Four Alabama teachers make trip of a lifetime

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Four Alabama teachers who participated in Rotary International&8217;s Rotary Foundation Group Study Exchange to India this past May can now use their experiences in the classroom, including Demopolis&8217;s own Audrey Hamilton.

GSE is a program designed to provide young professionals the opportunity to study a host country&8217;s lifestyles, applications of their own vocation, and exchange ideas.

Hamilton, an English teacher at Demopolis High School, was joined by Heather Smith of Dale County High School, William Hester of UMS-Wright Preparatory School in Mobile and Peter Wilson of St. Paul&8217;s Episcopal School in Mobile.

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Before their trip, Hamilton said, the group met twice at the Greenville library and researched different aspects of Indian culture. After their research, they shared their findings with the group.

Long-time Rotarian and Ozark resident, Cindy Lanier, served as team leader to the group. During the month-long trip to India, the group provided presentations on the culture, history, food and economy of south Alabama to approximately 20 Rotary Clubs in India.

Hamilton said the people she met were so interested in where they came from and what they had to offer. After returning from India, she recalls her students were genuinely interested in her trip.

Hamilton describes travel as her passion. She has previously traveled to Ireland, Europe, the Isle of Mann and Guatemala. She hopes to travel to Mexico this summer.

During their extended stay in India, the group visited factories, research facilities, and historical sites, in addition to Indian schools, where they interacted with local students. They also donated books to schools that previously had none.

Hester explained, &8220;The main reason for my participation in GSE relates to my job as a world history teacher. I felt that by traveling to India, I would gain a better understanding of its culture, politics, economy, and religion. I believe I will be a more effective teacher of world history because of these first-hand experiences.&8221;

Smith said, &8220;Seeing the difference that parent participation can make in a student&8217;s progress was a very valuable professional reward; however, the most important aspect of this exchange for me was seeing firsthand how Rotary and individual Rotarians are working to make the world a better place.&8221;

One major accomplishment for the team was pairing with Indian Rotarians to administer polio vaccinations. This was part of Rotary International&8217;s ongoing commitment to eradicate the disease worldwide.

Each team member stayed with different host families as they traveled to 10 Indian cities.

Lanier emphasized that the experiences with hosts were some of the most important and impressive parts of the trip.

The team also spoke at a Red Cross facility, visited a home for lepers, met with a man who walked with Gandhi, visited Gandhi&8217;s home, saw the Taj Mahal and toured the famous Karni Mata Temple, which serves as both an active place of worship for Hindus and home to approximately 20,000 rats.

Lanier, who has traveled to nearly a dozen foreign countries, said &8220;You learn so much living in another culture; it broadens and matures you.&8221; She said the GSE team members can now use their experiences from abroad in the classrooms.

Hamilton wrote of the trip, &8220;My travels to India were enlightening and were indeed a catalyst for introspection.&8221;

Hester said, &8220;Instead of fading from my memory, India increasingly calls to me and reminds me of the spirit of goodwill that still exists in humanity. Of all the lessons I learned in India, the greatest is the beauty of the soul.&8221;

The trip to India served as the second half of the Rotary exchange with India. In April, Ozark, Dothan, Enterprise, Montgomery and Mobile Rotarians hosted visiting GSE participants from India.

Lanier now serves as the committee chairperson for the district to find applicants for the next GSE team, which will be immersed in Brazilian culture in May of 2008. Those interested can contact her at

Kelli Wright, staff writer for The Demopolis Times contributed to this story. She can be reached at