Hands Across the Water
It’s no secret that relations are strained between the United States and Pakistan. The Wilmington Rotary Club and its Pakistani counterpart are working together to change that.
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Kathleen Meyer had been a member of Wilmington Rotary for less than a year when she joined the club’s International Service Committee in October 2009. Between 1966 and 1971, Meyer spent five years in South Vietnam training civilians for the U.S. Defense Department. She then founded the Delaware chapter of People to People International in the fall of 1984, introducing Delaware to the international stage through more than 130 projects and programs, as well as 18 delegations abroad, including Delaware’s first “Official State Mission” to the People’s Republic of China in 1985.
Toward the end of October 2009, club president Mike Friedberg began discussing ideas for the club’s 2010-11 service project, which would attempt to answer the call of the club’s official motto, “Building Communities, Bridging Continents.” Friedberg focused on Rotary International’s Polio Plus program, a global initiative aimed at eradicating polio. Since Pakistan was considered one of four “high transmission” countries in the world, Pakistan was the sensible place to start.
At the time, Friedberg was leaning toward polio as the cause to tackle, but Meyer was not. According to her understanding, the Pakistanis had the disease relatively under control, with 38 million children recently vaccinated in three days. She had another idea.
“Give me 10 days,” she said, “and I’ll come back with a proposal.”
When she did, it was broader in scope than anything Wilmington Rotary had ever before devised. Meyer’s “Pakistan Project,” as it came to be called, was divided into two main categories: International Outreach and Delaware Outreach.
Internationally, Meyer suggested establishing a partnership with one of the 200-plus Rotary Clubs in Pakistan, preferably one from Lahore, which is widely considered the cultural capital of the Islamic Republic as well as the center of the Pakistan intelligentsia. That partnership would include supporting a humanitarian project the Pakistani Rotary partner already had in place, while also establishing reciprocal delegations from Lahore and Wilmington.
Meanwhile, the Delaware Outreach component of her proposal centered around reaching out to the community and providing a service, specifically a four-part educational series on Pakistan for local high school students. The series would begin with an October assembly and end in February. Eight schools would participate, with 850 students attending each. The series would reach about 3,400 students. The message? Our understanding of Pakistan—and their understanding of us—is greatly misrepresented.
She also wanted to establish “Circles of International Understanding on Pakistan and Islam” for members of the Wilmington Rotary. This would include hosting Pakistan’s ambassador to Washington, Husain Haqqani, as a speaker at a special Rotary luncheon, while also reaching out to the Pakistani-American community in Wilmington.
Finally, the proposal called for a bus trip to Washington, D.C., featuring a briefing at the U.S. State Department followed by a briefing at the Embassy of Pakistan and a meet-and-greet with Ambassador Haqqani on Oct. 8, 2010.
And that is where I caught up with the story, just before six o’clock in the morning outside the DuPont Country Club on a chilly October dawn.
Page 3: The Journey