Talkback

1st June 2001 at 01:00
The National Lottery's funding of community projects may sometimes seem to make redundant the work of such organisations as the Soroptimists, Round Table and Rotary. In addition, business pressures and changing social patterns and attitudes are making the recruitment of new members increasingly difficult and call into question the whole concept of service to the community.

What has all this to do with schools and education? A great deal. As a Rotarian, and a retired teacher, I am aware of the important partnerships our organisation has with schools - to our mutual benefit. At their simplest, they increase our understanding of young people's outlooks and ambitions, but they also allow young people to benefit from the enormous expertise to be found in any local Rotary club.

But this partnership is under threat unless we can convince the parents of these young people, mainly in our secondary schools, that we need them to join us in continuing those partnerships.

I can best illustrate this in terms of my own club's involvement with our local schools. I became a Rotarian more than 20 years ago, after working with our club on an annual public speaking competition with our local comprehensive. The contest, now in its 29th year, provides training in the art of being a chairperson, speaker or proposer of a vote of thanks - vital skills for our future leaders. Rotarians are frequently put to shame by the maturity, wit and confidence of young teams.

In return, because of their professional and business backgrounds, who is better qualified than Rotarians to conduct career interviews or to give careers advice? Travel and foreign contacts, to improve language skills, broadn knowledge or foster contacts with other schools, are now commonplace - but they cost money. Our local comprehensive has developed links with a school in Nepal; on a recent visit they took with them desperately needed equipment, some of it financed by our club. Staff and sixth-formers reported back directly to us, fostering our determination to help the link in the future.

Rotary is an international organisation. As well as sponsoring individuals and small groups, or funding study scholarships to promote international understanding, it has fostered major international projects - for example, Polioplus, aimed at eradicating polio; Wateraid, to improve supplies and quality of water in Africa; and, with Sight Savers, establishing "eye camps" in India and Africa, mainly for cataract operations.

Melksham Rotarians and our local comprehensive have been involved in major fund-raising for all these initiatives, with appropriate educational programmes and lectures to complement pupils' efforts.

Finally, as a millennium project, most of the primary schools in our area recently took part in a co-operative medieval day. The setting was a large field, part of the National Trust medieval manor of Great Chalfield, and almost 450 pupils, dressed in period costume, advanced for a day of archery contests, singing and dancing, medieval craft activities and mock trials.

I attended several planning sessions as the Rotary Club representative and was delighted by the teachers' enthusiasm. Working alongside young people is fun - but for how much longer if we cannot recruit new members?

Peter King

Peter King is a member of the Rotary Club of Melksham, Wiltshire


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