A Rotarian’s Parallax Vision

As a Rotarian for over 35 years (the last 19 with perfect attendance), a little less than half my age, you would think after years of travel on World Campus Afloat, Fulbright grants to Taiwan, Republic of Georgia (2) and Mongolia, your point of view of the world would have been fixed long ago. Not true! Recently I joined Rotary eClub of the Southwest, USA (with members all over the world) (I am the first Texan but we also have one member from Japan, India and the Marshall Islands) and Rotary Global History. My view has expanded and contracted all in the same instance. It has expanded to a flat world point of view (information, thoughts of freedom, communications, images and stories) where borders now hold no barrier to ideas and visions. Also it has contracted to the place where I see the world from a satellite point of view, one place, one globe, one people.

My creative work shows this change in viewpoint. I will not call it “perspective” because that has meaning that links it to the Renaissance- on the ground and one-on-one to an horizon. A Rotarian thinks immediately of Paul Harris’ and Bill Boyd’s words that we must “Lead The Way.” I spent the good part of twenty years as Director of the Art Center in Waco, Texas and belonged to the Rotary Club of Waco (one of the oldest in America). There I gave talks on my travels to other countries and reports on the projects that were accomplished during those visits: such as, creating the first prototype playground in Tbilisi, Georgia in a housing development where the average wage for a worker was less than $10 per week and if you retired after 25 years of service to a company you would get all of $7 a month in retirement benefits. This was a joint effort of the Rotary Clubs in the Republic of Georgia and America (me as a Rotarian and Fulbright Scholar), and the Bernard and Audre Rapoport Foundation (a family foundation in Waco, Texas). This playground, named for Rapoport’s mother, now serves thousand of children who would not have this kind of surroundings for creative play. As most educators know, play is how we all learn when the environment is foreign (which it always is outside us).

It was certainly vocational volunteerism (although my Rotary or I got no credit for it). In the last few years, I worked over the internet with friends as a follow up to my Fulbright trip to the Republic of Georgia in 2001-2002 and again in 2003 on a $1 million dollar grant that brought together the national museums, symphony, opera and dance companies (also not mentioned as my Rotary international volunteerism). Those organizations did not get the grant but now have a working relationship that writes collective grants each year. Now since joining the Rotary eClub of the Southwest, USA, my efforts to work with those same people in that Tbilisi housing development (to build additional educational, play places for children) and build a network for the arts organizations is part of my volunteer hours over the internet. Starting in August 2006, I will be working with Engineers Without Borders as a grant writer who will take thirteen individual projects in El Salvador and wed them into one grant package for $3.6 million dollars to be spent over the next five years. The engineer who is coordinating all these infrastructure projects lives in Portland, Oregon: the Rotary man who is researching all the possible granting agencies is from Colorado; and my contact here in Texas works as a space engineer from NASA. This is how projects gets done today; it is from a collage (putting divergent pieces together) and parallax method (view from the sky) of working without borders by getting people together with passions to serve a larger community in the world. The water and purification projects will save lives, improve life styles, create better, healthier communities and make friends for the process of freedom. All this work on a global scale can now be part of my Rotary volunteer service to the community of this globe. What does this all mean for Rotary? It means that instead of giving the minimum of 30 hours a year for my home, land-based Rotary in Waco or Humble, Texas, I have already given in the six weeks since my acceptance in June over 300 hours of service and with the Engineers Without Borders and Rotary Global History, RGHF, that will probably come closer to 1200 hours for the year for the virtual eClub Rotary. Giving Rotarians the freedom to use all their talents and skills is good for Rotary. Paul Harris would be an eClub Rotarian, I believe.

The change for this Rotary member from land-based Rotary membership to internet-based eClub membership on June 12, 2006 has also meant a total use of my talents for writing grants, articles and opinions, organizational skills, marketing and visualizing ideas for the future. One of the members of Rotary eClub of the Southwest, USA recruited me into RGHF and they made me a Peace Historian. My first act was to suggest a new approach to exploring peace, an eight-part Peace Journey (using a beloved Ming Dynasty hand scroll for an imaginary, peaceful voyage across a Southern Sung lake to the Northern Sung mountains to the mists and waterfalls of the UNKNOWN) (www.rghfpeacejourney.org). It uses all my skills as a Chinese art historian and Western artist, my talents in writing, and my observations that have been honed by writing opinion articles for the Waco Tribune Herald as one of its 32 Board of Contributors from 1988 to 2005, reaching over 150,000 readers in Central Texas. Now RGHF plans to reach close to one million readers and visitors for this Peace project.

I have traveled all around this globe (we call a “world” although it is only the one that we see from space, not through a microscope or our imagination). When I am now asked by one of my students about how I see the “world”, he or she asks: “Is the world flat or round? Are there borders that cannot be crossed or do borders even exist anymore?” I give a Japanese answer, “Yes….” What that means is: “Yes, you have asked the correct question (for our time), but I do not know the answer.” The second part of the answer I never give but leave that in the sky for the student to ponder in time. The student’s question is like Joseph Campbell’s “hero with a thousand faces”. Any answer depends on the culture, the myths and stories, the technology or lack of it, a point of view at that exact moment and the intention of the questioner. Truth is multicultural. Rotarians in an eClub are like explorers in the “undiscovered country” of virtual space and time. They know that this pursuit is the wave of the future but they do not know the correct board to ride on it- YET!

RGHF Historian Joseph L. Kagle, Jr., 15 August 2006