By Dominica Pradere, past president, Rotary Club of Montego Bay, Jamaica
When Jamaica’s borders closed in March 2020 from the COVID-19 pandemic, I was packed and ready for a trip to Trinidad and Tobago, where I planned to connect with other Rotary members, as I normally do when I travel. Naturally I was sad and disappointed at having to cancel my plans. Lockdowns and curfews, as well as government restrictions limiting the movements of citizens, further isolated many retirees like myself as we tried to “stay safe.”
My club began meeting online immediately. I became aware that many clubs around the world were doing likewise, and my life was transformed when I received a spreadsheet created by the Rotary Club of Mount Lawley, Western Australia, Australia, showing details of clubs that had started to meet virtually.
Initially, I had no idea how many new friends and acquaintances I would make while sitting at home! At the same time, I renewed contact with Rotary members I have met both here and overseas over the years. I have attended club and district virtual events around the world. I have learned about projects and heard great speakers. I have joined a Rotary Action Group (RAG) which was formed and established during the pandemic by an online group of Rotary women. I have attended virtual Christmas parties and carol singing!
These are some of the aspects of the “New Normal” which strengthened and inspired me as I explored the Rotary world online:
I spent most of the past 20 months alone at home. Once I started attending online meetings, I enjoyed connecting with like-minded people. I began to attend certain clubs on a regular basis, and I still do. We learned about each other’s families, extended words of comfort and sympathy when members became sick or lost loved ones. Many of the Rotary members I met online began to attend our club’s meetings, and we established a “Friends of Montego Bay” chat group on WhatsApp. Our meeting attendance has increased, as Rotary members from as far as India and Uganda, Pakistan and the United States, as well as parts of our own district, have become regular visitors.
As I got to know Rotary members at club meetings and events, I was able to help some clubs connect with other Rotary members who could assist with projects, information, or presentations. At the same time, members I met at other meetings put me in touch with Rotary members, clubs, and groups which were of interest to me. Thus, a Rotary member from India connected me to the Rotary Women’s Group which established the RAG for Menstrual Health and Hygiene during the pandemic. Subsequently, I referred a club in Texas to this RAG for assistance when they started a project for young girls and women In Mexico.
My club has relied on partnerships with overseas clubs for many of our projects. Opportunities for partnership increased dramatically once we established virtual connections. I was invited to present on the work of my club at the Zoom meetings of several clubs, which led to offers of assistance with some of our COVID-19 relief projects. The Rotary Club of Northampton, United Kingdom, and Carrollton Farmers Branch, Texas, USA, donated toward our food packages and tablet distributions. The Rotary Club of Ottawa Metro, Ontario, Canada, funded a water tank for a special needs school in Montego Bay. In turn, my club contributed toward a global grant for a prosthetic limb project in Sri Lanka.
Information and training
Online meetings have enabled Rotary members to learn from one another as never before. This includes how to conduct an effective Zoom meeting! We have been able to learn so much about the way Rotary clubs organize their projects and activities, as well as how the pandemic has changed the way we do things in various parts of the world.
Access to great speakers
Securing good speakers can be a challenge for some clubs. The change to online meetings has created opportunities to enjoy presentations on a wide variety of topics from around the world. My club was able to benefit greatly from this, as I requested the contact details of speakers I heard at meetings elsewhere. In addition to this, we were able to invite representatives of RAGs and other Rotary affiliated organizations, such as Aquabox.
Although the pandemic has made life difficult for us all, it has created a paradigm shift in the way we interact socially. The pandemic has opened a new world of communication across virtual space and has created a paradoxical situation. While our physical world has contracted, our social world has expanded. As a result, many clubs, including my own, have agreed that, even after the pandemic ends, and we resume in-person meetings, we will continue to meet online on a regular basis to continue to benefit from the links we have established.
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