While riding a motorcycle for charity, a member of the Rotary Club of Wylie East Fork forged connections with other Rotarians around the world. Speaking during the club’s Thursday, June 1, meeting at Landon Winery, Charlie Waller told members about traveling across India by motorcycle from Jan. 13-28. The ride, in its fifth year, is a way to raise money for The Rotary Foundation, which provides scholarships and other funding opportunities to Rotary clubs around the world.
Waller said he paid $3,500 to participate in the 15-day ride across India with the money covering lodging, his motorcycle rental and fuel costs. To help keep costs down, Rotary clubs in India welcomed riders and provided them with meals. “They went around to the different cities we were going to stop at and told these clubs to host and feed us and have an exchange of culture,” Waller said. “Those clubs provided all our food for lunch and dinner. Each day, we’d get up and eat a meal in the hotel, but that was the only non-Rotary meal we had.” With a total of 42 riders representing countries from all over the world, this year’s ride raised around $40,000, said Waller.
In total, the event has raised around $100,000, according to the Rotary website for the fundraiser. On his trip, Waller said he noticed a difference within Indian Rotary clubs in that most of their membership were among the wealthier populations. In the United States, Rotarians come from different socioeconomic backgrounds. “The wealthier clubs we went to, we could tell their education was better,” Waller said. Most clubs along the way also had their own meeting spaces as well, he added. “On their walls, they had awards from each event they had won and banners from other clubs that had gone to visit them or that they had visited,” Waller said.
While visiting these meetings, there was also a noticeable difference in some of the patriotic activities at the meeting. At the June 1 meeting, Rotarians recited the pledge of allegiance and prayed. In India, Waller said members sang the country’s national anthem. For a country of around 1.4 billion, only 150,000 to 300,000 Indians are members of Rotary clubs, mainly made up of individuals from higher castes with lower caste members not really conceiving of membership. “They would never dream of asking to be a member,” Waller said. “It is a much higher honor in India to be a Rotarian. They always introduce each other as ‘this is Rotarian such and such.’ There are few members who do not have a lot of money.” Projects supported by clubs in India are notably bigger although with the same idea of community impact.
In one case, Waller said a local club used funds to construct a crematorium because the transportation challenges to take a body to another facility were too difficult to overcome. “These projects of these clubs were mind-boggling,” Waller said. “There was one club in a town of 40,000 and 20 members [that] built a crematorium with three ovens because people there couldn’t afford to take their loved ones 20 miles away.” When he first arrived in the country, he came into Chennai, a port city on India’s eastern coast. The route for the ride began just south of Chennai in Mahabalipuram and proceeded south before crossing over the country and finishing in Mangalore.
Throughout the journey, riders were able to experience different heritage sites, museums, cultural festivals, temples and more. Waller said a big celebration he and his fellow riders were able to witness was a color festival where locals dressed in their most vibrant apparel and decorated sidewalks using a substance similar to chalk. He added that he visited around two temples each day along with various marketplaces in the towns and villages riders stopped. During his trip, he noted how many of the roads used to travel were only two-lanes packed with motorcycles and “tuckers,” a type of compact vehicle. Outside of the main cities, highways were often scarce, said Waller. At times, rules of the road more common to some of the riders were not followed strictly with some traffic assertive in making its way along the road. “They have a lot of fatalities because of wrecks,” Waller said. “When we were going through town, we were going through at 45 miles per hour in bumper-to-bumper traffic.” The most shocking part of the presentation was Waller’s account of him saving a life. Seeing another rider choking at dinner, he successfully performed the Heimlich maneuver on the choking individual, which drew raucous applause from the local Rotarians.
Following his regaling of those in attendance, Waller received a Rotary challenge coin for completing his trek across India. He was initially skeptical about embarking on the ride but was convinced by a friend and an additional trip to a nearby country. “I didn’t consider it much, but I sent it to a friend of mine who said, ‘let’s go,’” Waller said. “At some point we decided to make the best of this trip we could do. We thought we could go to Thailand and spend another 10 to 12 days there.”