When I was reflecting on my greatest memories of the Rotary International Convention in Houston, I realised that it wasn’t the programme itself (although impressive it was), but the connections I made. So, I would like to tell you a few stories of the inspirational people I met who made Houston so special for me.
My time began by reconnecting with Rotaract friends I made at the Rl Convention in Hamburg and at the International Assembly in San Diego.
The first person I saw was Kennedy Gayah, Chair of Rotaract Africa. I’ve known Gayah for many years and the last time we met was when we went bowling together in Nairobi.
Now in Houston, Gayah was responsible for the RI Instagram page during one day of the convention and assigned me as his assistant.
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We had the pleasure of interviewing past RI President, Holger Knaack, and his wife Susanne, who told us that they were most excited seeing old and new friends.
Gayah and I explored the House of Friendship, a giant hall full of stalls promoting various Rotary Action Groups and charity projects.
Admittingly, the most popular stall was the sale section in the Rotary merchandise shop, which sold out quicker than toilet paper during the early Covid days! I loved creating content for Rotary International, and even more so with a friend and colleagues.
As well as old faces, I got to see 3D versions of my pandemic-virtual friends and colleagues. Mitty Chang is a Rotaractor and Rotarian living in California.
Mitty and I have been Facebook friends for over two years, but our paths had never directly crossed.
I have always been impressed with his achievements and ambitions in Rotary, particularly his goals of organising a leadership retreat next year.
When I saw Mitty at the convention centre in Houston, I decided to go and say ‘hi’, and we quickly connected over our shared passion for leadership development and a flexible model of Rotary.
Mitty and his wife are expecting their first child, and he is excited for her to be surrounded by the love and kindness of the Rotary world.
First on my schedule was the Rotaract pre-convention which was a two-day event prior to the main Rotary programme with the aim of providing content targeted towards Rotaractors.
One highlight for me was keynote speaker Alia Ali, CEO of Empathy Catalyst Consulting.
I was chatting with Mitty when Alia asked if he would take a few action-shots during her presentation, but as Mitty was unavailable, I volunteered to help her out.
I took a few photos, and in return got to hear Alia who spoke about different types of burnout and burnout personalities.
The speech helped guide many of us through a few key tools for managing and avoiding burnout.
One message, in particular, that stood out was praising unsustainable workloads of our peers.
This is something that I resonate with. Sometimes people comment on how impressive my workload is. But, my close friends and I all know that my workload can be unsustainable.
Alia’s guidance has enabled me to start managing my burnout by making sure I assess my schedule and responsibilities in a realistic way.
After her presentation and over the week I was able to get to know her more.
I am grateful to Alia for being an inspirational presenter, an empathetic listener, and a great friend who brought me gluten-free brownies!
Many of the connections I made in Houston were international. But, one of my most treasured connections was Andrew O’Hare from Glasgow.
Andrew has been involved in Rotary through his partner, David Breton, who holds multiple leadership positions within Rotary, and is driven, like many of us, by his values of diversity, equity, and inclusion.
When I met Andrew in Houston, he had been a member of Rotary for just one week.
Andrew radiated positive energy and a passion to improve communities. Andrew represents the present and future of Rotary.
As someone in their early 20s, sometimes I am left without much representation in the Rotary GB&I world.
Yet, meeting Andrew and David (28 and 32-years-old respectively) re-emphasised that Rotary is an organisation for people of all ages.
Andrew reminded me that it is not always the length of time you spend in an organisation that matters, but what you do with that time. Andrew is a real person of action!
After seeing lots of existing friends, I didn’t think it was possible to make many more connections. Fortunately, I was wrong.
One of the highlights of my trip was becoming friends with Shivanj Ramchandani.
Shiv comes from a passionate Rotary-oriented family and divides his time between studying in Miami and being at home in Jamaica.
I was introduced to Shiv by our incoming RI Vice-President, Nicki Scott, who knew Shiv’s dad.
Little did Nicki know, her small act of kindness would lead to the beginning of a great friendship.
Shiv quickly became my conference buddy, and anyone who has been to a Rotary Convention knows it is common to make a few close friends who you sit next to in the general sessions, or maybe catch up with at the end of the day.
Shiv became my conference buddy who I would often meet first thing in the morning to plan for the day.
Since returning home, Shiv and I regularly check-in with each other, asking about family, work, and other daily stresses that life throws at us. As well as now having a great Rotary connection, I have a new best friend.
Being in Houston reminded me that the backbone that guides us in Rotary is the friendships and connections we develop with each other.
I am grateful to Mitty, Alia, Andrew, Gayah, and Shiv, for coming into my life. The kindness they emit mirrors that of other Rotaractors and Rotarians I have met during my time as Chair of Rotaract GB&I.
I look forward to opportunities to make more connections.
So what’s next? Will I be seeing you in Melbourne next May?
Convention photos by Mike Thorn.