Rotarians, Lions weep for tsunami victims

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, January 5, 2005

When the earth shudders and the sea rages, deep calls to deep, evoking expressions of our highest humanity. And so, in this first column of 2005, I'd like to share with you how two great international service organizations represented in Cochrane have responded to the Boxing Day earthquake and tsunami that have devastated South Asia.

I have long been a fan of the community-building initiatives of Rotary and Lions clubs. Their spirit of cooperation is attested to locally by the development of the long-awaited Bow RiversEdge Campground, the four-season premier facility opening June 1.

Knowing the reputation of Lions and Rotary members for responding to global crises, I thought I'd see what an Internet Google search might reveal about their response to the Indian Ocean catastrophe. What I found was quite stirring, especially comments by club members in the countries most affected.

I began my Google search one week after the tsunami hit. My first search string consisted of two words: "Rotary tsunami". This turned up 22,500 links, most of these relating to Rotary's efforts – as expressed in an official letter from Rotary International to Rotarians worldwide – "to help rebuild the future for hundreds of thousands of innocent people impacted by this crisis."

My second string, "Lions tsunami", resulted in over 168,000 links, many of these relating to Lions' relief efforts (although other links related to animals, sports organizations, and other associations). "Urgent financial assistance is now required for day to day essentials such as water, shelter, clothing and medical supplies," declared one letter from the Lions Clubs International Foundation.

My third string, "Rotary Lions tsunami", yielded particularly impressive results: 1,210 links, often demonstrating the closest of cooperation between the two service groups.

Many of these links, both Rotary and Lions, were datelined within hours of the first news getting out. They came from what must be nearly every country in the world: from Mexico, Ghana, the United Kingdom, Australia, Japan, the United States, Canada – indeed, from every continent, including Antarctica.

Antarctica? According to the New Zealand news Web site TVNZ, passengers on a New Year's Eve Qantas jumbo jet flying over the frozen continent raised $12,600 for the Rotary Tsunami Disaster Fund.

But what moved me most were statements originating within the affected countries themselves.

According to the online edition of The Macomb Daily (a Michigan-based newspaper), Rotary has nearly 100,000 members, and Lions 73,000 members, in Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Thailand and India, the four hardest-hit countries.

Early on, while tsunami death estimates were still way down in the 5,000 range instead of the 150,000 range that's apparent as I'm writing, the Rotarian district governor in Bali, upon hearing of the plight of residents on the island of Nias, set about immediately organizing medical relief to the island.

Lions International's first Indian president, Ashok Mehta, offered this practical hope to the affected areas: "Apart from medicines, ration and cooking utensils," he said, "we are also providing help for cremation of bodies to prevent outbreak of diseases." He promised Lions' long-term assistance in rebuilding schools, housing and health facilities.

From the devastated coast of southern India, Rotarian Srinivasa Gobalan writes from his own pain and reflects the shared values of Lions and Rotarians alike:

"We are sitting grim – with thousands of departed souls, hundreds of orphaned children and how many you do not know of the cruelly punished parents whose children were washed away by the monster called Tsunami. Is this a cry? Is this criticizing nature? I do not know. I am dazed. All I know is that God (if you believe there is one above us) has spared me so I could tell you the tale of suffering of my people in South India. What can you do after reading this message? All I know is that Rotarians everywhere," – and Lions, too, I might add – "whatever be their colour, creed or clime, have one thing in common:

"A kind heart which weeps at the sorrow of others."

© 2005 Warren Harbeck

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