TABU – Towards A Better Understanding - is a Rotary Club of Belfast exchange project with the Rotary Club of Highland Park/Highwood in Chicago. It aims to create a better mutual understanding between different communities by studying Conflict Resolution. This includes finding ways to break down barriers among people, particularly young people, and learning how to reconcile differences. Six Northern Ireland students from different religions, schools and backgrounds are carefully selected to go on this exchange every other year while, in between, six Highland Park students visit Belfast. They are accompanied by Rotarians.
The project had its first study visit in 1992 and one has taken place every year since. The rather clever logo for TABU was designed by John Armstrong, then a member of the Club. The banner reproduces the Edmund Burke quote: All that is required for EVIL to prosper is that good men do NOTHING. It first featured, just before that first visit, in an article in the Belfast Telegraph, 22nd April 1992, written by Robin Morton, the son of our past member PP Stanley Morton and one time Honorary Secretary.
The students are hosted by Student families and the adults by Rotarians. The students are usually hosted by the families of the students who experienced the Programme in the previous year. Highland Park is a suburb 30 minute drive north of downtown Chicago
They participate in a very busy and varied schedule, action packed from beginning to end and they find it quite an experience, frequently life changing... Summaries of the visits can be seen here.
The impact the programme has had on its participants can be illustrated in that three parents, one from Belfast and two from Highland Park have been so impressed by the positive changes they saw on their sons' return that they have joined their respective clubs. Past President Martha Gray (Highland Park) and Doris Houston (Belfast) have been to the fore in the programmes since the participation of their respective sons, Jesse and Kyle. The second Highland Park/Highwood member, Paul Munk, joined after his son's visit to Belfast in 2009 and he led the 2013 team to Belfast.
PP Martha Gray of the Highland Park/Highwood Club says that: "TABU has forever linked the clubs of Belfast and Highland Park, Illinois in a bond of friendship and working together in a common purpose to help the youth of our countries to better understand the conflicts and issues that confront each of us in our daily lives and our countries in their search to make a more peaceful and better life for its citizens."
The Exchange has had a dramatic impact on the students raising their awareness of issues on a global level, preparing them to journey forth to their universities and the world beyond with new ideas and an open mind in ways that would not have been possible if the programme did not exist. Many of our former students can trace their career paths to TABU and to their trips, the Rotarians they met and the ideas explored in meeting with students, political activists and the opportunity to absorb a culture and set of ideas that were different from their own. In some cases these paths have been cemented and in others totally changed. Students have ventured into Law, Foreign Service, Teaching, International Banking as well as politics and the media. It has also fostered friendships that have had a lasting impact on those who have participated in the process and directly led to the setting up of inter-school projects particularly on mediation and music.
TABU is producing great young people committed to the ideals of Rotary, directly led to the setting up of Rotaract and Interact Clubs and even becoming members of local Rotary Clubs. In 2009 three of the students who participated in the 2008 programme to Chicago joined the Belfast Rotaract Club, whose founding President was a 2006 participant, and in 2012 another student 2006 participant also joined the Belfast Rotaract Club. In 2018 the Belfast students on their return established an Interact Club.
A very sincere thanks and congratulations to all those Rotarians who have been involved in any way, both here and at the Highland Park/Highwood Club, who have over the years really put so much effort into TABU, ensuring the visits prove to be a worthwhile and memorable experience for all concerned getting great results and some wonderful young people now wanting to put something back into our community.
In particular we thank all the organisations and individuals who meet with us both in Northern Ireland and Chicago and note that in every case we receive a strong and positive desire to be a part of our programme.
We have all benefited greatly from this experience and anticipate continuing the program for many years to come. The Club has also been recognised many times for its work to improve community understanding more here...).
However perhaps the best testament to the Programme are the reports of the programmes by the students themselves which can be read on the yearly report pages and encapsulate the type of impact that the programme has had on all the young people who have participated.
A few are:
We understood that everyone was different, but we also understood that this was a good thing, and wasn't a barrier from working together and getting along. We also understood that through communication and an open mind, people can get along where they might not be expected to. It is difficult to find words to depict how big an effect this scheme had on the 6 of us, but it is undeniable that the experience will stay with us for the rest of our lives, and that we have made many strong friendships. We moved towards a better understanding. It is now our task to help others along the way. (Paul Chambers, Belfast student Chicago Exchange 2010)
TABU was life-changing for me but even more importantly my experience at TABU has given me the tools to change the lives of others. (Drew Gerber, Chicago Student Belfast Exchange 2013)
TABU doesn't just change lives, it changes the world. We gained the skills necessary to become some of our generation's leaders. More importantly, though, we gained the relationships that will last us lifetimes. (Anna Fox, Chicago Student Belfast Exchange 2013)
I had heard from several previous TABU students that this trip was life-changing, but I did not understand the weight of those words until I experienced it for myself. I have returned home with a wealth of knowledge and a new perspective, both of which are invaluable and will be used in my own community and others for years to come. (Isa Spoerry, Chicago Student Belfast Exchange 2013)
I don't want to say good bye and have this end, but the magic of TABU is that it doesn't have to. The skills I have learned over the past ten days will stay with me for life and I am eager to employ them in situations both locally and internationally. In the words of the author John Green, "I go to seek a great perhaps." Thank you for pushing me to explore and question and expand and grow. TABU is more than a trip on conflict resolution; it is a trip that understands that it is youth involvement that will shape the future. It is our job as the next generation to keep an insatiable hunger on our lifelong search for that great perhaps. Truly, deeply and humbly, I thank you. (Suzanne Warshell, Chicago Student Belfast Exchange 2013)