Posted by Valrie Wafer, Director , Rotary International

In her May 2021 Newsletter, Rotary International Director Valarie Wafer talks about a recent virtual reunion with the Vocational Training Team members that she led and spent four weeks with in Sydney, Australia, 11 years ago. This Vocational Training Team (VTT) model brought together a multi disciplinary team with a focus, in her case it was youth depression and suicide. ..........

Dear Rotarains, Rotaractors and the whole Rotary family in District 7070,

What to do with a Sunday afternoon while a stay-at-home order is in place?  How about set up a virtual reunion with the Vocational Training Team members you spent four weeks with in Sydney, Australia, 11 years ago!

We are familiar with the Group Study Exchange Program (GSE) which brought team members together at the beginning of their career to experience their vocation in another part of the world. Whereas the Vocational Training Team (VTT) model brings together a multi disciplinary team with a focus, in our case it was youth depression and suicide.

The year was 2010 and this was the first VTT team to be sent to D9750 in the greater Sydney area.  This district typically hosted two to three GSE teams a year and were very surprised when our team arrived.  Our ages ranged from 46 to 60 and our professions included; crisis worker, social worker, police officer, guidance counsellor and child psychiatrist.  We didn’t want to be entertained, we wanted to work, and work we did.  Spending five days a week in mental health wards, youth drop-in centres, addiction support services, police services and schools. The reciprocal learning was incredible and I was curious after eleven years to check up on the team and measure the impact of this experience.

How exciting to see everyone and catch up, we did a lot of laughing as we shared memories and caught up on the addition of grandchildren, retirement for some, and how we are coping during COVID.  Each one described how this VTT experience helped influence the way they returned to their jobs and how it made them more empathetic. But the overall commonality was that it was life changing! The child psychiatrist, who was 60 at the time of our trip, took a sabbatical in 2017 and went back to Australia to work as a consultant with some of the contacts made on that trip. He then went to Geneva for 3 months to consult with the WHO.  The team has collaborated professionally with each other in a cross-pollinating way; education/psychiatry, policing/school liaison officers.  One member’s mother recently passed after a journey with Alzheimer’s, she said this experience made her a better human, enabled her to be a caregiver and now volunteers and mentors’ families trying to navigate the system.

One thing is for certain this dynamic and passionate group of leaders each came home and made a difference.  They changed the conversation around mental health, became advocates for mental health support, services, and addiction.

We speak about Rotary moments, hoping we have made a mark on this world.  This team did and I am so proud of them.

It was a well spent Sunday afternoon.


Be well, and be safe.

Yours In Rotary,


Valarie Wafer

Rotary International Director (2020-22)

Rotary Club of Collingwood, South Georgian Bay