Our main guest speaker this week was Denis Heslin Jnr, who talked about the Friendship Exchange in January to India.
 
The Friendship Exchange involved 12 members from District 9820, who represented 8 clubs.  Over 14 days, they were hosted by Rotarians from District 2980, the anagram of District numbers was found quite humorous by our hosts.  Aside from being guests of honour at many Club Meetings, including 6 Cluster Meetings, they were guided to many Rotary projects within the State of Tamil Nadu.  
 
Denis reported that the hospitality of their hosts was very generous and food became an issue, as when they cleared their plates the host would produce more food thinking that they were still hungry.  Therefore, they quickly learned to leave some food on the plate to signify that they were finished.
 
The Rotary meetings were all very different, some were very structured, alcohol free and vegetarian, yet others were very informal banquets.  Furthermore, gender equality has a long way to go in India.  Generally, their Rotary Clubs are either entirely male or female.
 
One club owns approximately 160 acres and provides housing in ‘nursing home’ style for the elderly.
 
Adequate education is a problem in India, as teacher salaries are very low.  As a result, mothers tend to do the teaching.  It costs $260 a year to teach a child.  Schools make use of "Smart Boards", which are linked to a computer presentation on a rear projector.  In this way, they try to standardise the education.
 
Denis's favourite visit was to the SOS Children's Village in Nagapattinam.  SOS is located all over the world and helps in creating a family unit for children to live under the house guidance of a ‘house mother’, who is more than likely a woman who is a widow, or has been subjected to domestic violence and is in need of a safer environment. 
 
He plans to return to SOS Nagapattinam in 2020 to provide a sporting program to local schools that he has recently established with some like minded friends.
 
The Pongal Festival was celebrated while they were there.  Pongal is the celebration of harvest and is a time for families and communities to gather for four days of celebration.  The energy and atmosphere they experienced at these rural festivals was a highlight of the trip. The local people were so giving of their environment with no expectation of anything in return, other than for the visitors to enjoy their culture.
 
Denis found the experience very humbling.  The Indians were very easy to bond with, particularly on the subject of cricket and he found their energy amazing, regardless of their age or level of wealth.
 
One interesting point he discovered was that both Australia and India celebrate the 26th January.  Australia Day celebrates the arrival of the British, whereas the Indians celebrate their departure from the sub-continent.
 
One of the best outcomes of the Friendship Exchange in his view, was the fellowship generated between Rotarians.