Rotary exchange to India spreads friendship, understanding

Cheryl Mader, Prairie du Chien Rotary Club exchange coordinator, enjoyed a personal Rotary Friendship Exchange to three communities in India recently. She is pictured in a girls hostel in Vapi, Maharashtra.
Cheryl Mader, Prairie du Chien Rotary Club exchange coordinator, enjoyed a personal Rotary Friendship Exchange to three communities in India recently. She is pictured in a girls hostel in Vapi, Maharashtra.

One of Rotary International’s mottos is “World Peace through Understanding.” It is to convey that, when you know people better, they can’t be your enemies.
Rotary Club members in Prairie du Chien (Wisconsin, US) and all over the world strongly believe in that mantra, so much so that Rotarians like Cheryl Mader, the local Rotary exchange coordinator, have immersed themselves into some unforgettable globe-trotting adventures.
Mader visited England in 2011 and Nigeria in 2014. And, just over one month ago, she spent 10 days in India. All of her trips have been with family and friends through the Rotary Friendship Exchange Programme. The Prairie du Chien club is working with Peru, Denmark and Iceland to affirm friendship (and even youth) exchanges to those countries as well.
The way it works is that a local Rotary Club member is connected with a Rotary district in any of those approved countries. A trip is planned through three geographically-close communities in that district that host the American travelers. Three days are spent in each of the host cities, sight-seeing, dining on regional cuisine, experiencing the culture and cultivating fraternity with the native people.
“We trust that the Rotarians on the other end will provide the same care we provide when they visit us here,” Mader said. “You’re so well taken care of; you really trust in the type of person a Rotarian is.”
This time, Mader journeyed with her sister, Mary VanHout, of the Middleton Rotary Club, as well as another member from Middleton, two from La Crosse and one from Wisconsin Dells. All six are in the same southwest Wisconsin Rotary district. They flew, Jan. 29, into Mumbai, India, and settled in the state of Gujarat. In each of the three cities they stayed, the group was divided among three homes.
Their first community, Vapi, is where Prairie du Chien’s 2014-2015 Rotary Youth Exchange student Vrushti Shah is from. She even tagged along and guided them for several of the activities.
The first day, the Wisconsinites observed a Rotary-sponsored youth hostel, where around 80 girls of different ages stayed before and after school. The group performed artistic dances and songs, wearing some of the most beautiful textiles imaginable, Mader said. The next day, they attended a club meeting, shared their own Rotary flags and ate a generous meal in their host families’ homes.
“Joint living is very common in India,” Mader stated, noting that Vrushti’s grandmother, her parents, multiple siblings, their spouses and children all lived in the one home.
Shah also showed the visitors the elementary school she attended as a young, middle-class girl.
“The kindergarteners were learning multiplication tables up to 11,” Mader described. “Their children are, academically, further along than ours. Each and every one of them were dressed in vibrant uniforms and wearing braided pigtails tied with red bows.”
Three hours away in the second community, Surat, the group visited an art gallery/museum and attended a Rotary district convention, at which they enjoyed an Indian food buffet that was “unbelievable.” They gave a presentation on their Wisconsin Rotary district, their families and American culture. Mader dressed like the locals for the convention in a traditional kurti — a long tunic top — which she said was extremely comfortable and fun to wear.
They also visited numerous, grandiose and ornately-carved temples, where the Hindu’s devotional and theological needs are met. Mader remarked that 95 percent of the Indian population is Hindu. Many have shrines within their homes.
In Surat, they also ate vegan, as many of the natives do, and were treated to an incredible array of vegetables and conventional breads such as naan and roti. “They cook with a variety of spices and oils,” she shared, “and drink lots of coffee and tea.”
The tourists’ third city was Junagadh and, to get there, they took a 12-hour, overnight train ride.
“On that train platform was Indian humanity like you wouldn’t believe. There were people sleeping in tiny bunk beds, babies crying and pick-pockets — all on a bumpy train ride,” Mader recounted. “All in all though, that ride was one of the highlights of my trip.”
During one of the train’s stops, a local Rotarian at the station provided the six Americans a filling breakfast that was “totally unexpected and delightful,” Mader said.
In Junagadh, the group stayed in a hotel and then visited different members’ homes for their meals. Again, they toured temples of all sizes and levels of elegance. There, they also viewed a textile shop where thousands of silk-screened scarves were produced, saw a peanut oil factory and diamond-cutting facility, explored a university botanical garden and walked a nature preserve where the only Asiatic Lions in Asia reside. Mader said they spotted jackals, deer and tigers during their travels and strolled the streets alongside the country’s most sacred animals —cows.
“People were driving little motorized rickshaws everywhere, honking incessantly. But that’s actually a courtesy in India, to let people know you are coming,” she said.
Certainly, Mader and her companions relished in their exchange. They returned on Feb. 10, educated, entertained and enlightened. She noticed that the Indian Rotarians seemed so devoted to their culture, their service and their families — even more so than some Americans.
“I think, independence, for us, is huge. But for them, it’s about the family unit, values and community,” she said. “It’s a culture of respect and trust.”
Mader had a memorable time and she’s looking forward to seeing some of the people she befriended in India when six couples from that same district venture to southwest Wisconsin for a Rotary Friendship Exchange, May 28-June 7. They will be in Prairie du Chien June 6, and also in La Crosse, Wisconsin Dells and Madison.
It will, again, be an opportunity to get to know people from another country and spread goodness, friendship and trust through human kind.

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