In 1993, Bashir El-Khalafawi traveled to Gaza to be with his mother, who had been diagnosed with throat cancer. It was a trip that would change his Rotary trajectory, transforming him from a member of a Rotary club to a Rotarian.
Bashir found the facilities at the Shifa Hospital Cancer Clinic to be outrageous. While the Gaza Strip was home to more than 800,000 Palestinians, the Shifa Hospital was only equipped to perform minor surgeries, with special treatments and major surgeries referred to hospitals in Israel whenever permits were allowed and time permitted.
Health care had suffered tremendously from lack of funding during years of conflict. There was an urgent need to update facilities and equipment.
Among the slides taken by Bashir to demonstrate the conditions accepted as normal at the hospital was a shot of the kitchen, where staff lunches were kept in the small fridge that also held the blood samples.
Although there was no Rotary Club in Gaza, Bashir returned home to Vancouver Island, determined to find a way.
He presented his case to District 5020 PDG and World Community Service Chair Gordon Lang, who agreed to ask his counterpart in District 2490 Israel to support a grant application.
Despite the fact that these were tense political times in Gaza, a cooperative alliance was formed. The Shifa Hospital Cancer Clinic created a list of much-needed equipment, and Palestinian doctors agreed to ensure installation and maintenance. With Bashir at the helm, the Rotary Club of Parksville mobilized its resources to secure funding while Israel guaranteed safe delivery of the equipment to the Shifa Hospital.
With a funding commitment from the Rotary Club of Parksville, applications were made for matching grants from the Rotary Foundation and the Canadian Rotary Committee for International Development (CRCID), both of which were approved in 1994.
The result was a unique international humanitarian project, supplying two bio-hazard security cabinets to the Cancer Clinic at the Shifa Hospital and, at the same time, facilitating cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians at a time when border access to Gaza was uncertain.
With the success of this newly established cooperative model, there was momentum to continue the wish list for the Shifa Hospital. In the following months, Bashir made two trips to Israel and Gaza to continue the friendship dialogue. On his return to Vancouver Island, he gained the support of four additional Island clubs – Lantzville, Qualicum Beach, Ladysmith, and Nanaimo.
With a second matching grant from the Rotary Foundation and a further matched grant from CRCID, they were able to tick off more items from the wish list – three air conditioning units, one each for the men’s and women’s Chemotherapy Treatment Rooms and one for the Examination Room. In addition, there would be equipment for the training of new nursing staff at the Cancer Clinic, as well as for ongoing training and development of existing staff.
In 1997, Bashir went to Gaza to officially present the balance of their wish list to the doctors and staff of Shifa Hospital, proudly tagging the equipment with the Rotary logo. Rotary had arrived in Gaza!
To quote PDG Gordon Lang: “I am convinced that we are getting some foundations laid to getting Palestinians and Israelis cooperating in spite of all the odds and difficulties. Eventually, Rotary principles will prevail, and hopefully, all the goals of ‘have’ peoples helping ‘have not’ peoples will be realized.”
For Bashir, having experienced the power of Rotary in action, the Foundation became his charity of choice and a vehicle for cooperation, goodwill, and understanding across political borders and religious differences.
Bashir has held many positions since he first joined the Ladysmith Rotary Club in 1985. He was President of the Parksville Club (1992-93) and the founding President of the Rotary Club of Parksville AM in 1984, reprising his role 25 years later in 2020-21 and remaining a member of this Club today.
Bashir has also held a number of District positions, including Assistant Governor (2007), District Chair of World Community Service, District Vocational Chair, District Foundation Annual Fund Chair, and District Lead for the Paul Harris Society.
Over the years, he and his wife, Judie, have donated more than $25,000 to The Rotary Foundation. They have been strong advocates for the Foundation in their Club and throughout the District.
During the District 5020 Million Dollar Campaign Kick-off Dinner in Victoria in August of 2023, Rotary International President Gordon McInally surprised Bashir when he called him up to the stage to present him with his Paul Harris Major Donor Level 2.
From dramatic and transformational change in the Gaza Strip to ongoing and persistent change through his work with the Foundation over the past 30 years, Bashir’s leadership has inspired dedication, mobilized support, and demonstrated in countless ways that … yes, one person can make a difference.