In mid 2016 the Rotary Club of Thimphu was notified that the Rotary International District 3292 would hold its 2017 Annual District Conference in Thimphu. As the only Club in the host country and as the head of the Club Administration in my capacity as the Club’s Secretary, I had to take on the responsibility of making the arrangements for the Conference, which would be attended by upwards of a thousand participants from across the glob. The Conference was announced during the 2016 Rotary International Convention in Seoul, South Korea. Arrangements began in right earnest. Registration to the Conference poured in by the hundreds, from Nepal and fourteen other countries.
Then mid way, the District abruptly announced that it is not possible to hold the Conference in Thimphu. Logistical challenges were quoted as the reason for the cancellation. I did not buy that for a moment. The entire logistical arrangements were being handled by the Rotary Club of Thimphu – then why would the District be challenged on its account? But the District remained adamant that the Conference could not happen in Bhutan.
We were in a fix! The Club had created an on-line payment system through the Bank of Bhutan and a total in excess of Ngultrums 17 million was already received in Registration Fees, cost of lodgings, meals, conveyance, air tickets etc.
Having to refund all that would bankrupt the Club, in bank transfer charges and deduction of commissions by the bank, for handling on-line payment system. Something had to be done. But the District 3292 was unwilling to consider the fact that we would lose hundred of thousands of Ngultrums.
But I am an unputdownable kind of a person – I am not one to give up that easily!!
I came up with the idea that we could hold a Club level Conference, but with international participation, comprised of close to 200 participants who had already registered and paid up. My proposal was heartily supported by other Club Members. Thus I sent out mails to all the registrants – all 160 of them spread across 14 countries - informing them of the cancellation of the District Conference – but that we were still willing to hold the Conference - provided they were willing to stand by their expression of interest to come to Bhutan for the Conference. They were informed that the Conference would be a Club level Conference but with international participation. Happily 99.99% registrants said that they would stand by their commitment to come. There was only one cancellation - from Australia.
Thus the Conference was successfully held during February of 2017. It saw a total of 175 participants, including 15 from Bhutan. The countries that were represented were: Bhutan, Brunei, Canada, Germany, Great Britain, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Poland, Romania, Singapore, Switzerland and USA. Malaysia had the highest contingent - with 99 participants which is more than 50% of the overall total!
But this is not about the success of the Conference – it is about what happens when Destiny collides with Karma. It is about a potentially disastrous journey that began in utter frustration – but was turned into an event of great meaning and benefit. It is about the partnership that was struck – a partnership that endures – 3 years since it was first established – a partnership between the Rotary Club of Thimphu and Rotarians from Malaysia.
During the Conference one of the Speakers was a Malaysian Rotarian and Vice Chairman of Disaster Aid Malaysia - Rtn. K K Looi, then a Member of the Rotary Club of Utara Subang Jaya. He spoke on something that fascinated me immensely – a gravity activated water filtration system called “SkyHydrant” manufactured by SkyJuice Foundation of Australia. He was talking of a fascinating piece of equipment that I instantly saw was ideal for Bhutan’s type of geographical setting. That Conference talk lead me to establish relationship with Rotarians from Malaysia, including an introduction to Disaster Aid Australia, Melbourne, courtesy of Rotarian K K Looi. Within months four SkyHydrant Filters arrived Bhutan (how that came about is even more interesting – a story to be told another day) – which resulted in an initiative called “BHUTAN2020” launched during 2017 Rotary International Convention in Toronto, Canada. Under this initiative, Dollar One Million worth of SkyHydrant Water Filters would be installed by Disaster Aid Australia and the Rotary Club of Thimphu, in all of Bhutan’s Central Schools across the country, by the end of 2020. As of now we have installed 42 of these filters. Two more are due to be installed on the 13th and 14th of November, 2019.
The Malaysian connection does not end here – they became major donors to the construction of 95 pour-flush toilets in Bongo Gewog of Chhukha District. Currently a Global Grant project worth US$ 51,000++ in the agriculture sector is at varying stages of implementation, once again in Bongo Gewog. This is all happening with funding from Rotary Clubs and Districts in Malaysia, in collaboration with the Rotary Foundation. The Rotary Clubs in Malaysia is not only the biggest donors to communities in Bongo Gewog – they are the ONLY NGO donors thus far that is bringing change and meaning in the lives of a number of communities in Chhukha District.
Today on 25th October, 2019 the principal sponsoring Club of Malaysia – Rotary Club of Metro Kuala Lumpur celebrates its 25th year of Charter. In a show of appreciation and gratitude, our Club President and the District Governor (Dzongdag) of Bhutan’s Chhukha District travelled to Kuala Lumpur – to participate in the celebrations. The following Plaque is being presented to the Club:
Plaque of Appreciation
You may notice that in the Plaque is embedded the beautiful Silver Coin Commemorating the Royal Wedding of their Majesties the King and Queen of Bhutan. My choice of the Commemorative Coin is significant because the presence of our Club President and the District Governor of Chhukha District during the Club’s moment of celebrations is a kind of commemoration of the bond that was established between the Rotarians of Malaysia and the people of Chhukha District. The presentation of the Plaque is also a demonstration of our Club’s sense of gratitude to a comity of people who are selfless in their giving and serving. The following Rotary Theme Logo tells the rest of the story.
The Rotary’s Theme Logo for Rotary Year 2019 - 2020