© GUARDIAN PHOTO BY SALLY COLE
Joan MacFarlane, left, a member of the Rotary Club of Stratford, presents a welcome gift to her friend, Claudia Stern, a member of the Rotary Club of Hobart, during a dinner meeting hosted by the Rotary Club of Stratford last week. The reunion took place when 11 Rotarians from Tasmania, hosted by Rotary clubs in Kentville, N.S., decided to visit P.E.I. as part of a Friendship Exchange.
For Joan MacFarlane and Claudia Stern, Rotary International has made the world a smaller place.
Stern, a member of the Rotary Club of Hobart, Tasmania, and MacFarlane, a member of the Rotary Club of Stratford, P.E.I., met online after they joined a fledgling Rotary Fellowship called Rotarians on Social Networking Fellowship (ROSNF) several years ago.
At that time, fellowship members were talking about getting together in Montreal at the Rotary International Conference.
“Claudia and I were part of that discussion and met up at the group get-together (in Montreal). We don’t really correspond. It’s a Facebook friendship but, in our case, we have actually met the other individual,” says MacFarlane, ROSNF international board secretary.
When the conference was over, they said their goodbyes, never expecting to see each other again.
However, all that changed last week when a group of 11 Rotarians from Tasmania, Australia, hosted by Rotary clubs in Kentville, N.S., made the decision to come to P.E.I. as part of their Friendship Exchange.
Coincidently, Stern was one of the delegates.
“It’s out of this world. It’s very exciting, given we’re so very far apart,” says the Tasmanian, hugging MacFarlane, prior to a welcome dinner at Stratford Town Hall this past Wednesday.
Her P.E.I. friend agrees.
“Never in a million years did I ever think we would ever meet again. Charlottetown, P.E.I., and Hobart, Tasmania, are about as far apart a two capitals on earth can be,” says MacFarlane who learned in August that a Rotary Friendship team from Tasmania would be visiting P.E.I. in early October.
“Jim Fraser, our club’s program chair, approached me to have them come to our meeting, so I worked with him to organize it,” she says.
Immediately, she sent a note to Stern to tell her the news.
“Claudia wrote back and said, ‘I know. I’m part of the team,’ What a coincidence,’ “ laughs MacFarlane.
It was one of the special moments that took place at the meeting, which was hosted by the Rotary Club of Stratford.
Another was the experience of Dianne Hicks Morrow who took part in a writer’s exchange in Tasmania last year.
“It was a reunion in that it made me nostalgic and wanting to go back again. Hearing the Tassie accents brought it all back to me,” says Morrow, P.E.I.’s poet laureate, who entertained members with poems she had written about their homeland.
“The people are so much fun and have such a great sense of humour. They’re great islanders like Newfoundlanders and Prince Edward Islanders.”
Later, after a slide presentation by the Australians about a cataract clinic and a water project in Nepal, the two Rotary friends had a further chance to catch up.
“We discovered that, besides Rotary, we share a passion for companion animals.... We cat people like to stick together,” says MacFarlane, with a laugh.
Her Australian friend agrees.
“I have two cats and two dogs, at the moment. But before I moved to Tasmania, I lived on a farm in New South Wales in mainland Australia, We had a cattle breeding farm, so I had about 1,000 head of cattle as pets,” Stern says.
When the conversation returns to Rotary, MacFarlane shares her main passion is Polio Plus. In this program Rotary, along with its partners, has reduced polio cases by 99 per cent worldwide since its first project to vaccinate
children in the Philippines in 1979.
“My other passions are clean water and literacy — helping out and giving back to the local an international community. We are a worldwide organization of community volunteers,” she says.
Although they live miles apart, their lives are similar. In her club, Stern organizes the annual charity art show.
“My other passions are exactly the same (as Joan’s). That’s why I joined Rotary in the first place. I want to give back,” she says.
Will there by another reunion?
Time will tell, says MacFarlane.
“No, I’m not considering going to Tasmania, but there’s always another Rotary International convention,” she says.
AT A GLANCE
Rotary Friendship Exchange facts
On P.E.I., the Tasmanians were hosted by the Hillsborough Rotary Club, the Charlottetown Rotary Club and the Rotary Club of Charlottetown Royalty.
During their visit, participants visited Gateway Village, Victoria-by-the-Sea, Green Gables house, North Rustico Harbour, Red Head Harbour, North Lake, Souris, Fortune Harbour, Cardigan and Georgetown. They also stopped for lunch with Sandra and Gordon MacKay of the Rotary Club of Charlottetown and took in a tour of P.E.I. Mussel King Inc.
They enjoyed tea and a tour of Government House in Charlottetown with Lt.-Gov. Frank Lewis and his wife, Dorothy Lewis, and a walking tour of downtown Charlottetown with Hank and Rowena Stinson. They concluded their stay with dinner and entertainment at Red Shores Racetrack and Casino in Charlottetown.
The visit was co-hosted by Jim Fraser of the Hillsborough Rotary Club and Sandra MacKay of the Charlottetown Rotary Club.
Fraser says it was an terrific experience: “It was an excellent group. Their culture and ours are so similar that they fit in immediately. They live on an island, so they have many of the same issues that we do. They have the same trouble crossing on the ferry that we do.”
Rotary Friendship Exchange is an international program for Rotarians and their spouses/significant others that provides participants with the opportunity to experience other cultures by staying in the homes of Rotarians, visiting their clubs and participating in the lifestyle/activities of their communities. The goals of the exchange are to advance international understanding and peace through visits across borders as well as to promote inter club relationships, fellowships and service projects.