The power of Rotary friendship

The motive power of Rotary is friendship,” said Paul Harris at the Rotary Convention held in Edinburgh in 1921. The friendships that are forged between Rotarians can be the beginning of great things for our community.

Nay Min Oo (fourth from left) with other members of RC Mandalay, Myanmar.

The centennial celebration of Rotary in India and mainland Asia was held in a very befitting manner in Kolkata in ­February 2020. The City of Joy saw the convergence of more than 4,000 Rotarians from over 30 nations, and I was a member of the reception committee. One responsibility given to me was to receive PDG Nancy Barbee of North ­Carolina, RID 7730 (USA and Canada), at the Howrah station.

Little did I know when I met her at the station that it would be the beginning of a friendship to be cherished and one that would touch many lives. During those three days I met PDG Nancy several times and we became friends. She had come to RID 3250 as a GSE team leader in 2008 and had developed an emotional bonding with India. The cause of polio eradication is very close to her heart and she had come over during NIDs in India heading a team of Rotarians from her district.

The euphoria of the successful centennial celebration at Kolkata disappeared soon with the advent of the pandemic. Nations were taken off guard and there was great human suffering. During the second wave of Covid Nancy told me that she would be sending much needed oxygen concentrators, and 40 oxygen concentrators were delivered to my home as a gift from the Rotarians of RID 7730, Zones 28, 32 and 33 (USA and Canada). She had spearheaded the entire effort and had used the service of Sewa India to get the life-saving equipment over to Dibrugarh, a city in upper Assam where I reside. On receiving the valuable gift, Rotarians of my club reached the machines to the right organisations in Assam and neighbouring states. The first concentrator was given to the Dibrugarh Police Hospital and others to the Marwari Yuva Manch Moran, ­Deepshika Cancer Foundation, Pratishruti Cancer and Palliative Trust, Dibrugarh University Hospital, etc.

PDG Kalpana Khound with PDG Nancy Barbee from N Carolina at the Howrah Railway Station.

A Rotarian from the E-Club of Connect, RID 3012, Dr Nischal Pandey, with whom I had worked for the Gift Of Life programme, which helps children from economically backward families with congenital heart defects, wanted to send some medical equipment and two oxygen concentrators to Myanmar where they were badly needed. But this was difficult as Myanmar was a country under military regime. The thought that I should do something about it kept nagging me and we decided to send 14 concentrators through train bound for Dimapur, Nagaland, from New Dibrugarh Railway station. The railway staff was very happy that their services were being used to give succour to citizens in another country.

Many Rotarians came together for this rather difficult work. Myanmar was struggling with Covid and the military coup of Feb 2021 was hard pressed to face the pandemic. Makeshift medical centres were set up on the streets by a few Rotarians who chose to remain incognito. With hardly any connection with the outside world, no assistance came in from other parts. The seven Rotary clubs of Myanmar were part of RID 3350 but with the country being closed to the outside world and being under a military regime, no help came in from any other country.

Finally, our consignment reached the small town of Tamu which is the entry point for ­Myanmar from the Indian side. However, it took much longer than expected as it had to be taken through a heavily wooded hilly terrain. Nay Min Oo, Secretary of RC Mandalay, and other members of the club took up the responsibility of distributing the concentrators. In a touching gesture of brotherhood one concentrator was gifted to Myanmar Meitei Development Association which comprised of persons of Manipuri origin residing in Myanmar by RC Mandalay’s president Dr Naing Win in appreciation of their logistics support. The concentrators brought great relief during those difficult times to the Covid-affected not only in Mandalay but also in Yangon.

PDG Kalpana with members of RC Duliajan after giving them an oxygen concentrator.

Many lives were saved. As I reflect on the selfless action of my friend PDG Nancy and the support she received from Rotarians of USA and Canada, I marvel at the power of friendship in Rotary and the good that follows.

Nay Min Oo recalls that “back in 2021, when Covid ravaged the country of Myanmar, at the peak of the pandemic, lack of oxygen equipment and medical facilities resulted in the deaths of thousands of patients every day. Therefore, in August 2021, an unexpected gift of 10 oxygen concentrators from the US and Canada, with logistic support from RCs Dibrugarh, Kohima and Imphal, RID 3240, and Rotary E-Club of Connect, RID 3012, was almost a godsend.”

He adds: “At this time, I personally witnessed the level of Rotary’s commitment to service, dedicating its members to a seemingly impossible service project across the world amidst a global pandemic. From this I was also able to build goodwill and lasting friendship with those involved. I will be forever grateful and proud to be a Rotarian.” For this collaboration, numerous zoom meetings were conducted to coordinate the logistics for delivering the oxygen concentrators to Myanmar. The transportation was done by the use of trains, buses and local teams. On behalf of the Rotary clubs in Myanmar, RC ­Mandalay received these concentrators, and RC Metro Yangon also coordinated.

During their passage through the ­India-­Myanmar border, we lost five oxygen concentrators. However, the concentrators were successfully retrieved with the Rotarians’ endless efforts.

The writer is a past district governor, RID 3240


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