Fire Is a Season but Friendship Is International

A September Service-Above-Self Anniversary to Remember
Smoke covers Ayers Lake
Smoke covers Ayers Lake in Eugene, Oregon during the 2020 forest fires.

When heavy rains flooded much of Alberta, Canada in 2013, the small town of High River was deluged just below Mount Arethusa. The Highwood River was overflowing.

Evacuations were compulsory and more than 100,000 people fled, including the 13,000 people who call High River home. Twenty-eight emergency evacuation centers were activated. The provincial government described the catastrophic flood as the worst in Alberta’s history.

So when Canadian attorney John Andresen heard about Oregon’s forest fires in 2020 he knew he wanted to help. He remembered the flash flood that devastated his community almost ten years ago. But he also remembered all the help.

As the provincial government started allowing people back to return home in phases, contributions from all over the world started coming in as well. Rotary clubs throughout Canada and the rest of the world contributed almost $100,000 to help Albertans. Then they received a global grant from Rotary International. They were able to rebuild. And John says now they’re stronger than ever.

When he talks about how much international support they received he says, “We haven’t forgotten.”

And so in the fall of 2020, long before the vaccine had been approved, as forest fires were raging up the west coast and protests were raging across the US, he passed the hat at his club, the Rotary Club of High River in District 5360.

They raised $3,100 CAD to help their fellow Rotarians in Oregon. They contributed that money directly to the District 5110 Fire Relief Fund toward the $10,000 match offered by our friends in Thailand’s District 3340 – an extraordinary confluence of generosity. 5110 pledged an additional $10,000.

“Help should be reciprocal,” John says. “We’ve been helped, we should help those who are in pain.”

Ayers Lake is blue and clear, surround by green leaves of blackberry vines. The sky is blue and two green trees frame the lake surrounded by houses.
Ayers Lake on a clear day after the smoke cleared in the Willamette Valley

Highlighting the “international” part of Rotary International, John’s connection to District 5110 isn’t actually Oregonian, it’s Mexican. Like the Rotary Club of Eugene Metropolitan, he has deep ties to Nepal and Mexico. And it was in Colima, Mexico that he met Rotarians from 5110 volunteering at Project Amigo over the course of many years.

Rotary friendships are built on service, a shared love of humanity. We’re not afraid to admit we want to make the world a better place. From Mexico to Canada to Thailand, Rotarians respond to crises with generosity. And as climate change continues to ravage communities we are heartened to see strangers serving one another like friends, like the international family that we are.

Service Above Self is more than a motto, it’s more than a hashtag. It’s a calling. And it’s a verb.

Thank you to John, our friends in High River, Alberta, and our friends in Thailand. We are all neighbors.

Please feel free to reach out and leave our friends and fellow Rotarians a thank you post on High River’s Facebook page and Thailand’s District 3340 page.

We haven’t forgotten either.


Photo credits mine

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