Posted by Dave Wylie
Rotary District 9920 held its annual conference over last weekend at the resort location of Denarau in Fiji over the weekend of 6th – 9th April. It was attended by about 130 Rotarians and guests. The Friday opening by the Indian High Commissioner to Fiji was preceded by the Rotoract conference. One of the participants was our favourite exchange student Marie who was very involved and greeted us enthusiastically when we arrived.
Jeannette and I were a little apprehensive wondering what state the area would be in after cyclone Winston a few days earlier. There was some evidence of damage mainly to some houses and around the waterways but Denarau appeared to be largely unaffected.
Friday night was a mix and mingle session and an opportunity to catch up with Rotary acquaintances and to meet new people. On Saturday the conference theme was “Making a difference” with a particular focus on women in Fiji. Our MC was Arjay who is a media personality as well as a member of the Suva Rotary Club. He very effectively and disturbingly shone a light on abuse of women and children in Fiji. We think our problem is bad, and it is, but in Fiji the rate is 72% of women and children are abused in disturbing ways! Arjay and the President of Fiji are leading the demand for change. Another session was about “Homes of Hope” which is very similar to women’s refuge and has many of the same problems. On the positive side we had a discussion involving four leading women who are leaders in sport, business and government in Fiji demonstrating what they have been able to achieve once they broke through to leadership roles.
As I mentioned before the country was still recovering from cyclone Winston and we were shown Rotary in action with local Rotarians undertaking numerous missions to deliver aid in the form of ERKs (Emergency Response Kits) and other Rotary provided food supplies and support to the devastated areas. They were supported by the RNZAF who flew in a large number of ERKs from New Zealand the next day after the cyclone. They delivered aid by running convoys of 4wd private vehicles into remote areas through difficult conditions. It was a remarkable demonstration of how Rotarians in New Zealand and Rotarians in Fiji work very effectively in an emergency. Rotary was the first agency to respond.
The guest speaker at dinner on Saturday night was Dean Jones, the past Australian cricketer and current commentator and coach, who tormented New Zealand cricketers in his time as a player. A significant portion of his speech was spent describing how David Boone consumed 54 cans of beer between Sydney and London on the way to an ashes tour! Not particularly edifying for those at the dinner. The rest of his speech was interesting and entertaining.
When we woke on Sunday morning local TV was broadcasting warnings of a new and even stronger cyclone developing off the coast close to our location. Great news considering we had only enjoyed 1.5 hours of sunshine in the 4 days to that point. The Sunday presentations included an uplifting report on the progress of Cure Kids whose founder, a Rotarian in his 80s was present and still involved, who are getting great results improving children’s health. That was followed by a group of midwives who described what a difference a month’s training in Canberra had made to their ability to support Fijian women in childbirth. The conference closed with comments from Jennifer Jones from Rotary International and our DG Malini.
In the background with great assistance from Alison Kearney, we had obtained flights out that day to avoid cyclone Keni. It cut short our stay by a day but some of those who didn’t heed the warnings were still there on Thursday including DG Malini who couldn’t even get back to Suva.
A great experience getting to know some of the amazing things Rotarians are doing to make the world a better place. It was also disappointing because we didn’t get to enjoy Fiji this time. That is where Jeannette and I met in 1964 and we were looking forward to going back, maybe next time.
Marie waiting to address us all
A clever but simple water purification solution
A view of the foyer of The Sofitel Hotel in Denarau