Rotary Friendship Exchange between Bisceglie and Colorado Springs

pubblicata il 03/12/2018

Rotary Friendship Exchange between Bisceglie and Colorado Springs

rfe stazione

To be a member of Rotary means to feel part of a family as big as the whole world; “Recognizing oneself” while never having truly “known” before, is an experience that in this associative context, more than in others, is easy and possible. And never as in this historical moment, when old and new nationalisms are becoming more and more established in many parts of the globe, it is important to feel like “citizens of the world” in a supportive embrace that eliminates differences by promoting the values of peace and humanity universally.

To this end, Rotary International provides the “Rotary Friendship Exchange” program, whereby Rotarians from one part of the world can visit other Rotarians living in different countries or even on other continents, through mutual hospitality by opening their homes, hearts, and minds of others. Despite the appeal of such a program, very few Italian clubs have joined in this exchange today, perhaps due to the significant effort required to implement it. The Club of Bisceglie is honored to belong to this small group, having realized, between August and November, 2018, a “Rotary Friendship Exchange” with the Rotary Club of Colorado Springs (USA).

The occasion was born almost by chance, when Donna Dell’Olio, American by birth but whose grandfather is Biscegliese, visited our club in Bisceglie. Donna, who is a member of the Rotary Club of Colorado Springs, had a lucky and casual meeting with Francesco Dente and Mauro Pedone during “Libri nel Borgo Antico”, in August 2017; in that occasion, she was invited to a Rotarian evening organized by the then-President Pierpaolo Sinigaglia, during which she was flanked by Massimo Cassanelli, who has qualities of natural affability and interest in others and has remarkable familiarity with English. Massimo, having already been President of the District Committee “Rotary Friendship Exchange”, and therefore having a profound knowledge of the program, shared with Donna, that evening, the idea of implementing the project, and when our friend returned to Colorado, found in the members of her club, and in the then-President Ron Rubin, the most enthusiastic supporters of this activity. Since then, the feverish work of Donna and Massimo, as well as of the new Bisceglie President Nadia Di Liddo, and of the other American and Biscegliesi members, has rapidly led to the implementation of the Exchange. In Colorado, we Biscegliesi were able to enjoy the great cordiality and uncommon hospitality of our American friends, who immediately opened their hearts with an attitude that made us feel the sensation that we knew each other not for a few days, but for a lifetime. Their rigor in managing the Rotary meetings, their punctuality, the activism manifested in the implementation of their projects (from the sale of artistic aluminum large-scale hand painted butterflies, which now have become a symbol for the Colorado Springs Club), has resulted in a million dollars collected in ten years. This has supported the “Marian House”, a place to serve and support homeless people eager to learn how to use computers and, more generally, to acquire professional skills for employment. This earned our admiration. We saw the beauty of the “Garden of the Gods”, an amazing city park of unparalleled beauty with natural stone monuments and forests and trails throughout; the originality of an authentic western ranch with horses and cowboys with great riding skills, in addition to the charm of the uncontaminated landscapes. These filled us with a feeling of well-being that after a few days, we felt a bit of the phrase “y’all are at home here”.

The trip of our American friends here in Puglia, held the first days of November, was, if possible, even more exciting. Welcoming them at the Bisceglie station was for us, a source of indescribable joy, immortalized by the photos that see us running, indeed literally, to begin our week with open arms, hugs, and kisses.

The program we developed for our American friends, was very intense, hoping, on the one hand, that they would understand our unique and beautiful region and landscape with its peculiar cultural and economic characteristics. On the other hand, we wanted them to understand and we shared some of the most important services and projects that our club has initiated in the course of our Club’s existence, without forgetting, of course, the “pearls” of our historical and artistic heritage that make Puglia one of the most sought-after regions by tourists from all over the world.

One of the most significant economic drivers of our region is olives and olive oil production. Therefore, it was obligatory to attend the olive harvest at the “Carlo Cassanelli” company, and the subsequent milling at the Galantino mill, in order to impart to our American friends the preciousness of the “yellow gold” of which Puglia can boast. They delighted in tasting varieties during lunch at the restaurant of the same Frantoio, and also at the restaurant “Oli Ola”. We also showed our curious visitors a “trawler”, belonging to the Pasquale family, and had a walk on the promenade which was wonderful for them to see since Colorado Springs is inland with no access to a sea or ocean. Our promenade has become a tourist destination because of the fishing and the open air amphitheatre where many events are held.

We took a day trip to the delightful and historic village of Alberobello which fascinated them and also visited the trullo by Giacinto Galantino, a craftsman specializing in building scale models of the most important monuments in Bisceglie. We also toured them around many parts of Puglia, including Polignano, Castel del Monte and Trani, which was exceptionally fascinating to our friends since there are very few castles in the United States, as well as the Dolmen and the old town of Bisceglie, with its museums and its ancient religious and civic buildings and narrow stone streets. It was very important that we visit and show them some of the projects our Rotary Club has provided to the people of Bisceglie and visitors alike such as: the columns of “Rotary Signals”, explaining fundamentally the characteristics of the most important monuments of the city and other places to note for tourists visiting our area and our citizens alike. The “creative classroom” built by the Bisceglie Rotary Club at the secondary school “Ferraris-Battisti” is an example of what our club has done as is the Baptismal Font of Church of S. Adoeno which was restored by the club with a modern laser technique. Another example is the Chorus, also partially restored by the club, of the Cathedral of Bisceglie. The computer lab at the “Pegaso House” was provided to the facility that assists the disabled in our community and has made a significant difference to the Biscegliesi living there, realizing their dreams and potential for successful lives. This particular visit to the “Pegaso House” truly impressed our United States friends who, moved by what they saw of the courage and dedication of the managers and staff of “Pegaso House”, decided to donate One Thousand Dollars to the family home in honor of Massimo Cassanelli. The announcement was given, in Italian, by a moved Ron Rubin, now Past President of the Club in Colorado Springs during the official visit of the District Governor, Donato Donnoli, to the club of Bisceglie, a visit that the District Governor himself eagerly wanted to experience and witness just to be able to share with us all the joy of the Friendship Exchange. In the final evening at Palazzo Tupputi, just before the trip to Pompeii and Naples (Napoli) and the departure of our now lifelong friends, it was Donna Dell’ Olio, representing all our new friends, sharing how the experience of the “Pegasus” touched them and how they now wish to “import” this model into the United States to establish a similar method of instruction and computer labs to people there. This facility in Bisceglie exceeds some of the similar schools in America.

And now, to close the circle: The Rotary Friendship Exchange, far from simply representing a holiday and vacation to U.S.A. and to Italy, became a “fuse” to trigger beneficial changes and new ideas and ways to improve not only Rotarians and Rotary Clubs in America and in Italy, but our counterparts throughout the USA and the Europe. The experience with the Rotary Club of Colorado Springs certainly does not end here, far from that; it will hopefully continue with common projects that involve friends who will remain so forever, despite the 10,000 km that separate us. To Catia and to the Presidents who will follow, the task of keeping the flame of an incredible experience alive, this is not an exaggeration of the unique nature of their visit.

The “Paul Harris Fellow”, conferred by the Rotary Club of Bisceglie to Massimo Cassanelli for his unparalleled commitment to the realization of this Exchange, represents the precious seal of a friendship that must continue to produce its fruits, like the olive trees in Bisceglie and the Puglia region.

And, as our friend Karen Rubin said during the last dinner done together in Bisceglie, the friendship between the Rotary Club of Colorado Springs and the Rotary Club of Bisceglie will truly last as long as Italians eat pasta – and Americans eat hamburgers!

Gianni Cassanelli – Ron Rubin

Click here for the fotogallery