Zud, Assembly and JC

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

A lot happened in the fortnight since I last wrote to you, some more obvious than others. On the eve of the District visits to Beijing and Mongolia, my mind naturally focused on the zud in Mongolia which is not getting better. Zud is Mongolian for a severe winter storm that covers the frozen grassland with ice and snow, making it impossible for stock to graze in winter and leaving them dead or dying of starvation in the spring. The Red Cross has estimated that the livelihood of more than 400,000, or a sixth of the country’s population are being affected by the zud.

Already, more than 2 million animal deaths have been reported. The natural disaster has attracted even the Asian Wall Street Journal to produce a Column One article earlier this month in which a staff reporter suggested that the catastrophe could have been caused more by a change in political climate than by the ravages of nature. Very briefly, from 1920s to 1990, Mongolia was subject to Soviet central planning. The plan uprooted Mongolia’s traditional herding economy and was to have reorganized it along more modern lines. The result was that much of the herding skills the nomads had accumulated for generations had been lost because many herders had taken up other jobs in cities and towns. For centuries, Mongolians took great pride in their herding traditions, which had enabled them to brave the natural elements, presented by their unpredictable environment. Indeed, Mongolians have been known for their culture of horsemanship and independence exemplified by their national hero Genghis Khan, who built a vast 11th century empire stretching from Vienna to Vietnam. Alas, decades of reliance on state subsidies have meant that the present day herdsmen are unable to anticipate or handle natural disasters. For example, weather forecasts had indicated high likelihood of zud and experienced herders had indeed redoubled their efforts to prepare for the worst. However, most people went about their routines as before, and the result was more disaster, deaths and misery.

RI sent out an international appeal to help Mongolia with funds to aid the disaster victims; and the Rotary Club of Ulaanbaatar has received pledges for funds which are being channeled through the Mongolian Red Cross Society to assist with medical supplies, food and clothing. I would give you an update after the visit. I see plenty of opportunities for service from Rotarians and clubs of our district, particularly now when Evanston would shortly consider a proposal to include the whole country of Mongolia within District 3450.

Let me say a few words on the proposal, for the benefit of readers who may not be aware of recent development on this front. In March, there were words in the air that the Rotary Club of Ulaanbaatar could be districted with the District in Alaska. The Club was also upset over the handling of one or two administrative matters and the members were convinced that if they were part of District 3450 with which their members have close ties, their lot would be much better off. At this point, the Club wrote to me asking whether I would agree to take up the club as one in the District from 1 July 2000. They also conducted an Extraordinary General Meeting before that. I wrote to President-elect Frank Devlyn and was then advised of the procedures. Accordingly, Governor Dipo wrote to all clubs in the district for confirmation that they are in agreement. By the middle of last week, he had received more than 26 affirmative votes, on the basis of which we signed a petition to Evanston to extend the District boundaries to include the whole country of Mongolia. We now await news from the RI Board.

Closer to home, and for me personally, there is perhaps nothing more noticeable and more unforgettable than the District Assembly held ten days ago. Now, RI has defined a district assembly as a meeting of incoming presidents, secretaries and other club leaders in a district, adding that it provides a program of instruction as well as an opportunity to share local and district plans and objectives. The Manual of Procedure also provides that it is the forum for deciding the amount of per capita levy to be contributed by each member towards the District Fund established for the administration and development of Rotary.

For the first time since 1989 when our District decided to establish a District Fund, the district assembly did not approve a per capita levy. More specifically, we failed to secure approval of three-fourths of the incoming presidents present for the proposed per capita levy of $1,100 for members in Hong Kong and $830, Macau. At the time of voting, the district assembly recognized 45 electors of whom 33 voted for, 11 against and one abstained. So, my friends, between us, we have made records.

But the show must go on. The community has a reasonable expectation on what Rotary would do for them and it would be a retrograde move to disestablish the District Fund. Subject to the advice of the Governor’s Policy Committee, we would conduct a ballot-by-mail for approval of a per capita levy for 2000-01.

On the same day we held our District Assembly, the Hong Kong Junior Chamber of Commerce celebrated their Fiftieth Anniversary at the Regent Ballroom. It is interesting that quite a few of their members are Rotarians or members of other service organizations. Just as we elect our District Governor every year, they elect their National Presidents. That evening, the Organizing Committee invited all the Past National Presidents resident in Hong Kong to celebrate 50 years of service. It was an impressive procession, filled with household names and community leaders.

I had the pleasure of meeting the current JCI President when she was in Hong Kong. She would be the equivalent of our RI President. Karyn Bisdee is a charming lady with an even more charming personality. She works very hard and gives herself a punishing travel schedules. One of her favourite sound bites is on attitude. She said, “Attitude does determine Altitude” and went on to say that “we are what we think and we will reach what we aim for.” Let me share with you something she wrote to her members worldwide.

“If you think you are beaten, you are.

If you think you dare not, you don’t.

If you’d like to win, but think you can’t,

It is almost certain you won’t.

If you think you’ll lose, you have lost.

For out in the world you will find –

Success begins inside of you –

Right inside your mind.

For many a race is lost

Even before a step is run.

Dream big dreams and know that you can

Think small and be left behind.

Think that you CAN and you WILL!

It’s all in the state of mind.

If you think you are outclassed, you are.

You’ve got to think high (altitude) to rise.

You’ve got to be sure of yourself –

Before you can help others to reach their prize.

Life’s battles don’t always go

To the stronger or faster man.

But sooner or later the one who succeeds

Is the one who believes that they can.”

There is certainly a lot we can learn from other service organizations as long as we keep the mind open. At our District Installation, we would sign friendship and co-operation agreements with a few of our service partners and the Hong Kong junior Chamber will be one of them.

Talk to you soon.

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