Rotary District 9940 Conference 2023 was held at Southward Car Museum and Event Centre between Friday 17 March and Sunday 19 March. President Denise attended for the Saturday session and write to three personal key take-outs from the day.
The first was a Finnish zoom connection to Rotarians who delivered battlefield medical supplies to Ukraine.
“Rotary for Ukraine” – this three word superpower banner strung across the front of a vehicle convoy crossing from Poland into and throughout Ukraine moved checkpoint soldiers upon reading it to step aside and wave the convoy through. The power of our Rotary brand amidst a war zone is without doubt. International Rotary fellowship throughout the years between Past District Governors reaching into District 9940, with PDG Judy Bain, resulted in a Finnish-led collective of superheroes collaborating to deliver battlefield-ready medical supplies to Ukraine. From sourcing supplies, determining the best type of vehicle (which happened to be road-weary vans), dealing with Polish border bureaucracy and (let’s not underestimate this point) necessitating three prior attempts to cross from Poland into Ukraine before success. Our everyday volunteer drivers, realising the experience of a war zone for the first time as they passed myriad freshly covered soldier and civilian burial sites before meeting up with Ukraine Rotarians who received the supplies. For a fleeting moment over a meal, the Rotarians raised their national flags and celebrated fellowship. I was proud to witness our District award Paul Harris Fellows to the drivers and reporters who safely delivered much-needed supplies to Ukraine.
The second, was a presentation by Mary Haddock-Staniland entitled, “Let’s do some unlearning and relearning together”.
Mary’s discussion presentation was headed, “There’s something fabulous about Mary”. There it was, your first clue that this was not going to be your typical conference delivery. Dropping the ‘f’ bomb as she set herself up well delighted me and others - just saying! Proudly transgender, born a boy, a twin, and as early as four years of age knew she was in the wrong body. Tough upbringing (think daily beatings to the age of 12) as her father set about “beating the gay out” in provincial New Plymouth. Today, a global senior vice-president of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging executive at EverCommerce, based in Auckland. Mary’s strong voice champions change by advocating for a more equitable, diverse and inclusive world. If you’re still reading, you’ll be fabulously pleased to know I did invite Mary to join the Rotary Club of Plimmerton.
The third presentation was called, "Preparing Battlefield Casualty Replacements” – Aotearoa New Zealand's role to support Ukraine.
“If you get a call from the Chief of Defence on a Saturday morning asking if you’re busy, you know your day is about to get a lot busier” said Air Commodore Digby Webb MNZM in his introduction to the New Zealand Defence response to the war in Ukraine. Our little collective of islands at the bottom of the world once again punches above it weight. The assistant chief of Defence, Strategic Commitments transported the conference to a high level government like briefing situation as he outlined our response. Detailing Ukraine capacity (think less air capacity) to counter an illegal invasion from Russia and the geo-political diplomacy response. Air defence capacity is critical to Ukraine, hence their repeated calls from December 2021 to the global community for air support supply and training. We have deployed a C-130H Hercules aircraft and NZDF personnel to Europe to provide intelligence, liaison, transportation and logistics support to the international community’s efforts to support Ukraine’s self-defence. Insights into military arrangements, reminders of post world war treaties and sovereign rights were compelling. One of our mission's first goals was to train (this was the initial term) “Battlefield Casualty Replacements” drawn from Ukraine civilians with no military experience. What is now called a five week operational capability training deployment for Ukraine civilians to the UK, our army 24/7 prepared these courageous men for the war zone. The trust, friendship and sharing of skills and expertise has forged strong relationships where a number of our personnel are now godparents, or children have been named after them upon the Ukraines returning home. I’ve reflected on the role of leadership. Air Commodore spoke of success by Ukraine to defend in that leadership command has been devolved to those on the ground who know real time what resources, capacity and capability is there to both defend and take the offensive. This is in contrast to Russia where central command is well away from the battlefield which sees thousands of young Russian men's lives spent. I’m very proud of our Defence Force expertise and humanitarian support to Ukraine, timely as we have just lost a second Kiwi volunteer military professional – Kia Manawanui mo ake ake! (Be patient for ever)