My Rotary story, just like everyone’s, is unique. Mine started in 2004, when at 16 years old I waved goodbye to my family and close friends and boarded a flight to Brazil for Rotary Youth Exchange. A year later, I returned to my hometown of Salinas, California, USA with a new language, a very bronze tan, new friends and people I considered family. I had transformed from a shy, quiet student to a confident, self-assured young person. It was an experience that changed everything for me.
Wanting to learn more about the world, I went to a university which offered international degrees and global study opportunities. I joined Rotaract and over the following years lived, studied and worked between the US, Brazil, Chile and Taiwan. Encouraged by Rotarians, in 2012 I applied and received a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholarship to study a Master’s at the University of York. Fast forward ten years, and I’m still here and am now in my eighth year as a member of York Rotary.
This month, I spoke with four people as part of the Rotary family in Yorkshire and Lincolnshire representing Interact, Rotaract and Rotary. Some, like me, found Rotary at quite young ages. For others, they joined well into their careers. Each person, however, shares an interest in community and service. To learn more, I asked about their own experiences, motivations and thoughts on being involved in Rotary. Here is what they had to say.
I joined Interact in 2018, its founding year, when I was 12 years old. I was vice president and then secretary after that. Now I help recruit and guide younger students to get involved.
So many students want to help other people but aren’t really sure how. I think for a lot of us, we know that there are so many people who aren't finding it that easy right now around the world. Having an Interact club gives students the opportunity to be able to look at the world in a slightly different way and channel their enthusiasm for wanting to help.
It has really been a nice way to socialise and has also helped build my self-confidence. Some of the people I got to know better through Interact became some of my closest friends. Talking about Interact at school and speaking with new students has also been a bonus. It's also given me lots more confidence, whether it's public speaking or applying for other things outside of Interact as well.
I think Interact is something that when you do it, it's really rewarding for both you and the people around you. It would be really good if more people knew about Interact, because it doesn’t just benefit you and your local community, but I believe it also benefits so many people in the world.
In 2020, I found out about Rotary and Rotaract whilst I was in my first year at the University of Leeds. I admired the many ways in which the Rotary Clubs in Leeds had supported a variety of charities through fundraising and volunteering on a flexible basis. I've always had a passion for giving back and making the world better in my own way so I wanted to get involved by creating a Rotaract Club in Leeds. I'm a believer in community building and community development and I really liked what Rotary and Rotaract stood for.
As president, I want the club to appeal to British as well as international students that come from places where Rotary has a large presence. Rotaract is a way for them to get involved here and experience a different culture in a different country. The club is also for local Leeds residents and is a way for both residents and students to come together.
I also think that groups like Rotaract and Rotary have a place especially for people who have left school or university. Once someone leaves the educational bubble, they can feel a bit lost and want to do something different outside of their job. I see so much potential to do that through Rotaract, especially coming out of the pandemic where people realised the importance of community.
Having intergenerational links and progression between Interact, Rotaract and Rotary are important. I'm really aware that today, a lot of my generation interact via social media. I feel that in some ways we’ve lost that real connectivity between people. With Rotaract, there's so much potential for people to volunteer, give back on a flexible basis and interact with the community. I see it as the answer to a lot of the social issues that we have and a way to build interconnectivity between people.
Growing up in India, we used to hear about Lions Clubs and Rotary Clubs and think of them as prestigious organisations. Someone came to my school to talk about Rotary and explained it was a service organisation and they helped with things like polio eradication. That was the first time I heard about or had an interaction with Rotary.
I eventually moved to the UK and met Rotarian Manoj Joshi who told me more about Rotary. He explained how it works and I became more interested and started going to meetings with him to learn more.
Up till then, my understanding of Rotary was that it was a group of business people and professionals from various ethnic backgrounds helping to build goodwill and peace throughout the world. For me, I want to be of service and give back to society which is one of the reasons why I set up Keighley Community Access, a community service company. By going to Rotary, I realised that it’s full of people who are actually into community service. They're not just doing business but they're trying to give back to society and that’s what I wanted to do. So, in 2019, I joined the Rotary Club of Bradford and am proud to be an active member.
In addition to club projects, I’m also helping improve the Rotary in Yorkshire and Northern Lincolnshire website. As a Rotarian, I volunteered to support the development of certain features of the website which will enhance the public image and awareness of clubs and the humanitarian service projects happening around the district. The project has also helped some of my staff with their own personal and professional development as well.
There are lots of ways people can contribute to society individually. However, I’ve learned that businesses, Rotary and individuals can do much more by working together. By exchanging ideas and collaborating on projects and initiatives, we can reach more people and make a bigger difference in our communities.
I didn't know anything about Rotary when I joined other than it did “good things.” I’ve since learned that every club has its own complexion in terms of what it does and how it does it. It's the fact that clubs are so diverse from one another that makes it interesting wherever you go.
When asked what Rotary does, I always say that Rotary has nearly eradicated polio. I also explain that clubs do lots of different things in their own community, nationally or internationally. Currently, I talk about the help that Rotary has given to Ukraine. I mention that if there's a disaster anywhere in the world, Rotary is right at the front of the queue, coming up with either money, equipment or even the personnel to help.
At the moment, Rotary generally doesn't necessarily cater for everybody, and everybody has a different idea of how they might want to do it. One of my concerns is that Rotary Clubs generally fit a standard model where they hold regular weekly, fortnightly or monthly meetings usually with food and drink. Now, I personally like that, but for lots of people that might want to join Rotary, that's not an option for them.
My long-term view is that the future growth of Rotary is through new and different clubs. And once they get up and running, it's up to the individuals to decide how they're going to do it.
Rotary International’s theme this year is “Imagine Rotary.” My interpretation of that is for clubs to go out and do Rotary your own way. I want people to know that Rotary is for you, whoever you are. Every club is different, each with their own personality–and if there isn’t a club that suits you, let us help you start a new one.
There is no one way to do Rotary
What is clear is that there is no one way to learn about, contribute or do Rotary. From accessing it in school, to joining as a working adult (and many other ways!), there is space to make it what you want and what the community needs. Sure, it’s true that there will be clubs or initiatives that don’t fit your personality or style–and that’s ok. However, in my travels and experience of Rotary around the world I know that there are a lot that will.
As I contemplate my ten years in the UK and think about where I may head to next, I know that wherever I go there will always be Rotary clubs and individuals willing to help me along the way.
Rebecca A Mendoza is a freelance writer and member of York Rotary. You can learn more about her work at www.rebeccaamendoza.com