Rotary in China
We first learned of Rotarians helping ShelterBox in North Korea but found a trail across the world. We tell you how it works.
Rotary is a worldwide network with connections in many places from the slums of the underdeveloped countries to the wealth and extravagance of the highly developed western nations. Its connections reach into countries that are thought of as unreachable and one such country is North Korea.
Through connections with China and reaching right across the world to Canada Rotarians have been able to work with North Koreans to make an impact and improve people’s lives. We were intrigued about DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) so we spoke with the person who has developed Rotary in China and made the connection into North Korea over quite a number of years, Randal Eastman. Randal was the Rotary International Representative in China until this year and we spoke with him from Shanghai. Randal explained, “Rotary in China has had a long, colourful and turbulent history. In October 1919 the first Chinese Rotary club was chartered and several followed taking the number to 43 in 39 cities. However in 1952 Rotary ceased to operate in China of its own volition - a decision taken by Rotary International. In 1996 Rotarians began meeting in Beijing regularly, and from 2006 the membership grew and clubs began to charter and in 2014 the Rotary International Board recognised new clubs in China.”
I wanted to clear up with Randal the present situation in China in terms of people being allowed to join Rotary. He explained, “We have guidelines that the Rotary International Board has set for us and the latest version is very clear in that only ex-patriots and Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau passport holders can be members of clubs and the reason for that is not that the Chinese government have passed any specific legislation against us but our organisations are not legally registered therefore for local people to join is a bit of a danger for them. To get round this we have invited locals to be Honorary Members for about three years now and we have no problem with that.”
To get a feel of how Rotary is working in China we had to ask how many members and clubs there are. “We have a total of 18 clubs in China with around 450 members - four of the clubs are in Beijing and three are in Shanghai,” Randal told me before then reeling o a list of other towns covering mostly the eastern part of China. There are also other clubs in various stages of formation.
Randal had got involved with Rotary back in his native country Canada and after completing an MBA he joined the Rotary Club of London, Canada and was a member for two years before he moved to Shanghai. He told us, “Rotary was not strong in China but I was quite hooked and when I moved there were no clubs and I tried to change that.” And he has done that since his performance and the outcome speaks for itself.
It is great that Rotary is prospering in China but we were also interested in North Korea and how people there were being helped so we ventured to find out by talking with Tom Wilkinson a member of the Rotary Club of Charlottetown Royalty on Prince Edward Island, Canada and mentioned by Randal several times. Tom explained, “It all came about when we were asked to host an agricultural delegation from DPRK. Just three delegates, and at that time they were the Director of International Trade and Economic Cooperation and Education, the Vice President of the Academy of Agricultural Sciences and a specialist involved with potato production and oilseed crops. They were all senior officers within the DPRK regime and were hosted primarily by Rotarians across clubs on Prince Edward Island.
“The relationship and connections were developed and a request to Randal Eastman in China to supply a large solar oven for an orphanage in the Pyongyang area as well as 500 children’s wheelchairs for victims of a major explosion in Rongchang was made and met. Soon after a network was established called ‘The Korean Friendship Network’ with the help and support extending even further.”
Tom went on to tell us about more projects, “An operating theatre in South Pyongan Province was renovated when we worked with The Rotary Club of Shanghai alongside their Rotaract club. We have a long list of giving help over a period of time working with Chinese Rotarians and the Korean Friendship Network. We packed and shipped 273,000 MannaPack Rice meals for 800 orphans in five centres. Many doubted that this aid would reach the beneficiaries however with the connection in North Korea we know the aid is getting to the right people. In 2012 after devastating typhoons and massive flooding we arranged for ShelterBox Response Teams to visit and deploy over 100 ShelterBoxes. We also worked with the Rotary International Plant Solutions Rotarian Action Group and a colleague Dr Winston Johnson produced a report on the production of food crops in North Korea.” Tom mentioned many other projects and pointed out that not only his club but Rotary clubs across Canada were instrumental in helping Randal and his colleagues in China reach out to North Korea.
As we were going to publication we learned about the recent flooding in North Korea and wondered what help was being made available. We were told that ShelterBox is trying to make contact to assess what is required and is working with Rotarian colleagues in the region.
In talking with Randal Eastman and Tom Wilkinson we were encouraged by the humanitarian aid getting through to North Korea through the development of Rotary in China. It demonstrates the resolve of Rotarians who want to help and the way we can use the Rotary network and fellowship to achieve this.
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