Rotary, the knight in shining armour

Past RI President K R Ravindran addresses a session. Rotary Chief Strategy Officer Tom Thorfinnson (L) and Kimberly Kasana, past president of RC Kampala Maisha, Uganda (R) are also seen.
Past RI President K R Ravindran addresses a session. Rotary Chief Strategy Officer Tom Thorfinnson (L) and Kimberly Kasana, past
president of RC Kampala Maisha, Uganda (R) are also seen.

An interesting plenary ­session at the Hamburg Convention pertained to how just being a member of a Rotary club had helped Rotarians out of sticky situations and often completely transformed their lives.

At a session moderated by Tom Thorfinnson, Chief Strategy Officer, RI, PRIP K R Ravindran reiterated “I am what I am today because of Rotary.”

He said that he ran “a reasonably large business with 700 employees, so why then do I spend so much time away from my business, is the question I am often asked by my friends. Does it not have financial repercussions? It’s a good question, but the answer is very simple. I am what I am only because of Rotary.”

He recalled that very early in his life “circumstances forced me to venture into my own business. In a small garage-like space, with borrowed money and a trusting investor, I set up a company which produced packaging for tea bags.” But as often happens in start-up businesses, he too found himself financially strapped after three years. “I went from bank to bank looking for financial support, but all of them wanted additional security which I did not have.”

At the 13th bank, he ran into a friend from his Rotary club — RC Colombo. “I asked him whether he would introduce me to the credit manager.” They started chatting about other things but the nervous Ravindran gently brought the subject back to the credit he needed. “My friend casually pulled out some papers and said I should fill them up and bring them back as soon as I could. I looked at the papers and asked what is this? He said I have authorised your credit. The credit limits you need are within my powers to grant. You don’t need to see my credit manager!”

There are so many dimensions to the fellowship that Rotary offers us, connecting us to other Rotarians, both globally and at personal levels, enabling the forming of lifelong friendships.

Incredulously Ravindran picked up the papers, thanked the Rotarian, stopped the man as he walked away and asked him hesitantly about the security that every bank demanded. “He smiled and responded: You are a member of my Rotary club, aren’t you? I trust you; now go along and build your business.”

In the next five years Ravindran’s company went on to become “one of the biggest customers of that bank and a major producer of tea bag packaging in the world. Only because someone trusted me because I was a Rotarian. Now you know what I mean when I say I am what I am only because of Rotary.”

Thorfinnson himself related the story of his helplessness when he received a distressed call from his daughter Ashley who lives 400 miles away in Minnesota — he now lives in Evanston — that her basement had been flooded; a snowy winter had been followed by a quick spring thaw and a lot of rainfall. Her husband Chris was far away in London and the water was gushing through to the upper level. The “helpless father” couldn’t do much being 400 miles away. “That evening I tried to help by calling several contractors specialising in water problems. None of them even returned my call.”

He couldn’t sleep the whole night and the next morning he called his friend Tod from his Rotary club (RC Elden Prairie Noon). They had become good friends while travelling to Haiti on a water project. “Tod’s a retired contractor in the excavation business and maybe he would be able to help,
I thought. He said don’t worry, I’ll take care of it. Within an hour he was at my daughter’s house with a commercial pump he had picked up from his son who had taken over his business. Tod spent eight hours straight that day pumping out the basement and then water from the backyard. Next day, Chris returned from London and both Ashley and Chris couldn’t stop talking about Tod and Rotary!”

I am what I am today because of Rotary.
K R Ravindran, Past RI President

Another moving story of the session came from Kimberly Kasana, Charter President of the Rotary Club of Kampala Maisha, RI District 9211. A few years ago, she and her daughter Tania decided to go to Rome for a Christmas vacation; “it was her first trip overseas and we were very excited.” On arrival, while joining the immigration queue, she couldn’t find their passports. “I looked terrified and Tania kept asking, ‘Mom what is wrong’.” Moving out of the queue, she frantically searched for the missing passports, realising that at their last stop at Dubai — they were travelling by Emirates — after passport control, as they sat in the boarding area she had kept the passports near the hand luggage and must have lost them there, needing only their boarding passes to get onto the flight. In a corner, she saw people who were seeking asylum, “and I thought who will actually believe we really lost our passports. Every minute felt like an hour. Eventually a gentleman walked up to us… and I thought this must be the person in charge of deportation.”

But then magic happened, said Kimberly, “when he addressed me as a Rotarian. At the sound of the word Rotary, I felt like we were home,” she said amidst thunderous applause.

This “knight in shining armour invited us into his office. Despite the difference in language, we managed to communicate. He helped me retrace my steps in Dubai and recall where I could have lost my passport. He then called Emirates and followed up calling different people for several hours until they located our passports.”

Although the two had to spend a night at the Rome airport, “he ensured we were comfortable and the next day our passports arrived and we had a memorable Christmas.”

Added Thorfinnson, “There are so many dimensions to the fellowship that Rotary offers us, connecting us to other Rotarians through business service or otherwise, both globally and at personal levels, enabling the forming of lifelong friendships.”

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