By Kamlesh (Kam) Chandan, assistant governor for District 7680 and a member of the Rotary Club of Lake Norman/Huntersville, North Carolina, USA
In February, I had the opportunity to lead our first outbound friendship exchange to my home away from home – India. Rotary Friendship Exchange is an international exchange program for Rotary members and friends that allows participants to take turns hosting one another in their homes and clubs. Exchanges offer unique chances for cultural immersion and interchange.
Rotary members in District 3201 (Tamil Nadu, India) invited members in District 7680 (North Carolina, USA) to take part in our first outbound friendship. Last year, four Rotarians and their spouses from Tamil Nadu visited Charlotte and stayed with families in North Carolina, ending in a visit to our district conference.
Our outbound team travelled to my wife’s hometown – Coimbatore. My father-in-law Pratap Gokuldas who inspired this exchange is a past governor of District 3201. Mark Daniels of the Charlotte Providence Rotary; Bill Burnham of Meck South Rotary; Luther & Sandra Moore and Patricia Shafer of Charlotte Rotary; Ineke Wilson of Huntersville Happy Hour Rotary; and I had an amazing time staying with local Rotarians in their homes.
From 10-19 February, we visited local businesses and attended a combined three club meetings and exchanged banners. We also toured a jewelry factory, celebrated past governor Luther’s 70th birthday, visited global grant projects like a hospital for burn victims, enjoyed a boat tour on the Arabian Sea, saw a lot of elephants, and were treated like royalty by our hosts in India. On our way from Coimbatore to Kochi, we stayed at Thrissur with local Rotarian families. It was an incredible experience learning how Rotary works across international boundaries.
We visited three keys projects:
- Hope After Fire – which is assisting burn victims with treatment and after care. It was interesting to learn about being a skin donor.
- Kidney Dialysis Center – which is offering dialysis treatment to poor and needy at 10 percent of the original cost. After the visit, District 7680 and the Rotary Club of Lake Norman-Huntersville agreed to partner for a global grant.
- Vocational Training Centre outside of Coimbatore for young girls who are eager to have additional technical training to improve their lives.
We also attended a district conference, Utsav (festival), which was outstanding. We met friends from Tasmania who were visiting, as well as youth exchange students from all over the world, and enjoyed Indian dance and music. It felt like being part of a big festival. After the conference; Ineke, Bill, and Patricia visited Jaipur, Udaipur, and Agra to see the Taj Mahal while the rest of us returned to the U.S.
Our team has presented a report on the experience to several clubs and now everyone wants to go to India. It seems I may have to hire a charter plane.
Thank you to all the friends, families and Rotarians from District 3201 who made this a memorable experience. On a personal note, the experience showed me how international Rotary really is. For other members of our exchange, it was a trip of a lifetime. Our group developed a close bond with friends in India who we stay in touch with through group chat on WhatsApp. This friendship exchange allowed me to show other club members my home country and demonstrate that Rotary indeed is a wonderful service organization with people of action.
President Ian Riseley is encouraging districts during 2017-18 to participate in group cultural exchanges that incorporate non-Rotarian young professionals. These exchanges emphasize cultural immersion, foster greater awareness, develop intercultural understanding, deepen connections, and create a broader global mindset. Get more information about Rotary Friendship Exchanges