Acting is in Interactors’ nature
Today’s Interactors are channeling enthusiasm and ideas into projects of remarkable impact. These young people offer more than just volunteer numbers for your club’s service projects. They’re key collaborators from start to finish. And in some cases, they’re leading the way.
Typhoon Odette relief effort
When Super Typhoon Odette caused widespread destruction in the central Philippines in 2021, a 17-year-old Interactor navigated debris-choked roads on foot to climb a hill where she could get just enough of a phone signal to put out a call for help.
Only a year earlier, Chynna Dorado had started the Interact Club of Metro Mandaue in her home city of Cebu, one of the hardest-hit areas. But she already had a network of Interact friends in other areas of the Philippines that she knew she could rely on. Together, they organized a large-scale response that raised money and distributed donations of food, hygiene kits, medicine, and drinking water to more than 1,000 families across several cities and islands.
At the same time, Dorado was among those grappling with the personal impact of the storm, which triggered landslides that damaged her family’s home.
So, Dorado leaned on Interactors in other parts of the country that were less affected. First, she had to find a way to reach them with electricity down and many lines of communication cut. “The internet was best in high places,” she says. “So to get a few minutes or an hour of signal, I would walk up a hill. And I had to do that on foot because there was no gasoline for the cars,” and fallen trees blocked roads.
She worked with her fellow Interactors to create graphics to share on social media, contact corporations for donations, find nonprofit organizations to partner with, and reach out to Interactors abroad. Other Interact clubs in the country hosted donation drives and fundraisers in their schools and communities. The Interactors tapped their families — including some Rotarian parents and their clubs — to volunteer alongside them.
Those connections and communication skills, Dorado says, enabled them to mobilize quickly. “One thing Interactors do very well is networking and communicating with each other,” she says. “They just have this creativity. How well-versed we are with technology is also a big factor.”
More than a year later, Dorado is a high school senior and a member of the Interact Advisory Council that works with the RI Board of Directors. Among her goals, she wants to encourage more Rotarians to start Interact clubs in their communities and learn how Interactors can be strong project partners through the skills, ideas, and perspectives they bring.
Since Dorado started her club, four others have formed in the Cebu area. “We’re more visible to Rotary clubs now,” she says. “And they definitely see that Interactors do make an impact.”
Stem cell donation awareness
For most patients with life-threatening blood cancers such as leukemia, a bone marrow transplant is a potential cure. But finding the right donor match is a challenge, and the odds are especially narrow for ethnic minority groups, which are not as well represented on registries of potential donors.
So, members of the Interact Club of Silicon Andhra, California, were thrilled when an attendee of their first donor awareness webinar signed up and a month later received word that he was a match for a person with cancer who needed a transplant. “It’s fascinating to me, because it’s this nebulous concept that you might save a life,” says Aaditya Ravula, the club’s 2021-22 president. “This made it very concrete, very real. This is a person, the same as you or I, he just saw this webinar, he signed up, and he got the opportunity to genuinely say, ‘I’ve saved someone’s life.’”
The club in the San Francisco Bay Area and its sponsoring Rotary club of the same name started a campaign together to raise awareness about the importance of registering to donate blood stem cells, which enable bone marrow to form new blood cells. They focused on the region’s South Asian immigrants, a group that is especially underrepresented among potential donors, who send in cheek swab samples to be added to the registry.
Through webinars, information booths at community events, and other initiatives, the Interact club has been urging people to sign up to join the donor registry managed by Be the Match and dispelling misconceptions about donation.
The Interactors have brought fresh enthusiasm and ideas to the awareness campaign, says Sneha Vedula, the Rotarian who serves as the Interact adviser. One Interactor even sang south Indian classical music during her pitch. Vedula thinks the Interactors can be more persuasive than older Rotarians when trying to reach potential donors in the target age range of 18 to 35 years old. “It’s about their honesty and the passion,” she says.
The Interactors, too, gain from the partnership with Rotarians. Ravula says he’s more practiced at stepping out of his comfort zone when approaching people to make conversation. Now a freshman at the University of California, Davis, he says learning about the issue of stem cell donation helped him decide to pursue a career in oncology.
For a coastline cleanup project, members of the Rotary Club of A-Kong-Dien, Kangshan, Taiwan, knew they wanted to go big. We’re talking 1 kilometer (more than half a mile) of urban coastline in the large port city of Kaohsiung, some 1,500 volunteers, buses to transport them, as well as food trucks and other vendors.
So, the Rotarians enlisted the help of Interactors in the A-Kong-Dien club they sponsor, and about 100 of them joined the cleanup day in September. They were also involved in planning the event. “We have a saying, ‘It’s nice to be young,’” says Lawrence Tsai, the Interact chair for District 3510. “Many of our Rotarians are in their 50s, 60s, and 70s. The Interactors, they’re young, energetic. So, it helped bring energy to the event.”
Many of them had Rotarian parents and grandparents, so multiple generations were working together. Tsai says the Interactors were quick to volunteer for labor-intensive duties like carrying bottled water and other equipment. Many were also eager to help with photographing the event, Tsai says.
Among them was Interactor Liu Fang Ci, who enjoyed the chance to “feel useful and make a difference.” He was surprised the Rotarians were asking for the Interactors’ input rather than just directing them. “We can learn from Rotarians not to be afraid to talk with adults and share our opinions,” he says.
Tsai encourages clubs in his district to involve Interactors in projects and events. His top reason: They’re the future of Rotary.
This article was adapted from the May 2023 issue of Rotary magazine.