Attendance doubles at 2008 Rotary-UN Day Youth Program
Herrera describes RYLA's Leadership Through Adventure program to participants of the Youth Program at Rotary International Day at the United Nations. Rotary Images/Alyce Henson
Thomas Betjeman, a 1998 Rotary Youth Exchange student, gained a new focus for his life during his year living with host families in Chile.
Betjeman shared his experiences, which eventually led to his joining the Peace Corps and applying to medical school, with more than 650 youth who attended the Youth Program during Rotary International Day at the United Nations in New York City on 8 November.
Organized by Helen B. Reisler, alternate RI representative to the UN and past district governor, the program had twice the attendance of last year's event, and featured more than 20 speakers, mostly youth from Interact, Rotaract, RYLA, and Rotary Youth Exchange. Speakers encouraged the audience to get involved with Rotary youth programs.
Betjeman said after his year as an exchange student, he returned to the United States with a commitment to helping people in developing countries. He joined the Peace Corps after college and later worked on a project to eliminate Guinea worm disease in Mali. He is applying to medical school and intends to work in the field of international health.
“This is your chance to find yourself,” Betjeman said of Rotary Youth Exchange opportunities.
Jacqueline Law, president of the Rotaract Club of Vassar College in Poughkeepsie , New York , USA, spoke about the Vassar Uganda Project, which seeks to bring sustainable health care to Uganda’s most vulnerable populations. The premed student volunteers traveled to Uganda twice this year to bring medical supplies and services to people in need.
"When I was [volunteering] in Kaberamaido [Uganda], a man told me that perhaps the greatest thing we had given the people was hope,” Law said. “Hope, he said, was the most powerful medicine.”
Taking it up a notch
Omar Herrera spoke about his experiences with both Interact and RYLA. The Rotaractor and freshman at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Florida, was also a member of the Interact Club of Ossining, New York, for four years.
Herrera described a RYLA Leadership Through Adventure program, which uses activities such as hiking, rock climbing, and caving to develop leadership skills, build teamwork, and teach risk-taking.
“Instead of regular youth leadership conferences, where the participants sit and talk, we took it up a notch,” Herrera said.
The youth program also featured headliners Tom Henderson, founder and CEO of ShelterBox, and Drew Persons from The Sold Project, which seeks to raise awareness about and eliminate child trafficking.
Many of the youth found the program inspiring and motivating.
“I learned that we do have to get involved, more than we already are,” said Evan Merrill, 13, a high school freshman and Interactor from Naugatuck, Connecticut, USA. His sister, Anna, 16, added that she was particularly impressed with ShelterBox.
At the conclusion of the program, RI President Dong Kurn Lee told the youth: “You know now how much there is to be done. Now is the time to make service a part of your life -- to begin to put Service Above Self.”