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Program for professionals heads down under
Leader: 'Trip of a lifetime'
Rotary WEB
George Pirkle shows flags from various Australian Rotary clubs Tuesday given to him on the recent Rotary Foundation’s Group Study Exchange program for District 6910. - photo by Autumn Vetter

A Forsyth Rotarian recently led a group of young professionals on a trip to the other side of the world.

George Pirkle, president-elect of the Rotary Club of Forsyth County, served as team leader for the Rotary Foundation’s Group Study Exchange program for District 6910, which includes all of north Georgia.

According to information from Rotary International, the program provides grants that fund exchange visits between Rotary Clubs from different parts of the world.

The exchange is led by a Rotary Club member, while other team members are not in the club. Team slots are reserved for professionals between the ages of 25 and 40 who are in the early stages of their careers.

Pirkle called the exchange to Australia, which ran from April 13 to May 16, the “trip of a lifetime.”

“It was great, it was just great,” he said, noting that goals of the excursions are to raise awareness of Rotary and to share culture and ideas with other clubs.

“You’re running every minute … but if I had the opportunity to go back and do it again, I definitely would love to.”

Pirkle said some of the highlights included participation in the country’s Anzac Day, similar to Memorial Day in the United States.

The day is observed every April 25 in honor of the some 20,000 men who died fighting with the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps during a battle in World War I.

“These people, on Anzac Day, it’s the holiest of holy days,” Pirkle said. “They hold ceremonies at dawn … where we were there were 40,000 people on a grassy area and there weren’t any hot dog stands or anything like that. These people come out to remember and there’s three words they use: Lest we forget.”

Pirkle said he was especially moved because a leader of the town made note of the team’s visit.

“He said, ‘We have among us today a group of Americans from Rotary and I want them to know that we have always considered, we Australians, have always considered the Americans to be our staunchest allies.’

“That got me in the heart.”

During the visit, Pirkle said the team also visited with numerous Rotary Clubs throughout the western portion of the nation, where they lived with host families.

“The one thing that blew all of us away,” he said. “In this one club, one guy in 1997 had the idea to do this … he makes wheelchairs for kids.

“These things are completely fabricated on site. They have 100 local retiree volunteers and they build 300 wheelchairs a month, and there are zero overhead salary expenses because everybody that works on this is strictly volunteer.”

Terri Kimble, a 4-H Extension Agent in Covington, was among the team members.

She said some of her favorite parts of the trip involved working with children.

“One of the classes I attended was a dance class where the kids had to research a folk dance and tell their class about it, then demonstrate it and get their classmates to do it,” Kimble said. “That’s a lot like a 4-H project, so I was really interested.”

Kimble said she also did a lot of research on the nation before the trip, which she shared with her students.

“The kids here made a scrapbook of all their favorite things for me to take and share with the kids in Australia,” she said. “They talked about camps and BB teams — and guns are illegal [in Australia], so that was interesting — or their pets or their favorite restaurants.”

Kimble said she’ll use the experience in the future with her 4-H’ers.

“One of our statewide 4-H goals is to increase global awareness, and of course most kids can’t afford to travel abroad. So one of the things I’m doing statewide is working with our program on global awareness,” she said.

“I’ll be working more in the fall with older kids on how we can continue to get kids to have that global awareness without leaving the country.”

Pirkle and Kimble, along with the other team members — Randa Hafez and Stephanie Palmer, Conyers; and Ryan Hawk, Lawrenceville — will be traveling to various Rotary Clubs throughout the north Georgia district presenting highlights of the trip.

“We’ll go to as many clubs as will have us,” said Pirkle, adding that he hopes other members will be as inspired as he was by the journey.

“Once a month this one club [in Australia] has a market day and they make $4,500 on one day,” he said. “So you multiple that by 10 and you have enough money to fund whatever projects you want to do. Another club has an indoor flea market and another one built a large monument for a ship that sank in World War II.

“And of course, there’s the wheelchairs for kids … this one guy celebrated his 92nd birthday and he comes in like clockwork three days a week to do volunteer work making these wheelchairs.

“The motto of Rotary is ‘Service Above Self’ and that’s a great example of that.”