In addition to this there are Ukrainian who are unable to leave Ukraine as refugees due to regulations that have been set. Considering the unfortunate situation faced by Ukrainians due to this war we as Rotaractors of Rotaract club of Alumni of University of Moratuwa, Sri Lanka (RID 3220) together with Rotaract club of T.E.A.M Baia Mare, Romania (RID 2241) brings “Stronger Together”, a fundraising campaign to send materials such as blankets and disposable tableware that are required help support the refugees in Romania.
𝐒𝐭𝐚𝐭𝐬 𝐨𝐧 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐏𝐚𝐧𝐝𝐞𝐦𝐢𝐜 is an initiative by Rotaract Club of Alumni of University of Moratuwa highlight some quantitative data of various countries related to the pandemic in reminiscence of the journey that we have gone through together during the pandemic.
COVID 19, first identified in Wuhan, China, and the World Health Organization declared it a pandemic on the 11th of March 2020. It has been more than 2 years since then and a lot has happened. With more than 500 millions COVID-19 cases and 6 million plus deaths reported throughout the world, people have struggled to carry on their lives while adjusting to a new norm.
With countless awareness sessions, social distancing, moving to virtual platforms, a number of COVID-19 waves, on and off lockdowns, a variety of variants of the virus, economic downturns, discovery of vaccines and the process of immunization, people have come a long way to where they are right now.
If a Rotaractor is to travel the world, he or she is bound to meet a Rotaract friend in any corner of the world, especially when the “Rotaract Couch” Facebook group is making millions of Rotaract connections. So, when myself and my partner Rtr. Himantha decided to visit Paris, we too posted in ‘Rotaract Couch’. We got several welcoming replies and some Rotaractors were even willing to help with accommodation.
One of the cheering replies were from Rtr. PP Sakshi Anand (Rotaract Club of Delhi Akash) who is studying in Paris. Much to our surprise, and hers, Rtr. Himantha and Rtr. Sakshi had a letterhead exchanged between our clubs when Rtr. Himantha visited India for Rotasia 2020. Rtr. Sakshi suggested her colleague Rtr. Dolphy Chawla who was also made an acquaintance then would like to meet us. So, we were all excited to meet again in a different land, flourishing the old friendships even more.
Due to the tight schedule we had, we were limited to spending a short but memorable evening on the 10th of April with our Rotaract friends. Initially, we planned to meet at the Eiffel tower, but due to time constraints we decided to take the Paris ‘Big Bus Tour’ from Notre dame cathedral to ‘Arc de Triomphe’. Two of us had quite a trouble stepping onto the bus because we couldn’t find the correct big bus stop and Google maps made us take rounds for nearly an hour. When we were almost thinking of giving up and turning back, luckily, we caught the much-awaited ‘big bus’ ride.
Finally, we met at Arc de Triomphe, the great monument in Paris dedicated to fallen soldiers. It says that beneath the Arc there is a Tomb of an Unknown Soldier from World War I. We watched the daily 6.30 PM rekindling ritual of the eternal flame torched in remembrance of those who defended France.
Along with Rtr. Sakshi and Rtr. Dolphy, it was a pleasure to meet Dean Simons, the beloved brother of Rtr. Craig Leon, the lovely moderator of Rotaract Couch. We didn’t miss the chance to take photographs in the middle of the street posing with the iconic monument. ‘Arc de Triomphe’ was just as glorious as we heard it to be, colored by the golden dusk by the evening sun.
After the warm greetings and introductions, we strolled down the elite street of Champs-Élysées. In French, Champs-Élysées’ means the mythical Greek paradise, the Elysian Fields. Today it is renowned as the third most expensive street in the world with high-end shops and cafes. It is also famous as the site of the Tour de France’s final stage and holds the annual Bastille Day military parade.
Our hosts of the evening suggested that we taste the best of Falafel in town at LA’s. Falafel is a Middle Eastern cuisine with deep-fried ball shaped made from chickpeas. It is commonly served in a pita or wrapped in a flatbread. There are many flavours and ingredients, which you can select upon your liking. We took Metro Line 1 from George V metro station in Champs-Élysées to reach Saint-Paul metro station. We then walked for about 5 minutes to reach LA’s.
At first, we were wondering why this specific shop, but when we reached there, we realized why it is. Though there were other Falafel shops on the street, this shop had a very long queue and we had to wait around half an hour to grab ours. One member from the staff came to us in the queue and collected our order, while enabling us to make the payment as well. Then once we reached the front of the queue, we were able to customize the Falafel by adding different ingredients & flavors. After staying in the queue for almost one hour, we tasted a scrumptious Falafel treated by our new friend Dean. We tried the vege spicy flavour and it was one of the best Falafels we ever had.
The clock ticked very fast as we chattered endlessly about our interests, countries, culture and how Rotaract connects people together. It was indeed a very lively and memorable evening and with promises to meet another time we bid farewell.
When the initial plan for the visit to Switzerland was set, Lucerne was identified as a central city where multiple attractions are based in the vicinity. As a result, multiple days were allocated to explore the area, hence an additional time to bond with any Rotaract clubs based in Lucerne. When the list of available clubs in Switzerland was scrutinized, we found RAC Luzern, which is a community-based club located in Lucerne. The next step was to get in touch with them. A simple message to the Facebook page of RAC Luzern was warmly greeted by the President-Elect Rtr. Milena Aregger. Rather than being limited to a typical meetup, she invited us to visit her home in Lucerne for a traditional Swiss Dinner!
On the eve of the dinner, we managed to have a glimpse of the city of Lucerne. Lucerne is a city mixed with both modern and medieval architecture. Bordered by the picturesque Lake Lucerne, this city’s attractiveness is heightened by the Mount Pilatus, which stands tall in the outskirts, which is being proudly spoken by the locals. Lion’s Memorial has been built to commemorate the Swiss guards that were killed during the French revolution.
Museggmauer or the City walls is another historical attraction situated within the city. There are 9 watch towers within Museggmauer, which provide a panoramic view of the city. It is fair to say that the Kapellbrücke or the Chapel bridge situated in Lucerne city center is the most popular attraction out of all. A covered wooden footbridge spanning across River Reuss add a sense of antiqueness to the city architecture and is the oldest of its kind in Europe.
Around 6.15 pm in the evening on 19th April, we were picked up from the Lucerne Railway Station by the Director – Program, Rtr. Monica Odermatt. After driving through the streets in the city, we moved to a highway. Rtr. Monica explained how the highways in Switzerland work. Apart from the normal speed lanes, there is a fast lane on the highway as well. An annual toll sticker has to be purchased for passenger cars, trucks and pasted on the windshields. If you break the speed limits or highway rules, the fine will be sent to your home through an email. One unlucky passenger car provided us a live demonstration on how automated speed cameras capture over-speeding on the highway. After a half an hour drive through the outskirts of Lucerne, we reached Milena’s home.
Rtr. Milena gave us a warm welcome and accompanied us to the dinner table. We were joined by Rtr. Sarah, the Director of IT & Finance of RAC Luzern. The table was coloured with Raclette Cheese, Pizza ingredients, vegetables and Easter bunnies. We were provided with a detailed introduction of each food item and ingredient on the table by Rtr. Milena. A variety of Raclette Cheese such as peppered, smoked, paprika, garlic were available on the table. Boiled potatoes, cornichons & pineapple were also available to be consumed with Raclette Cheese. Rivella, the famous Swiss juice was available as a beverage. Monika & Sarah helped us in preparing our dinner and demonstrated how to melt Raclette Cheese in the specially made grill.
During the dinner, we discussed about the service rendered by the two clubs, along with the administrative structure. Being a club focusing primarily on fellowship, Rtr. Milena explained about the club service activities of RAC Luzern. Similarity, we emphasized on the community service activities and other avenue project that are being organized by RAC Alumni Mora.
After conversing about club activities, the discussion moved into personal lives. Milena is a nurse at a hospital in Lucerne by profession, Monica is a caretaker of senior citizens at an elders’ home and Sarah is a dancing instructor. It was nice to get a glimpse of their lifestyle in Switzerland as it was totally different to the ones of us Asians. Rtr. Milena elaborated about her visit to Sri Lanka in last November. She has stayed two weeks at a resort in Weligama and has enjoyed surfing during her stay. We were glad to hear that she knows about Mangroves and their importance in preventing coastal erosion.
After a sumptuous dinner, Rtr. Milena accompanied us to her home garden. She introduced the vegetables, flowers, herbs and fruit plants in the garden and even prompted us to check the fragrance. The kind of plants found in her garden was quite unique to us as we do not see those varieties in our locals. She explained about the crop season and how well her mother maintains the home garden. Rtr. Milena then picked a few leaves from the peppermint plant and prepared peppermint flavoured tea for us. Hands down, that was one of the best flavoured teas that we have ever tasted.
Gifts, tokens and letterheads were exchanged between the two clubs. RAC Luzern had prepared a set of valuable gifts which we are very thankful for. As the dusk turned into the dark, we bid adieu to the lovely Rotaractors from Lucerne. Rtr. Monika was very kind enough to drop us back to Lucerne Railway Station after we bid farewell to Rtr Milena.
It was one of the best hospitalities we have ever experienced during a Rotaract International visit.
The train from Palézieux was passing through the UNESCO-listed Lavaux Vineyard Terraces. It was the early summer, so the little saplings of grapes were just coming out to add a pinch of greenery to the brown soil. The sun was peeping over the Lake Geneva, just as to say he is done with his day’s proceedings. Even though quite alien for us Asians, the summer-sun in Switzerland was supposed to set around 8.30 pm on that day. After a few minutes of ride from Lavaux vineyard terraces, we got down at the Lausanne Railway Station around 6.48 pm.
Two weeks ago, a simple message sent to the Facebook page of Rotaract Club of Lausanne initiated a fruitful conversation between the Secretary of RAC Lausanne and myself over a possible meetup. As a result, we were invited by RAC Lausanne to attend their monthly meeting for the month of April on the 11th.
The meeting was to commence at 7.00 pm, and since there was another 10 minutes more with just a few hundred meters to cover from the Lausanne Railway Station, we set off at a leisurely pace. However, we were proved wrong on our decision as the road started to go over a hill. Eventually, we were half drained out when we reached Rue Centrale 6 in Lausanne around 7.05 pm, where the meeting location was situated.
We were warmly welcomed outside the meeting room by the Secretary of RAC Lausanne – Rtr. Laetitia Rolland and were accompanied to the meeting room. At the meeting, we were greeted by Immediate Past President – Rtr. Tomas Franceschin, Vice President – Rtr. Jennifer Roux, Treasurer – Rtr. Alexandre Nguyen and another member (whom I couldn’t remember the name, unfortunately).
After settling down and introducing each other, we were invited to commence our presentation. The presentation commenced with an introduction to the RID3220 – Sri Lanka & Maldives, clubs, membership & the type of projects that are being carried out. Then it moved on to an introduction of Rotaract Cub of Alumni of University of Moratuwa, why the club was chartered & the member-base and the key initiatives carried out by the club.
The presentation lasted about 7 minutes & our hosts were thoroughly impressed by the service carried out by Roataractors in Sri Lanka. The floor was opened for questions afterwards. Rtr. Laetitia broke the shackles with a question on the member base of RAC Alumni Mora and we explained that the club is only open for the final year undergrads & graduates of University of Moratuwa. Rtr. Tomas then pitched in with a question on the population of Sri Lanka and the general age of Rotaractors in the country. Switzerland’s population is just 8.6 million, which is less than half of that of Sri Lanka, so he asked whether most of the Sri Lankan Rotaractors are young. We explained that most of the Rotaractors are in the age group of 22-26 years in general, but there are senior Rotaractors also, who are still active in the movement.
Rtr. Alexandre then threw in a question on the meeting frequency. We explained that before the pandemic, we used to at least meet twice a month, but it was cut down to Zoom sessions during COVID & now we meet at least once a month with the relaxation of COVID protocols. He then asked about the number of people attending the meetings; we responded saying it’s for the projects that most members attend to and for a meeting, it’s about 1/3rd of the membership at maximum. He then inquired about the involvement of Rotary in projects. We elaborated on how Rotary clubs provide guidance in organizing projects as well as the financial support given for some of the projects.
Rtr. Tomas then threw in a question asking whether the funding for projects is mainly from private entities, government organizations or personal donors. We enlightened that the major financial support is provided by private entities, while the support from government entities & personal donors is quite insignificant. Rtr. Tomas mentioned that it’s quite difficult to get the support of private entities in Switzerland to sponsor the projects. Adding more, Rtr. Prabodha mentioned that the senior Rotaractors also chip in with donations & funds to support club activities whenever required. Rtr. Alexandre further went ahead to inquire about the number of Rotaractors joining Rotary clubs. We explained that the rate of Rotaractors joining Rotary was quite low, but with the chartering of new clubs which comprise of a majority of Rotaractors, the rate has improved.
After the Q&A session we had a nice chat about the projects done by RAC Lausanne and the Rotaract movement in Switzerland. Though there are around 19 Rotaract Clubs in Switzerland, these clubs belong to 3 separate Rotary International Districts. The Rotary Districts involved are: RID 1980, RID 1990 & RID 2000. All these three districts combine to make Rotaract Committee of Switzerland & Liechtenstein. This committee accounts for around 420 Rotaractors in Switzerland & Liechtenstein.
At the end of the discussion, we exchanged souvenirs with our hosts, in the form of Sri Lankan traditional key tags depicting masks & elephants. As the Rotaractors from RAC Lausanne were interested in the story behind the masks, we elaborated the cultural background. As the day turned into the dusk, we bid adieu to the lovely Rotaractors from Lausanne and proceeded to the Lausanne Railway.
When the initial plan for the visit of Switzerland was set, there wasn’t much prominence given to Bern. But due to the fact that Bern being the capital of Switzerland and its unique city architecture, we decided to at least spend half a day in Bern.
On the day before our visit to Bern, we got introduced to the President of RAC Bern Rtr. Michele Serra and the President Elect of RAC Bern, Rtr. Stella Hlawna by the President Elect of RAC Luzern Rtr. Milena. Unfortunately, Rtr. Michele was not available in Bern due to a work commitment, hence we planned to meet up with Rtr. Stella.
After the morning activities on 13th of April, we boarded the train to the Swiss capital Bern from Interlaken East Railway Station. After about an hour’s ride from Interlaken, we reached a quite big railway station of Bern. We were startled to see the station having a platform number ‘50’, but later realized that all the preceding numbers are not included as platforms.
Bern is a city built around a loop in the river Aare in 12th century. The streets in the city resemble medieval architecture and uniqueness when compared to other cities in Switzerland.
The city is characterized by the 16th century fountains situated throughout; hence is known as the city of fountains. Bern’s eleven historic fountains have eye catching figures or colourful sculptures, which are built in remembrance of historical events or social ideals.
The old streets of Bern are decorated with Swiss flags & Bear flags. The name Bern is derived from the German word baren, which means bear. Hence, bear has become the city’s emblem and a black bear striding across a golden banner on a red shield has become the official flag of the canton of Bern. The bear symbol is proudly displayed not only on flags, but also on street signs, license plates, homes etc. There is a designated park dedicated to bears called as the ‘Bear Park’ which is situated on the banks of River Aare. It is a small forest with trees, bushes & caves, where bears can freely roam around. Altogether, there are three bears residing in this bear park.
The parliament building, which is the heart of the Swiss democracy is also situated in Bern. The building houses some parts of the Swiss federal government & federal administration, while the parliament square is a lively meeting place and photogenic spot for visitors. The 26 fountains situated in the parliament square represent the 26 cantons (provinces) of Switzerland.
Zytglogge is a clock tower constructed in the 15th century with moving mechanical figures and an astronomical clock. As the clock strikes the hour, the mechanical figures comprised of a parade of bears, a jester, a golden rooster & Chronos make up a performance.
Käfigturm or the prison tower is where the prisoners were locked up in early days. It is also an important landmark in the UNESCO World Heritage City of Bern. A clock is emblemed on this tower, making it look quite similar to the Zytglogge.
While roaming in the old Bern city, we got the chance to visit a Läderach chocolate shop, which has custom flavoured chocolates. The flavours varied from strawberry, caramel to almond, corn flakes and many more.
Berner Münster or the cathedral of Bern is a premiere attraction in Bern. This cathedral boasts to have the highest church spire in all of Switzerland. The architecture of the church building is exquisite; be it the artistic stained-glass windows, choir vault, sculptures or frescoes. Unfortunately, pictures are not allowed inside the cathedral.
Münsterplattform is a terrace situated next to the cathedral of Bern; a place with a grass lawn, trees & benches to make it an ideal spot of relaxation with a panoramic view of Aare River flowing few tens of meters below. The city of old Bern has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage back in 1983.
After roaming in the old city of Bern, we came back to the Railway station at 5 pm to meet Rtr. Stella. After getting to know each other, Sella suggested that we should visit the Rose Garden, which is quite close to the bear park. On the way, she taught us how to checkout in a supermarket without the cashier by operating the self-checkout barcode machines, which we found very useful in the rest of our tour.
Rose Garden is the best place to get a panoramic view with the old city engulfed in the loop of Aare River that flows beneath. This garden has a variety of flower species, though the name suggests otherwise. Unfortunately, it was early spring, hence we couldn’t experience the true beauty of the garden, which fills up with colourful flowers towards the late spring. A familiar statue of Einstein, where you can take photos with the old city of Bern enthralls the science lovers.
We discussed about the Rotaract projects that are being carried out in each other’s country. She explained about their club member engagement projects and about a week-long children’s camp, a massive annual event where they engage with needy community in Switzerland. We saw much similarities between our community service projects, but we highlighted that Rotaract projects in Sri Lanka focus more on community service since the need for such causes is high.
Apart from the Rotaract stories, we had a quality time discussing our culture, economic & political situations. We were thrilled to find how she loves ‘Vegetable Kottu’ because of her roommate with Sri Lankan origins.
Gifts and letterheads were exchanged between the two clubs. As the evening turned into the dusk, we bid adieu to the lovely Rose Garden and started our journey back towards the Bern Railway Station. It took us close to half an hour for the return journey, where the last bit was a marathon to catch the 7.00 pm train. We bid adieu to Rtr. Stella with a glimpse of hope in meeting her in Austria in the future.
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Facing the Coronavirus, we must cultivate the best of ourselves and rely on science and education, verify any information and share knowledge.
Audrey Azoulay, UNESCO Director – General
“Diary in a Pandemic” is a sub-project of Rotaract Alumni Mora’s initiative, ‘ Battle with Pandemic’. Our International Service avenue proudly delivered the project in collaboration with fellow international Rotaract clubs. The aim of the project was to give an insight into different strategies adopted by different nations to stand against the COVID – 19 global pandemic. We believe that the insight we gained would help nations to reshape their own strategies for effective survival amid the pandemic.
Firstly, we sent invitations to our fellow Rotaract Clubs including the project details. We kindly invited them to collaborate with the project by preparing a video documentary that captures the effect of COVID- 19 on their lives and most importantly their survival stories. Subsequently, we published the first video of the series on the 17th of September 2020 featuring the pandemic story of Malaysia. The final video was about how Sri Lankans battle against the global pandemic.
The first page of the “Diary in Pandemic” was dedicated to Malaysia and we published it on 17th September 2020. Especially, we convey our thanks to Rtr. Kasturi Leoh Linggam of Rotaract Club of Manipal International University for raising her voice across the globe by giving a fresh start to the project.
On the 27th of September 2020, we turned another page of our diary which was about the pandemic story of Canada. Rtr. Josh Fisher, President of Rotaract Club of Kelowna aptly expressed his COVID-19 experience. Their incorporation of state-of-the-art digital mechanisms for emergent communications during the pandemic is worthy to consider.
Cambodia, a developing country splendid with its own heritage stands against the pandemic being an exemplary nation for others. Therefore, the third video added to the diary was from Cambodia. Rtr. Em Chornai from Rotaract Club of Battambang Youth openly described the COVID-19 status there adding some voice cuts from local people as well.
Turning another page, we published the pandemic story of Nepal on 18th October 2020 which was presented by Rtr. Nikita Luitel from Rotaract Club of Kathmandu. She emotionally requested to adapt to the new normal with the hope of surviving the pandemic together by staying apart.
As a leading country in the world, the COVID-19 story of the USA was shared in the diary on 29th October 2020. It was a collective effort of Rotaractors of Oakland Community Rotaract led by its president, Rtr. Brooks. Evidently, it presented the consequences of not taking the threat of this outbreak seriously. They proudly noted the importance of social service carried out by the Rotarians, Rotaractors, and other Grassroots organizations for those in need in a background of social dilemmas.
Certainly, the need of addressing the issues of medical illiteracy, informal jobs, the digital divide, and the gaps between social status is crucial in a pandemic situation. This necessity is highly showcased by the page dedicated to Peru. The video, presented by the Rtr. Jose Plasencia from Rotaract Club of Lima was on the air since 11th November 2020.
As a small island in South Asia, Sri Lanka battles with the pandemic effectively but with limited resources. The free health sector plays a major role in Sri Lankan Covid response. Rtr. Shenali Welikala of Rotaract Club of Alumni of University of Moratuwa raised her voice on behalf of Sri Lanka on 17th January 2021. She pointed out how she used this time to achieve her life goals by facing the challenge positively. Moreover, she conveyed the importance of little preventive efforts that would save our loved ones. All and all as she said, ‘Prevention is better than cure’.
A collective effort of Rotaractors across the globe…
Finally, it needs to remember all the amazing souls behind the successful completion of ‘ Diary in a Pandemic’. Undoubtedly, we would not be able to flip the pages of ‘ Diary in a Pandemic’ without our fellow Rotaractors. They were humble enough to send us their survival stories dedicating their valuable time and effort. Among all, members of our International Service Avenue did a great job from idea generation to coordination throughout this project.
A diary to reshape the future…
In conclusion, ‘Diary in a Pandemic’ brought the survival stories of nations during this global pandemic. It is about how they battle through this adversity, it is to honor the front-line heroes and it is all about our homes and families that keep us safe. In general, humans have the tendency to forget everything easily. Therefore, we believe that our collective effort of archiving our survival stories would be a guiding light not only for now, but also to prevent future adversities as well.