Friendship Trees of Rotary

Rotarians have planted trees in the name of fellowship, friendship and community service since the early 20th century. These trees, planted worldwide, have grown into enduring monuments of Rotary’s ideals.

Margot Lassagne, an Exchange student from Toulouse, France, planting a sapling. Her grandfather Philippe Guillion funded a limb camp in 2004.
Margot Lassagne, an Exchange student from Toulouse, France, planting a sapling. Her grandfather Philippe Guillion funded a limb camp in 2004.

As president emeritus, Paul Harris travelled extensively during the 1920s and 1930s, often accompanied by his wife Jean. During these trips, he had planted trees to symbolise goodwill and friendship. In the fall of 1932, Harris embarked on a five-week tour of the European Rotary clubs and planted trees along the way. In my district, RID 3211, ‘Rotary Friendship Trees’, as we call them, has been the norm for a long time now.

In 1994, RID 3211 launched its first artificial limb fitment camp for 1,000 physically-challenged people, with the help of The Rotary Jaipur Limb, UK. As a young, 27-year-old Rotarian with just three years of service in Rotary, for me it was a life-changing event. That day I felt the power of Rotary and the love of Rotarians around the globe, as I saw smiling recipients ‘walking’ back home. I wrote to my primary contact Rtn John Wilton of RC Eastbourne Sovereign, RID 1120, thanking his team and inviting him to India. With no email or Facebook, it took 30 days for the mail to reach England. After two months, I got the reply: “I am coming to see you all.” Wilton’s visit was like a festival in our district and it coincided with Onam, the grand festival of Kerala.

In RID 3211, ‘Rotary Friendship Trees’, as we call them, has been the norm for a long time now.

I was under the impression that the money was raised by rich Rotarians. But Wilton surprised me saying that school students sold lemonade during summer; another school organised a sponsor walk to raise funds for the camp. When it was time for him to leave, I requested Wilton and his wife Liz to plant a tree commemorating his visit to the district.

They planted a jackfuit sapling at home which I named ‘John’. Today that mighty 25-year-old jackfruit tree bears lots of fruits. Continuing the project, we have provided over 14,000 limbs through the same charity.

Twenty-four saplings of various fruit-bearing trees have been planted by Rotarians from across 16 countries. Later Wilton and Liz came as RIPRs to our district. It was the jackfruit season in Kerala and they could taste the fruit from the ‘John tree’.

We worked with RID 5240, along with the Free Wheelchair Mission, California, through which we provided 9,000 wheelchairs to people in my district.

After volunteering in Sri Lanka after the tsumami, I brought a flowering tree sapling, which is still in my garden, as well as a Hollyhock from the UK after my visit to study the educational system followed there.

PDG John Wilton under the jackfruit tree that he had planted.
PDG John Wilton under the jackfruit tree that he had planted.

As DGE, I had a fruitful interaction with E Russell Smith of RC Santa Barbara Sunrise, RID 5240, working on our first matching grant wheelchair project. This resulted in the distribution of 550 wheelchairs in my district. Five friendship trees were planted in my garden, and since then Smith and I collaborated on many wheelchair shipments to India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Iraq and Pakistan.

I introduced Smith and DG Maria to the then DGE Shehzad Ahmed (RID 3272, RC Lahore Garrison, Pakistan) during the RI Convention in Birmingham, England, in June 2009. And there began another Rotary friendship and the opportunity of building communities and bridging continents for thousands of people in need in Rotary’s newest district in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Today as I walk through my garden, I see my friends who serve humanity with passion. Each friendship tree has its own story on the valuable transformation Rotarians are making for humanity.

This year we are conducting five artificial limb camps in RID 3211 and one in Cochin (RID 3201) to benefit 650 people. It is in celebration of 25 years of our partnership with The Rotary Jaipur Limb UK.

The writer is past governor of RID 3211.

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