwise. In a world that is becoming increasingly divisive, Rotary International must continue to shine, as it always has, as a beacon of peace, unity, fellowship, and friendship.
About the author: Mark Wilson is a university lecturer in London, England, a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy, and member of the Rotary Club of London in District 1130, the first club chartered outside North America in 1912.