It hasn’t been an easy year – in fact it’s been exhausting – but if he had the choice, Alastair Paterson would serve another year as governor of Rotary Club district 7020.
Sworn in at the district conference in Turks and Caicos last May, Mr. Paterson officially commenced his duties as district governor on 1 July, at the start of the official Rotary year.
‘But July and August, with school being out, is very much family time and people don’t really want to see the district governor then,’ he said. ‘I really didn’t get started until the first of September.’
Since then, Mr. Paterson has flown to meet with members of the board of every Rotary club in the district, which now encompasses 69 clubs in 10 different countries or territories.
‘I’ve really got to compliment American Airlines,’ he said. ‘I had 96 flights during the year and only once has American been substantially late.’
Mr. Paterson admits getting weary of all the travelling.
‘The travelling tires me out,’ he said. ‘I’m fed up with having to go through Immigration and Customs in Miami. They know me by my first name now.’
District 7020 includes the clubs in the Cayman Islands; Anguilla; the French West Indies islands of Saint Martin and Saint Barthelemy; the Netherland Antilles island of Sint Maarten; the British Virgin Islands; the US Virgin Islands; Turks and Caicos; Haiti; Jamaica; and part of the Bahamas.
‘In years gone by, the district governor was expected to visit meetings at every one of the clubs within the first six months, but the number of clubs has gone up,’ he said.
Now, instead of the district governor attending a meeting of every club, he attends combined club meetings in areas where there are more than one club and meets with every single board.
Mr. Paterson’s schedule for the past seven and a half months has been hectic.
‘It’s time consuming,’ he said. ‘It affects business and one’s life generally. But it’s also been a very exciting and humbling experience.’
The exciting part has been getting the chance to visit many different countries in the Caribbean and to meet fellow Rotarians.
‘I got to meet people who want to help others; people of a like mind,’ he said.
Mr. Paterson believes that one of the problems Rotary has is a perception that it is filled rich people and is thus elitist.
Visiting countries throughout the Rotary 7020 district and seeing how Rotary works on an international basis, Mr. Paterson saw that the elitist perception was not true. He now spreads the word to others that Rotary is not just filled with rich people.
‘I tell them it is filled with people with rich ideas,’ he said.
Mr. Paterson found that many Rotarians and the communities in which they lived were far from wealthy, which was the humbling part of the experience he has had as district governor.
‘I have never seen poverty in my life like I saw in Haiti,’ he said. ‘It makes me appreciate what we have here. A lot of people take for granted the good things in life we have here.’
Because of the conditions in other areas of District 7020, the Rotary clubs have to alter their approach to fit the circumstances.
‘[In Haiti] they find it extremely difficult to work like the clubs here,’ Mr. Paterson said. ‘For instance, they had to keep changing their meeting places for fear of getting robbed.’
The 16 Rotary clubs in Haiti provide what assistance they can with the resources they have, Mr. Patterson said.
‘One of their biggest jobs is to coordinate assistance coming into Haiti and helping to channel those resources.’
Rotary clubs often help fill gaps in roles usually held by governments when governments are overstretched, Mr. Paterson said.
In the USVI, Rotary helps run two soup kitchens for the homeless.
‘The government just doesn’t have the resources to house and feed all the homeless,’ he said. ‘So the Rotary club there, and in particular Rotaract, supports other charities like the Catholic Church, which runs the soup kitchens and holds regular health screenings.’
The Rotary clubs take on different kinds of projects in each jurisdiction. In Jamaica, the clubs concentrate on youth initiatives like upgrading the schools, Mr. Paterson said.
Throughout his travels, Mr. Paterson said he was welcomed with open arms by the Rotarians in the district.
‘The level of hospitality in all of the territories has been incredible,’ he said, adding that he was invited into the homes of Rotarians and into meetings with an impressive list of high-standing public officials.
With his travelling winding down, Mr. Paterson will turn his attention to the Rotary District Conference, which will be held on Grand Cayman this year during the first week of May.
‘It’s a fun way to finish off the year, and also to give a big thank you to all of those who helped me perform my duties throughout the year,’ he said.
‘It’s also a great opportunity for Cayman to showcase itself as a tourist centre and a business centre.’
After he hands over the reigns of the district governorship to Richard McCombe of the Nassau, Bahamas club, Mr. Paterson said he intends to stay active in the causes of Rotary International.
‘I plan to take over as district trainer,’ he said. ‘I also will chair a committee called Think Caribbean.’
A new initiative, Think Caribbean will try to link Rotary Clubs outside of the Caribbean with ones inside to share ideas and resources and to take on specific projects. Mr. Paterson said he would be in charge of the committee in the 7020 district.
He gave one example of how Think Caribbean might work.
‘There is a club in Mandeville [Jamaica] that has a project in mind. I’m trying to twin them up with a club in Georgia with similar interest,’ he said. ‘We’re trying to expand Rotary from an international basis.’
Despite the thousands of miles of travelling and disruption to his business and personal life, Mr. Paterson has no regrets about having been district governor. In fact, he wishes his term could have been longer.
‘It was certainly worthwhile,’ he said. ‘It’s a great pity it’s not a two-year job. I would like to go back [to the various Rotary clubs in the district] and see how everyone is doing.’