Each RI convention has its special moments and is unique in its own way. For me the defining and most memorable moment of the Hamburg convention will be the closing session when a band performing Abba’s most memorable songs including Dancing Queen and Mama Mia had the entire audience clapping, swaying and dancing to those evergreen numbers.
One person who could not confine himself to just tapping his feet from his front row seat was incoming RI President Mark Maloney. He was the first to dance his way to the colourful flags kept near the bottom of the huge central podium and did quite a few moves, jiving to the peppy music.
At the gigantic Hamburg Messe, you could spot every conceivable nationality and hear a plethora of foreign languages and dialects. As you made the long journey to the plenary sessions in the main hall or walked from one breakout session to another or to the House of Friendship, it was a good pastime to fathom what language was being spoken.
The overt and covert message of this convention was the power and energy of the youth, particularly Rotaractors. Most of the youngsters were seated in the Inspiration Lounge, set up in a separate hall, which offered various options to watch both the plenary sessions and the breakouts in comfort while having light refreshments… Just what today’s youth want.
Amidst all the bonhomie, Indian Rotarians had to stomach the disappointment of not seeing PRID Sushil Gupta on the big stage along with President Rassin and RIPE Maloney.
As most of the senior leaders including RI President Barry Rassin frequently called out to the youngsters/Rotaractors seated in the Inspiration Lounge, a delegate seated behind me commented wryly: “It seems like this is more a Rotaract than a Rotary Convention!”
President Rassin had ensured that the opening session amply demonstrated the energy, enthusiasm, innovation and talent of the young. A young artist from the Bahamas, Jamaal Rolle, had the audience spellbound as he unveiled a blank canvass and started making firm strokes on it to create a live painting that dramatically demonstrated a child getting oral polio drops. That painting was later auctioned.
After a soulful performance from a Korean singer, who came from a very humble background but has now shot into fame, we had another entertainer Julien Believe sending the audience into raptures of delight as he urged everyone to join him in dancing. Among those to oblige were President Rassin and Esther.
Rotary’s partnership with Toastmaster International was toasted by none less than its international President Lark Doley. Toastmasters will help Rotary leaders with its core competence of training people in public speaking and leadership skills.
Dr Pia Skarabis-Querfeld, a medical doctor and Rotarian from Berlin, had the audience spellbound through her account of how she got involved with the Syrian refugees pouring into Berlin four years ago, initially wanting to just drop off a bagful of clothes for them. But when she saw their terrible plight, particularly the very ill children unable to get over-the- counter medicines such as urgently required painkillers, she started a volunteering service which eventually helped thousands of refugees at community centres, tent camps, and other shelters across the city.
Today through her voluntary organisation Medizin Hilft (Medicine Helps), she involves nearly 100 volunteers to give free treatment to those who have no other option.
Rotaractors were clearly the flavour of this convention and addressing one of the plenary sessions was the dynamic Christopher Wells, founding past president of the Rotaract Club of Market Harborough, England, who got the crowd pumped up and laughing as he glided, darted and jumped from one end of the giant stage to the other in the flash of an eye as he talked about his Rotaract journey.
He had the audience erupt in laughter when he said that after some hard thinking, he had decided that what Rotary does is “dogoodery”, and had motivated the members of his club to do just that!
Sushil Gupta remembered
But amidst all the music, dance and bonhomie that rocked the Hamburg Convention, a dark shadow was cast over it, particularly for Indian Rotarians who had to stomach the disappointment of not seeing PRID Sushil Gupta on the big stage along with President Barry Rassin and RIPE Mark Maloney. He stepped down a couple of months ago as the RIPN citing ill-health. But his replacement, Holger Knaack from Germany, was a picture of grace as both at the plenary and the South Asia Reception he described how his joy at being appointed the first RIPN from Germany had been clouded by his “good friend Sushil” having to battle with ill-health. Hundreds of Indian Rotarians and Gupta’s close friends in the international Rotary community swallowed hard when Knaack beamed Gupta’s picture on the giant screen in the central convention hall.
House of Friendship
One of the most popular places at the Hamburg Messe was the House of Friendship which always provides a great opportunity for Rotarians to showcase the service they are rendering in their communities, connect with fellow Rotarians from different parts of the world and forge not only new friendship but also meaningful partnerships.
Rotary Club of Madras had its presence as always, as also PRID Shekhar Mehta’s TEACH project. Both this stall and a breakout session stressed the importance of literacy in South Asia and explained what Rotarians were doing across the region for children’s education, teachers’ training and adult literacy, while transforming schools into happy places of learning.
An interesting stall that caught the eye wore the title ‘End Plastic Soup” and the Rotarian from Amsterdam, Wytzia de Lohman, made a powerful statement as she urged Rotarians to pay more attention to environmental damage being done to Mother Earth by donning a huge hat that was made up of polythene garbage and other bags, plastic farm tools, toys, bottles etc.
Cynosure of all eyes
As Rotarians wearing their convention badges — which brought with them many goodies such as a free ride on Hamburg’s public network, as well as one on a hop-on, hop-off bus, a good way to see any city if you are too tired or strapped for time to take a walking tour, free entry to some museums — converged on the massive and spectacular Hamburg harbour, one image captivated them. The tagline of this convention was ‘capture the moment’, and there were clicks galore when the boat with colourful yellow and red sails carrying the End Polio message carried some participants to Hamburg, and remained docked at the central port in Hamburg for a few days.
Pictures by Rasheeda Bhagat