From 10-12th March 2009, Rotary Club of Koh Samui (ROCKS) played host to a group of American Group Study Exchange students. The group came from the New England States of Massachusetts and Connecticut, and were ably led by Aileen Witkowski. Aileen is grandmother to 10 granddaughters and 10 grandsons, so well able to keep her youthful group in order! The other members of the group were Brett Gearing, Jacelyn Lopez, Natasha Clark and Maggie Jaroszewicz, whose backgrounds include journalism, engineering and the law. Their escort was Asa Saligupta, District 3330 International Officer.
Before arriving at Koh Samui, the group had visited several areas of District 3330, including Phuket, Phang Nga and Krabi, and finally Nakhon Sri Thammarat. They then made their way to Suratthani and Donsak, arriving midday at Nathon. They were greeted by President Philip Parker, with Gilles Bonabot of Profmil, who escorted the group to Fairway, where Mike Langaskens of Profmil had generously offered the use of the Show House as a base for the three day stay. Along the way, the group called into a local supermarket to purchase some essential supplies for the house, and then called into La Salsa in Maenam for lunch.
After their long trip and refreshments, the group were happy to relax for a few hours in the peaceful surroundings of Fairway, mindful that they had a busy day to come. In the evening, President Philip, and IPP Adèle with husband Wally, escorted the group to Nai Dam, a beach side restaurant in Bang Por, where they all spent a convivial evening, enjoying the local sea food, and getting to know each other. Many anecdotes were exchanged, as well as information about their respective backgrounds, and Sponsoring Rotary Clubs.
The following morning, the group were transported to ROCKS adopted school in the south, Wat Kunaram, where they were joined by Rotarian Nicolas Emmert, who had headed up the Project. The Headmistress, Khun Artchara Chuainum, and senior member of staff, Khun Nuttee Srikorg, warmly greeted their visitors, and after refreshments in the staff room, proudly showed off their new kitchen and dining hall, and computer room, installed courtesy of ROCKS. After taking the opportunity to look around the temple and drop in on the mummified monk, the whole party moved off to Nathon and a welcome lunch by the harbour, in Sunset Restaurant.
Then it was off to another of ROCKS adopted schools, Wat Jaeng, where they were greeted by Khun Bee, and Headmaster, Khun Biawan. Again, the school staff proudly displayed the buildings that had been renovated or built by ROCKS, and Mike Langaskens of Profmil. The visitors were impressed with the scale of what had been achieved at Wat Jaeng. The visit was rounded off by refreshments offered by Khun Bee and Khun Biawan.
As the day was particularly hot, the visitors from America, where it is still very wintry, were very pleased to head back to their lodgings where they were able to take a welcome dip and just relax for a couple of hours. In the evening, the party went to dinner at Impiana, ROCKS regular meeting venue, and were served an excellent meal by the ever friendly staff. They were joined by Geoff Coop of ROCKS sister club, Tormohun, England, and his wife, Diane. During the meal, banners were exchanged, though Natasha preferred to offer special pins displaying Thailand and American flags, and the legend GSE.
The visit was rounded off on 12th March, with a visit to the Nathon Government Hospital, which, as President Philip was able to explain, was the recipient of the current ROCKS Project. President Elect, Claudio Cerquetti was able to join the party for this, their last day. Hospital Director, Khun Jirawan, opened proceedings with refreshments, and a slide show of ROCKS previous associations with the Hospital, including a Heart Monitor (2004), and the donation of 99 Wheelchairs in 2006. She then escorted her visitors through the hospital, particularly the Emergency Room and ICU, where ROCKS are hoping to supply badly needed equipment.
The GSE group then prepared to move off to catch their ferry, taking away with them abiding memories of the beautiful island of Koh Samui, and the many and various works that ROCKS have achieved. But much more, friendships were forged between the American visitors and their ROCKS hosts, which will also endure.