On a fresh, but sunny March afternoon, the Gosport Ferry plying its way across the calm waters of Portsmouth Harbour, was doing brisk business.
Football fans were in a happy mood returning home from Fratton Park mingling with shoppers loaded with bargains from their day out at Gunwharf Quays.
Making the reverse crossing to Pompey were youngsters dressed up for ‘happy hour’ and a night’s clubbing.
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Stood in Gosport Ferry Gardens where the council was flying Union Jack and Ukrainian flags side by side, Rotarians were collecting for Ukraine – and few of those travelling on the ferry missed the opportunity to give and to open up on their feelings over what they were witnessing in Ukraine.
Over two weekends, my Rotary club raised £3,000. The support was overwhelming.
I know this response was mirrored by Rotary clubs who have been holding similar collections across Great Britain and Ireland.
The war in Ukraine has touched a nerve among the public in a way which no other humanitarian appeal previously has.
The amount of money raised and the level of humanitarian aid being organised is unprecedented.
Why this is so is hard to fathom.
We should never lose sight at how war impacts on people and inflicts human suffering.”
Is it because, for the very first time, we are watching a war unravel in real time through television and social media, unsanitised in its misery and the scale of destruction on innocent victims?
What has been impressive is how quickly Rotary has mobilised itself with its response to what is happening in Eastern Europe.
What is being organised in Great Britain and Ireland is carefully co-ordinated. Rotarians are want, sometimes, to go off and do their own thing – but not this time.
Jersey Rotarian Allan Smith, and Dr John Philip from Newbury Rotary are two key figures in Rotary GB&I’s response.
Both spoke at the Thames Valley Rotary District Conference in Oxford in March with a clear vision of what needs to be done by Rotarians in the coming months and years.
Allan is heading up the Rotary GB&I Ukraine Task Force. The Task Force has been created to provide a unified approach to the Ukraine crisis, especially to displaced people both leaving and within Ukraine.
And John Philip, who is Chairman of the Rotary Fellowship of Healthcare Professionals, is leading the Fellowships’ network of volunteers to assist with medical items in Ukraine where the situation is dire with medical shortages.
The war in Ukraine has touched a nerve among the public in a way which no other humanitarian appeal previously has.”
Just as Rotarians stepped up to the mark during Covid-19, so this is an opportunity to engage with our communities in a mission which is clearly resonating with young and old.
However, what was clear from the messaging of Allan and John is that, as Rotarians, we need to be prepared to be into this for the long haul.
As much as our human instinct is to do something right now – and there is that precious need for swift and immediate humanitarian help to Ukraine – there will be a long-term need.
As Rotarians, we are going to have so much work helping refugees when they come to Great Britain and Ireland.
We need to focus on what we do best which is the longer-term support of refugees.
What is happening in the Ukraine goes beyond the politics and warmongering.
We should never lose sight at how war impacts people and inflicts human suffering – not just the people of Ukraine, but to their families and loved ones around the world who are also suffering and can’t do anything to help.
Now it our time to step up to the plate; not just today, but for tomorrow and beyond.
It is only right to pay tribute to my predecessor as editor of Rotary magazine, Allan Berry, who died in February.
Allan had been bravely battling with cancer for the past few years. A free-thinking cavalier, Allan was a great communicator, a champion of causes, and a passionate Rotarian.
He will be sadly missed.