Rotarians from different continents rekindle friendship
O.A. Oni (left) and Astrid Urbye are rekindling their friendship in Birmingham, England, after meeting at the 2008 RI Convention in Los Angeles. Rotary Images/Monika Lozinska-Lee
Astrid Urbye's feet were killing her when she took a seat on a bench next to O.A. Oni at the 2008 RI Convention in Los Angeles.
The two, both Rotarians, struck up a conversation and chatted for 15 minutes before going their separate ways. Urbye, of Norway, and Oni, of Nigeria, kept in contact over e-mail throughout the year.
When Urbye arrived at this year's convention in Birmingham, England, she began to look for Oni, even though they had made no formal plans to meet. They eventually ran into each other and quickly made plans to rekindle their friendship over dinner Monday night in downtown Birmingham.
"This is what Rotary can lead to," said Urbye, a theatrical agent and member of the Rotary Club of Drøbak. "It is about building bridges and leading the way."
"Rotary is a melting pot," agreed Oni, medical director of the Clinic on the Hill in New Bodija and a member of the Rotary Club of Ibadan-West, Oyo State. "In Rotary, you can approach a person and know right away that you have something in common. Immediately, you blend in and your thoughts collide, and it's like you have been good friends for decades."
Oni's service to Rotary is impressive. He received The Rotary Foundation Citation for Meritorious Service in 1993, the RI Service Above Self Award in 1995, and the Foundation's Distinguished Service Award in 1996.
Over dinner, he talked about the leprosy project his club sponsored with the help of a club in Atlanta, Georgia, USA. Urbye listened enthusiastically as Oni shared details of his club's literacy project with a district in Illinois, USA, to provide books for the University of Nigeria.
"He is really quite amazing," said Urbye. "I can see why he has been given some of the highest awards."
Oni has already signed up for the 2010 RI Convention in Montréal, Québec, Canada. It will be his 16th convention. Urbye said she plans to attend too, even though as an independent business owner, she doesn't have a lot of extra cash.
"I am not a rich woman. I work hard for my money. But this is my one trip of the year," she said. "It is well worth it."