Atlanta in the summer? Hot, humid…why would anyone want to go there then? But, that didn’t keep Carla and over 40,000 Rotarians from all over the world from attending the RI Convention.
Atlanta is a beautiful city, home to busy Hartsfield-Jackson Airport, Coca Cola, Home Depot and CNN News. When she did have some free time she spent time at Centennial Olympic Park which was the host for the 1996 Olympic Games. The convention was held at the Georgia World Congress Center. She noticed in the sea of humanity there a pleasant aura of friendliness and civility (typical for Rotary members). Because this was the 100th year celebration of The Rotary Foundation, artisans in Agnone Italy crafted a special bell which featured logos of noteworthy projects in TRF’s 100 years of service. RI President John Germ used his gavel to ring that special bell that officially opened the conference. As is tradition, the flag ceremony followed, with students from the Atlanta area and a great number of Rotary youth Exchange students presenting the flags of the over 200 countries represented.
She reported the plenary sessions were in a large auditorium that was designed to hold 20,000 people, so she learned that if she did not arrive early enough, she didn’t get a seat in the session. Carla arrived early enough though for the opening session which focused on Polio Eradication. Minda Dentler spoke that she was born in 1978 in Mumbai. At the age of 6 months she was paralyzed from the waist down from Polio. Her mother couldn’t care for her so she was put into an orphanage where at age 3 was adopted by an American family who brought her to the US and to Spokane Washington. She underwent a series of surgeries to straighten her body. Her adoptive parents set the tone that having a disability should not prevent her from living her life. She went on to study business in Seattle and became a competitor in Iron Man Triathlons. She also was privileged to participate in an immunization day in India where 172 million polio immunizations were given over 5 days.
Then was the keynote speech of Bill Gates, who received a standing ovation before even saying a word. Two key statements stood out to Carla:
Rotary and its partners can accomplish great things when we are bold,
Determined, and work together”… and “ Persistence and innovation and the call to rise above political, religious and social divisions, which Rotary is able to do so effectively, is what will help write the last Chapter in the book on Polio.”
Other countries and individuals stepped up after the Gates Foundation pledged another $150 million/year for the next 3 years. All told over $1.5 billion (with a B) was raised in one single day at the Convention.
The second part of the session was focused on Human Trafficking. Ashton Kutcher moderated a panel discussion and a candlelight vigil followed that evening with over 10,000 Rotarians and their guests attending.
Jack Nicklaus was interviewed and revealed he contracted polio at the age of 14, but felt fortunate to not have suffered the crippling effects. He is now an Ambassador for Polio Eradication worldwide,
The House of Friendship is a major part of every Rotary Convention. It is here that people connect with other Rotarians, visit project booths . Doing Good in the World was the theme.
She visited many projects, one was for wheelchairs by a club in England; one was crutches for Africa from Arizona, represented by Rotary Clubs in Prescott and Tucson; a Shelter Box, disaster aid display and preliminary construction by Habitat for Humanity for a home to be built in a poor part of Atlanta.
She was privileged to be able to attend the Rotary Foundation’s 100th Birthday party and enjoy cake and ice cream.
Her favorite part of attending convention is to meet people from around the world. She met new friends from Australia, Bulgaria, Columbia, Benin, Ghana, Japan, Mexico, Nigeria, Scotland, Nepal, Uganda and Sweden.
She enjoyed voting in and celebrating the election of Sam Owori as RI President. The couple from Uganda were especially pleased as he was only one of two elected RI President from Africa, and tragically learned of his death a month after the convention.
She heard a talk by a President of a Rotaract club in Germany. Two main points she took away were: “ Rotary is best when Youth and Experience work together, combining the best of both generations.” and “ People who believe what we believe, who share our values and see the work that needs to be done, are the people we want as Rotarians.”
On July 1 Ian Riseley from Australia took over as RI President. In his remarks he stated, “the composition of our clubs needs to reflect the diversity of its community,” and new members should “create a new generation of members and leaders.”
He stated that Ending Polio remains Rotary’s # 1 priority “until the job is done”, and finally, he is requesting that a tree be planted for every Rotarian, recognizing our responsibility to the planet.
Outgoing President John Germ related Rotary to a story about Albert Einstein and his learning to play the violin, which he hated until one day he heard a symphony orchestra and appreciated how the instruments perfectly blended together, so “it is not working alone, but together with each other that we provide service to humanity and make a difference in the world.”
Next Year’s RI Convention will be held in Toronto. She urged members to attend a national convention, stating, “it is only then that you truly can understand more fully the the meaning Rotary has as an International organization.