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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Five months after Pakistan came to Delaware, Delaware went to Pakistan. On Feb. 12, a dozen members of the Rotary Club of Wilmington became the first civil society, people-to-people delegation to visit Pakistan since Sept. 11, 2001. And the experience was life changing.
“Almost everyone we met—people on the streets, delegates, our host families—were all very positive and hopeful about the United States,” says Mike Friedberg, vice president of Wilmington Rotary. “I would say nine out of 10 Pakistanis believe in the sincerity of the United States, and they think there is a good possibility of a resolution between our countries. That level of optimism was surprising.”
Friedberg says the weeklong trip had several objectives with longterm implications. The Wilmington delegates attended several dinners and conferences, including one hosted by Sardar Latif Khosa, governor of Punjab, at the 200-year-old Governor House on Feb. 14. They visited various industries, cultural landmarks, and participated in a day of polio immunization at the Unity School of Lahore. They even established a partnership between Padua Academy in Wilmington and the High School of the Covenant of Jesus and Mary in Lahore, which was founded in 1876.
“That partnership is particularly near and dear to my heart,” says Meyer. “With more than 2,000 girls, the [High School of the Covenant] is known throughout Pakistan for its character building, academics and motivation of girls for the betterment of society and the world.”
By staying with host families in Lahore, Wilmington Rotarians also had a rare opportunity to see the more nuanced aspects of Pakistani culture.
“The culture over there was somewhat of a surprise,” recalls Friedberg. “They have extended families living together in most houses. Not because they are poor, but because they like large families staying together. We stayed in a house that had three bedrooms, a kitchen, and a family room upstairs for our host, his wife, and their four children. And downstairs lived his brother, his wife, and their four children. It’s a different world.”
And, Friedberg says, a generous world.
“Everywhere we turned someone else was giving us gifts,” he says. “They really wanted to impress the Americans.”
And the Americans were indeed impressed. Harkening back to the original intent of this delegation—to change minds and perceptions—Friedberg says the calm, steady pace of life in Lahore would shock most Americans, who probably think every day in Pakistan is spent worrying about violence and bloodshed.
“You walk the streets and everyone is going about their lives in a normal capacity,” says Friedberg. “No one believes that back home. The schools we visited were so clean, and the students were so intent on getting a good education. They were very appreciative of everything we did. This is the start of a long, drawn-out effort, but it’s worth it.”
Says Meyer, “It was an unforgettable journey. The Pakistan Project is indeed ‘building communities and bridging continents.’ I hope this partnership with the Lahore Mozang Rotary Club continues to grow and prosper.