By Daladiana Cunha Lima, co-chair of the Youth Exchange committee for District 4500 (Brazil)
Rotary Youth Exchange is my favorite Rotary program. From my experience, I found the challenges of Youth Exchange are fairly universal. Among these, I believe one of the most important is connecting the students’ exchange year with Rotary’s mission of providing service.
My district hosted about 35 exchange students in 2017-18, seven of which were in Natal, Rio Grande do Norte, in northeast Brazil. The other students came from Canada, Denmark, Finland, Belgium, Germany, Taiwan, and Poland.
At the beginning of the year, I started to think of ways we could add more social value to their exchange year. I came up with the idea of having the exchange students visit a local high school for the deaf. The deaf students belong to a Rotary Community Corps sponsored by the Rotary Club of Natal. The exchange students talk about life and culture in their home countries, and all the students learned the John Lennon song “Imagine” together in Brazilian Sign Language.
Over the period of two months, this initiative had a great impact on everyone. I realized that the exchange students we were hosting had the extra challenge of not only learning Portuguese, but also a completely different form of communication, sign language. They became more sensitive to the circumstances of young deaf students.
Brazilian deaf students have never before had the opportunity to meet students from other parts of the world. Both groups learned a lot about each other and about inclusion. For that period of two months, exchange students, deaf students, Rotarians, and staff at the school were all speaking the same language – one of tolerance, respect, and love.
I received a lot of positive feedback when I shared our example at the 38th meeting of Brazilian Youth Exchange Officers later in the year. We had youth exchange officers not only from Brazil, but also other countries like the United States, Denmark, Mexico, and the Netherlands. I am very excited to repeat the project with exchange students we host this year (2018-19).