Peace Exchange: Don and Yoko’s story

One objective of Rotary Youth Exchange is to promote world peace and cultural understanding. In 1961, a very special man in Rotary expressed similar words. Don Farquhar was just an ordinary club member, but an extraordinary Rotarian because of what he achieved. This is just part of Don’s story, and that of another special person in his life, Yoko Miyazaki.

By Stuart McDonald
Rotary Club of Healesville, Vic

In 1942, during WWII, Don was blinded in action against the Japanese. After returning to Australia, and many years passing, he became a charter member of the Rotary Club of Rosebud, D280 in Victoria. Then, in 1961, after hearing about a new program in Rotary called Student Exchange, Don had a desire and a mission in life – to initiate an exchange of students with Japan. This proved not so easy, as feelings and emotions were still running very deep following the war.

Don attended and spoke to the many thousands of Rotarians attending the Rotary International Conference in Tokyo in 1961. He spoke of the need for reconciliation, of a need to build friendships and cultural understanding.

He saw that the best means of meeting these goals would be to embrace this relatively new concept of Student Exchange. Subsequently, a Japanese district governor approached Don and asked that he arrange an exchange. After some initial apprehension, an exchange was arranged with the relevant districts, the Rotary Club of Rosebud, and the Rotary Club of Kurume, Japan. In 1962, Yoko arrived, and the story continued.

“Don was inspirational in breaking down the fears and prejudices that existed in Australia in the early 1960s. Yoko’s experiences in Australia broadened her mind and gave her much confidence and many friends around the world.”

Yoko had an exceptionally good exchange year, visiting and speaking to many other clubs and individuals. No doubt many of the questions asked of her would not have been easy, especially for a young Japanese girl.

After her year in Australia, Yoko returned home and completed high school and college. She gained a job as a flight stewardess with Qantas for three years, thanks to the efforts of Don. She then transferred to Scandinavian Airlines, working until 1974. Then, in 1981, as her husband was stationed in Cairo, Egypt, Yoko moved there with her daughter, where they stayed until 1985. While she was working for Qantas, she was able to maintain some contact with Don and his family, visiting them on a few occasions as her work brought her to Australia.

In the latter half of 2006, an attempt was made to contact Yoko for the 50th anniversary of the program with Japan. It soon became obvious that nobody had had any contact with her since well before 1981, when she moved to Egypt. After making some enquiries among the Rotarians in Japan, an amazing thing happened. Because she was still in contact with a school friend, the sister of a Rotarian from Kurume, she was found to be living in Tokyo.

The following few months proved something to make you appreciate the depth of Rotary Youth Exchange. When Yoko was contacted, she was in disbelief that someone from Rotary should be in contact with her after so many years. She was able to list her four host families by name, provide their addresses, as they were in 1962, and provide information that two of these families were deceased and one was living overseas.

With some searching, her only remaining family in Australia was then located living in North Queensland. A phone call was made to Peter Parkinson, whose reaction of being quizzed about once having hosted a Japanese girl, was, “That was a long time ago” and “we haven’t had any contact with Yoko since she was here in 1962”. But, thanks to an email address, he contacted her and received an immediate reply. Within two days, Sally, one of her host sisters, was able to reunite with her at Tokyo airport, for the first time in over 40 years. Plans were immediately put into place for a full-scale family reunion, which occurred in Cairns in February 2007, and one can only imagine the emotions involved in this.

This is just another great story of Rotary Youth Exchange. Could Don Farquhar ever have imagined the effect his efforts would have in building cultural understanding and friendship?