Multidistrict project fair gets its start during dinner conversation
The Rotary Club of Culiacán Humaya, Sinaloa, Mexico, an all-female club, showcases a service project during the multidistrict fair in November. Photo courtesy of District 4150
A joint project fair between districts 4150 (Mexico) and 5130 (California, USA) arose from a dinner conversation between two California Rotarians who were visiting Mexico.
Eighteen years later, that encounter is still inspiring Rotarians to serve others. More than 150 projects have been sponsored throughout Mexico because of the fair, and US$1.6 million raised.
The idea for the multidistrict project fair, formally known as the Festival of Brotherhood, began in 1992, when a priest overheard two Rotarians discussing Rotary business over dinner in a plaza in Tlaquepaque, Mexico. The priest was involved with Mano Amiga, a nonprofit that facilitates hospice-like care. Familiar with Rotary’s reputation, he approached the pair and began explaining the needs of his organization. The Rotarians were moved by the priest's account and sought the help of the Rotary Club of Guadalajara Chapultepect, Jalisco, on a project to provide reliable transportation for Mano Amiga.
The two districts held their first joint project fair three years later. The event has grown each year and exists for one primary purpose: to review proposals from District 4150 and area nonprofit groups for projects seeking funding through Rotary.
According to Dale Knight, grants coordinator for District 5130 and a member of the Rotary Club of Rohnert Park-Cotati, the event offers her district the chance to collaborate with Rotarians in other clubs and districts on international projects.
“This multidistrict conference is so successful because it allows Rotarians from California to see the maximum amount of projects possible in a short amount of time,” Knight says. “Participants are then able to work with not only the District 4150 clubs but also various clubs in their own district.”
15th annual fair
In November, Rotarians gathered for 10 days in Guadalajara and surrounding cities for the 15th annual event. Nearly 100 project proposals that had been screened in advance by District 4150 were presented with specific requests and budgets. Rotarians from District 5130 selected 60 projects to pursue.
Club members often have a chance to visit the sites of proposed projects, which focus on health, education, clean water, and vocational training in the states of Colima, Jalisco, Nayarit, and Sinaloa. Knight says clubs are more likely to sponsor a project they visit.
One recent effort, supported by a Rotary Foundation Matching Grant totaling $13,000, provided computers and computer training to Escuela Primaria Zapata in Ixtlahuacán de los Membrillos, Jalisco, according to Margarita de Alba, a founding organizer of the fair and a member of the Rotary Club of Guadalajara Chapultepec. The project gave 280 students enhanced research and learning tools.
“When we visited the completed project, the children came up to us and told us everything they had learned," Alba says. "We felt great joy when we saw the first graders working at their computers with their big, proud smiles.”
Knight says all it takes to create a multidistrict project fair is a single connection to a Rotarian or club in another district with a similar interest. Group Study Exchanges are a great way to establish those connections, she says.
“Just imagine how much more can be done if the clubs in your district get together with another district,” Alba says. “There’s no better way to see what Rotarians can accomplish than when they work together with those in other countries.”
The events also build better understanding between cultures.
“When I first started putting the event together 15 years ago, I was very interested in making sure there was a good relationship between the American and Mexican cultures,” Alba says. “The festival really allowed all of us to see how people from two different worlds can work together to benefit others.”