CAMBRIDGE, England - My teammate, Ericka Iles of Belleville, has coined a phrase that's become almost iconic of our trip to the East of the England: "It feels like I'm walking through a history book."
As of this writing, we haven't even been in England for two full weeks, and we've done and seen more than most tourists could ever imagine. The doors to the past, present and future of this region have been opened to us, and we've been granted the guided tour.
History surrounds us each step of our journey. From visiting pubs built in the 12th and 13th centuries to touring the world-renowned University of Cambridge, the opportunities are endless.
We've learned that many of our hosts, all Rotarians from District 1080 in the East Anglia area, are much like us in that they sometimes take their surroundings for granted. When the inbound team from England visited Southern Illinois this spring, they were captivated by wonders such as the Shawnee National Forest in Southern Illinois, which we tend to just accept as the norm.
Personally, I've been able to see - and in some
cases - touch, newspapers from the Revolutionary War era, an original signed copy of "The Jungle Book" by Rudyard Kipling, the notes of Charles Darwin and
a Bible belonging to arctic explorer Robert Falcon Scott.
But there's been much more than history laid before us. Our team has had the opportunity meet with local leaders, such as the Lord Mayor Jenny Law of Norwich and Barry George Coleman, mayor of the coastal city of Great Yarmouth.
Each guest we've met has given us insight into the daily lives, struggles and successes of their cities and their residents. One of the most shocking parts of the trip has been learning just how similar Southern Illinois and East Anglia are.
But our trip wouldn't be possible if not for Rotary International, and we've had the opportunity to see Rotary at work in England. One of the highlights of trip for myself (and I think I can safely say the rest of the team) was visiting Sailability.
This program, based on the manmade system of lakes known as The Broads, teaches and enables people with physical and mental disabilities to sail, both with a partner and alone.
These individuals become capable of competing on the same level as others in regional sailing competitions, and, in some cases, it's helped solve problems within families, as it offers a way for parents to connect with children who may otherwise be isolated because of their condition.
Each step of our journey through England has been inspiring in a different way. Our historic visits have given us newfound appreciation for the past, discussions with leaders provide us inroads into current situations and looking at Rotary projects like Sailability truly demonstrate the effect the efforts of a small group of people can have.