By Steven Sundstrom, RI regional grants officer
As a regional grants officer for Rotary, I spend most of my work time at Rotary headquarters in Evanston, Illinois, USA, working with members around the world, including in Japan. Given the time difference, communication is naturally often by email. The first time I traveled to Japan for work was for the Rotary Institute in Nagoya, Japan. I met many Rotarians in person who I had been emailing for years. We were meeting face to face for the first time, but somehow we were already old friends. “お会いが出来て嬉しいですね！Nice to finally meet you!”
Last year, I traveled on business to Japan a second time for The Rotary Foundation seminar in Kobe. I enjoyed meeting old friends and some new ones who had been actively participating in grants but who I hadn’t met in person yet. Since Rotary is a membership organization, you could say that each member is the face of Rotary. To get to know the Rotarians and have the opportunity to introduce myself in person, I felt like I was finally getting to know Rotary. As a regional grants officer, I advise Rotarians as they plan humanitarian projects, vocational training teams, and scholarships. Knowing Rotarians better allows me to provide better information and guidance.
Last November, in addition to the seminar, I also met with members involved in past global grants to learn more about how Rotarians plan and carry out their grant projects, what ideas they have for future projects, and how I can better support them.
My first meeting was with the host committee that welcomed a four-person vocational training team from Vanuatu to learn about hotel management and hospitality. Committee members Hirotada Yoshioka, Katsumi Nakajima, and Eichi Sato of the Itami Rotary Club explained the steps they took to prepare. They showed team members from Vanuatu how to travel to their training hotels using the rail system, and how to record their expenses and receipts in a notebook. Staff at the hotel said they enjoyed providing the training and working with Rotary. They said the hotel would welcome the opportunity to participate in a global grant again, no doubt thanks to the hard work by Rotarians and the selected training team members.
I also made a day trip to Hiroshima to speak with Dr. Koki Inai of the Hiroshima South Rotary Club, who was the team leader on a project that took place in Cambodia two years ago. This project was a great example of how Rotarians can use their professional skills through a global grant. Dr. Inai is an expert in using telemedicine to examine medical photos remotely. This project improved early detection and treatment of breast cancer. I was familiar with the details on paper before, but meeting Dr. Inai in person, I better understood the years prior to the project, his connection to some of the people in Cambodia, the planning that went into everything, and the outcomes. For example, the local medical professionals in Cambodia are still using the skills they acquired through the grant, and they’ve started a new consultation center in Cambodia. They still enjoy a working relationship today, providing free breast cancer examinations.
I am so thankful for the opportunities I have had to meet with many Rotarians while in Japan. Ikuyo Yanagisawa from the Nara Rotary Club told me all about the project they completed in Fukushima to improve mental health for survivors of 3/11, and Keisuke Hayakawa of the Koriyama North Rotary Club organized a trip to see the workshop where they’re producing rapeseed oil as part of economic development for the area following the earthquake.
There were many more Rotarians I met than I can mention here. Each and every one of them shared with me from the heart, and helped me to understand the heart of Rotary. Even though 14 time zones separate us, I am happy to be part of Rotary around the world, and look forward to working with these people of action as we continue to make positive change in the world.