A shma Koirala, a former Rotary youth program participant from Japan, balanced precariously on a wooden plank as her teammates assisted, adding their weight to one end of the makeshift boardwalk.
The team-building exercise, called the Coton Crossing, challenged participants of the 2009 International RYLA to work together to cross from one side of a "swamp" to the other, using only boards and ropes to bridge the gaps between stepping stones. It was one of several outdoor activities during the four-day Rotary Youth Leadership Awards event, designed to enhance young people's leadership, communications, and problem-solving skills.
"The International RYLA was more advanced and informative than I expected," said Koirala, sponsored by District 2750, which covers part of Tokyo and several islands in the North Pacific. "Each and every single event and moment I spent there was meaningful and memorable to me."
About 100 Rotary youth and educational programs alumni, recommended by their district governors, attended the event, held 18-21 June at the Coton House in Rugby, about 25 miles from the site of the RI Convention in Birmingham. They listened to speakers, took part in group activities and discussions, and kept journals of their experiences.
During an exercise focused on water scarcity, participants collected containers of contaminated water scattered across the campus and purified them with five Aquaboxes for use throughout the day. Small groups then discussed the impact of water scarcity on global security as well as related ethical questions.
"The exercise particularly resonated with participants from the United Kingdom, where they have experienced flooding in recent years," said Kate Hoeppel, senior coordinator of Rotary International's Youth Activities Section.
Another highlight of the event was the Cultural Marketplace, where participants showcased information, pictures, and materials from service projects in their home districts. "That has been a particularly popular part of the program for the past several years," Hoeppel said.
During another session, participants placed bands on each others' wrists, symbolizing their commitment to work together to achieve their goals. Angelo Pereira, a member of the Rotaract Club of Colombo Regent, Sri Lanka, said the band was the most meaningful part of the program for him.
"It made a bond that I feel will keep all the participants connected and instill in us a conviction reminding us of our desire to change the world," Pereira said. "I am still wearing mine."
Koirala said the meeting helped her develop her leadership skills. "One of the most important things I gained from the International RYLA is the connection and relationship with other RYLArian friends from various parts of the world," she said. "The opinions and ideas we shared together made me realize each of us can bring change in this world.
"I have made a goal in my life to bring some change in this world," she added.
Dong Kurn Lee, 2008-09 RI president, said RYLArians represent a new generation of service-minded individuals who recognize the importance of ethics and leadership and the need for involvement in their community.
" RYLA is so much more than simply a path to Rotary. It is itself a part of the Rotary journey. Because our lives in Rotary are a journey -- not a destination," Lee told the participants. "I hope that RYLA will be the beginning of a long and wonderful journey in service for each of you today."
The 2010 International RYLA will take place 17-20 June in Montréal, Québec, Canada. Download an application form.