It was Afghanistan Night at the Rotary Club of Ryde, and this was another of our great nights this year. Project Director and PP Rob Mitchell proposed the Loyal Toast after the Rotary Grace, and I welcomed the visitors, who had come to help us celebrate, including local federal member Mr John Alexander, John Booth and Ulrike Eichmeyer from the Weekly Times Newspaper, Guest Speaker James Brown, representatives of the Hazara Community and tireless Indigo Foundation workers Ali Yunespour and Salman Jan, and Indigo Foundation representative Alice Davies, filling in for Sally Stevenson.
For Rotary District 9680 we had District International Service Chair PP Peter Kindred from the Rotary Club of Chatswood. Several other visitors and our ever-supportive wives were welcomed to this very important night celebrating a major milestone in a project run under our International Avenue of Service.
Project Director, Rob Mitchell was MC of our celebration of the successful construction of the School in Borjegai. Rob has been the driving force of this project, both strategically and in the day-to-day project management. He acknowledged the contribution of Anwar Haidari, who still lives in Afghanistan, so could not attend our night.
Alice Davies is Secretary of the Management Committee at the Indigo Foundation, having met Sally Stevenson in Ethiopia in 2008 where they were both working for Médecins Sans Frontières. She thanked Ryde Rotary for helping the poor by building their capacity to help themselves.
Ali Yunespour spoke on “How I came to Rotary”; many of us knew some of the story having known Ali for several years. In 2006 he represented Marsden High School at MUNA, and later that year we selected him for sponsorship to the Rotary Youth Leadership Award week. Ali gave us the best "sell" of RYLA I have heard so far. At the end of the week Ali understood that leadership requires ability, hard work and resources, so he came to Ryde Rotary looking for resources to build a School in his homeland. He thanked PP Rob Mitchell for all the lessons learned over the last 18 months as they worked on the Borjegai Project together. The only thing Ali got wrong was when he said he was sad "the Hazara people were not represented here tonight." They were, and well, by Ali himself.
Introducing Salman Jan, Rob pointed out that the Indigo Foundation's first school in Afghanistan was Salman's initiative, and that this gave us the confidence to invest in the Borjegai School. Salman talked us through a video of the school project giving us a good understanding of the horrific terrain; something like the Southern Alps without the trees. "Travel through Ghazni province is hazardous", he understated.
Then it was my turn to present a Paul Harris Fellow Recognition to Salman Jan, which of course was a surprise to Salman. My citation was along these lines;
“At Ryde Rotary, we try to give Paul Harris Fellow Recognition each year to a local person or persons outside the Club who have demonstrated SERVICE ABOVE SELF in their community service actions. In 1957, the Rotary Foundation launched the Paul Harris Fellowship in memory of the founder of Rotary as an expression of appreciation for those who have contributed to the Foundation's humanitarian and educational programs.
A contribution of US$1,000 is made to the Rotary Foundation in the name of each individual to be honoured. The recipients receive a pin, a medallion and a certificate that identify them as advocates of the Foundation's goals of world peace and understanding. After more than forty years, recognition as a Paul Harris Fellow remains a respected and prestigious honour for Rotarians and non-Rotarians alike.
The board has voted to present a Paul Harris Fellow recognition to Salman Jan, the Indigo Foundation member who was our man on the ground in Borjegai. This recognition in no way minimises the efforts of other Indigo Foundation members in this Project, but without Salman to be our eyes and ears in Borjegai, the project of building the school would not have been possible.
As far as I know he's the only friend of Rotary who has actually risked his life for a Ryde Project. We decided the presentation should be made at this celebration of the completion of the Borjegai School. On behalf of the Rotary Club of Ryde I have great pleasure in recognising Salman's personal contribution to the Borjegai School Project and to the Rotary Club of Ryde by presenting him with a Paul Harris Fellow recognition.”
Our Guest speaker James Brown is a Military Associate at the Lowy Institute of International Policy, and served in the ADF in Afghanistan. He broke his back in a bicycle accident last week and is getting married next week, so it was a heroic effort to honour his commitment to speak to us. In Hospital his fiancé pointed out that the cricket box was invented in 1864 to protect the male testes, while the bicycle helmet was only invented in 1965 – Typically, men took a Century longer to realise they should protect their brains as well. I'm not sure where she was going with this story, but no doubt the partners will figure it out.
He described a chaotic land of hundreds of valleys full of corrupt officials and insurgents.
Taliban members, narcotics warlord's gangsters and human traffickers are mixed into the local population. He told of a young US Army Officer who found himself Judge in a trial of a 17-year-old boy tried as a terrorist, and of the hope offered by German contractors building roads to link isolated communities. The hope is that the improved communications will lead to a world view larger than that formed by "Mother, Mullah and Mosque". James’s method of explaining the security issue in Afghanistan by focusing on one small valley conveyed his clear and powerful message that any solutions in that country are tied to continuing infrastructure development and education of the population. He applauded our efforts in Borjegai as being in line with that conviction.
His final slide showed our school on the left and three people on the right, and he spoke at length about the corruption and lack of ethics in both the legal and illegal groups in Afghanistan. I strained my eyes to focus on the three corrupt Warlords on the screen only to realise it was a photo of Bill, Adrian and Burkhart on graffiti patrol!
I would like to acknowledge the efforts of PP Geoff Brennan in organising this night, and of PP Rob Mitchell in taking Ali's request for assistance and driving it all the way through to delivery of the Borjegai School over two Rotary Years. It's been a great effort and we thank you, and the Indigo Foundation. You have made our Rotary theme come alive: Building Communities, and Bridging Continents!
President Allen Horrell