Kursk, Polls and Ulaanbaatar

My Dear Rotarians and Friends, in particular my Action Presidents,

This has to be a very sad day for the families and friends of the 118 crew found dead in the flooded Russian nuclear submarine Kursk which sank to the bottom of the Barents seas ten days ago after an accident. No doubt, the media, the printed and the electronic, will shortly be scrambling to feed us with more stories, articles and commentaries on the real life tragedy and the sorry state of the Russian fleet. Already, the opposition has called for a full inquiry as President Vladimir Putin apologized to the nation and pledged support for the families of the crewmembers. At present, very few of us would have information on what really happened other than what the media had told us, but many people would have formed views on various issues related to the incident.

It is highly unlikely that some of us would know or be related to the families of the deceased, but that ought not make us disinterested in the matter. As Rotarians, we have international responsibilities towards our brothers and sisters of all nations, which would in turn drive us to support action or programs that would improve the livelihood of peoples who are less fortunate than us. One cannot help thinking whether the fate of the crew could have been averted had international help been sought or made available earlier. Would it have made a difference if the key decision-makers in the saga were Rotarians or people who believed in the Object of Rotary?

Exercises for the mind, you may say, but I would ask you to ask of yourself how much conviction and awareness you have of your international responsibilities as a Rotarian. Yes, I am talking about responsibilities, and for that matter, obligations. Most people join a club because of what the club can offer, normally facilities, convenience, and perhaps prestige. They would queue up long and hard, knock off a few people if necessary to get ahead of the line and pay whatever subscriptions demanded of them. What about Rotary? What does Rotary offer? Well, in terms of privileges, membership entitles one to attend club meetings and fellowship and welcome at other Rotary clubs. More importantly, it offers a member the opportunity to serve and to fulfil his international responsibilities. I feel that I can never stress the importance of this concept, and I go on to urge you to bring home this point to potential members you are thinking of inviting to join Rotary in this Membership Development and Extension Month.

Closer to home, we have our own real life drama unfolding in the past ten days or so in the form of an inquiry into the controversy that there was alleged government interference in opinion polls on the performance of the Government in general and of the Chief Executive in particular. At the time of writing, the parties concerned had just finished their summing up and once again the media had given us estimates of the costs to tax payers and to the University concerned. No doubt, we would be hearing more from the media in the next few days when the Panel would submit its report to the University’s governing body.

One wonders whether it would have made a difference and whether history would have to be re-written if the key players involved had observed religiously Rotary’s Four-way Test or had lived up to the letter the Declaration for Rotarians in Business and Professions. I do not have any answer for that and I do not expect anybody would. Suffice it to say that the incident could be a reminder of what Rotarians pledge to practice in what they think, say or do.

From news and public affairs, I move to what I have been doing lately, in particular, last week. As I said last time, I have started my Official Visits programme, and I was in Mongolia last week, carrying out my Official Visit to the Rotary Club of Ulaanbaatar.

The visit is significant in more than one way. It was the first official visit by a District Governor to the Club after it was districted, and it was my first official visit to the Club. You may recall that I visited Mongolia in May. In my letter to you afterwards, I spoke of the unpolluted air, blue sky, greenfields, warm hospitality, good club projects, and so on. I had hoped to stay a bit longer to visit the desert and to do more sight seeing, but my other schedules would not allow me to do so. In the end, District Secretary Kenneth Chow and I stayed for only three nights and missed most of the sight seeing.

We did have a full day, well almost, out in the wilderness or in the field watching the indigenous people going about their daily chores and routines, surrounded by their horses, cattle and sheep. The weather was good. It was hot and sunny, but it got rather cool when clouds set in and so on. It was a very relaxing day. For more details, I suggest you ask the Action Presidents who stayed for the whole trip and asked them what happened.

The Official Visit actually went very well. We officially chartered the Rotaract Club of Ulaanbaatar and inducted all the new members during the meeting. Before I spoke, the key club officials outlined their club plans and projects. They had plenty of projects, particularly International Service projects involving Matching Grants, as well as Vocational Service and Community Service projects. The Club has been highly successful in attracting sponsorship and donations from overseas clubs and Rotarians for their projects. It is something clubs in Hong Kong and Macau can seriously consider when they are planning their club projects.

Talk to you soon.

John Wan

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