President David opened the meeting at 12:30 pm. 
 
This being the fifth Wednesday of the month, Jim Freeman presented a piece of Rotary history as our Words of Inspiration.  He noted there are repressive dictators over much of the world, some certifiably insane. Looking back at the dictatorship of Adolph Hitler, Jim told the history of Rotary in Germany during the rise of the Nazi party.  At first the party encouraged its members to join Rotary as a means of pushing propaganda and at one point half of club members were party members.  Then party members started forcing Jews from the clubs; some other Rotarians quit in protest. Before long the Nazi party forbade its members from joining Rotary or Freemasonry, because the standards of those groups were incompatible with the Nazi agenda. It is important for Rotarians to take stands for our values.
 
Secretary Mike Carmichael introduced the following visitors:
Visitor
Host or Rotary Affiliation
Work
Andrew Bolio
Clara Montanez
Future Symphony Institute
D.R. Butler
Mount Vernon, VA Club
Past Governor, District 7610
Kevin Matthees
David Klaus
Rotary Global Grant Scholar
John Sullivan
Bill Busker
Adjunct Prof, George Mason U.
Denise Minor
Nicole Butler
Mind Spring Metro
Hunting Davis
Sheldon Ray
Financial Advisor
Amy Manson
Pat Cunningham
Hostage U.S.
Liz Frank
Andrew Ashley
Hostage U.S.
Tamar Kvaratskhelia Harper
Michael Harper
(Michael’s wife)
 
Acting Sergeant at Arms Ken Brown recognized the following birthday celebrants, neither of whom were present:
  • Trip Triplin - April 1, Trip joined the Club last January.  Sponsored by Abe Helal, Trip's classification is Government Service: Budget Analyst.
  • Peter Kennedy - April 2. Peter was sponsored by Mac Asbill and joined the club in January of 1991.  His classification is Document Management Services.
 
President David announced again that we have hired a new Club Assistant, Sarah Elsamanoudi.  She will not be doing all the work formerly handled by Executive Directors, and will not be working as many hours. Sarah’s main roles will be working with our Treasurer and Finance Committee to manage the member billing and budgeting, reporting data to District 7620 and Rotary International, supporting the Club and Foundation Boards and coordinating our weekly meetings. We can no longer afford someone who does it all, so our officers will have to perform more of their traditional duties themselves; committees will not have as much support; and we as a whole need to figure out how to do things without calling the office [which we also do not have any more]. David told us he has been sending out emails which he would formerly have asked Gretchen to handle, and he has been learning about all the information he can access and things he can do in the Member Section of our on-line software, Club Runner. It is available to us all at www.dcrotary.org. He is pretty happy with what he is learning.
 
Jessica Stewart enthusiastically sought volunteers to help with the first annual DC Duck Race fundraiser on April 30.  This will be a fun-filled day, starting at 10:00 and lasting until 4:30, with the actual race the last event. Club members are needed for all of the events that Saturday and many are needed a week earlier, on April 23, to do things like number the ducks.
 
PROGRAM
 
Pat Cunningham introduced Rachel Briggs, Director of Hostage UK and Director of the new Hostage US. Rachel’s uncle was kidnapped in Colombia so she knows first-hand how frightening an experience this can be for a family member. Rachel has had a long career as a writer and researcher on issues of counter-terrorism, security and extremism. She has advised governments, companies and non-profits across Europe and North America and is a regular commentator in the international media. She studied at Cambridge and in 2014 was awarded an Order of the British Empire (OBE) for her work through Hostage UK.
 
     
 
Rachel said it took her twenty years to get here, and she did not mean Washington traffic was that bad.  Her uncle was kidnapped by the ELN in Colombia twenty years ago and was a hostage for 7 1/2 months. He was held mostly by teenagers with AK-47s, alcohol, and drugs. He slept outside and was marched place to place. Most of what he ate was rice. Fortunately, he was not beaten so his was not as bad as many experiences.  As is the case with most hostages, he does not want to talk about it, but he did describe one night when he woke up covered by rats.
 
Many former hostages say that they thought the experience was worse for their families than for them. You know whether you are alive or dead. The family can only imagine. Our reactions turn out to have a normal pattern: 1) scared and frightened; 2) advised to keep quiet about the case, so we suffer alone and in secret; and 3) helplessness.
 
In our work we have dealt with powerful politicians and media personalities who go to work and make things happen and then go home and feel helpless about their hostage loved-one. We are helpful by sharing with people going through this crisis that they are normal. 
 
Let me share what we heard from a mother of Chris, a 25-year-old man in Nigeria who was killed in a rescue attempt after several months’ captivity. “We had no understanding and were at a loss. Hostage UK understood what was happening. They could explain that he was concerned about us. That made us feel connected.”
 
Let me tell you a bit about a day in my life, the kinds of experiences where we can help:
Your family is called by the State Department saying your son has been captured in Syria. They want you to come in for a meeting. You travel to Washington DC where you've never been before. You do not know what questions to ask or with whom you will be meeting.
A husband is taken. His employer stops paying his salary and you are about to lose your home.
Your daughter is a consultant in Afghanistan. She was captured and you do not know the status. You are not supposed to talk with anyone about this, but the IRS says they are giving you a last notice for filing her taxes.
You had a car accident. The insurance company wants to talk to the policyholder and it is your husband. He is not here and you cannot tell why.
Your husband was beheaded. The video is on the Internet. Your daughter searches for her father's name and sees her beheaded father’s body.
 
We can help you to have an idea of what might happen and even how to prepare when you're going to have a meeting at the State Department. You can go to bed knowing you did all you could do that day.
 
We have access to a professional team of our own staff and others. We can provide a child psychologist as in the case of a child self-harming. We have regional experts who can tell you about the area of the world where your loved one is. We can help a returning hostage needing dental work or needing legal assistance. We have professionals who are willing to work a few hours a couple times a year or much more.
 
We are not in the business of preventing kidnapping or getting hostages back. We support families throughout the process. All this is free; we do the same for people with means or someone who is homeless.  People help us with money, contacts, and expertise.
 
Let me interject a bit of politics, which I understand is a big pastime here now. If an outsider just looking at your presidential debates judged Americans he would assume you are all pretty horrible. But I have been here for six months and realize what wonderful, caring people Americans are. So many ask, “What can I do?” Rotary is a great example of the best. We clearly have a meeting of minds and hearts.
 
Q&A:
 
Q:  You mentioned Terry White. I visited with him in New Zealand. That raises the question of your position on negotiating or paying ransoms.
A:  We are non-operational. We have a policy of no policy. We are not experts and I personally get irritated by people who do not know anything about a topic but believe they can opine on everything. We have to remain very non-judgmental, whatever their decision may be or what decision is made for them if it is taken from their hand.
 
Q: Why would a homeless person be kidnapped?
A: We have not had that experience, but we would help someone who was homeless. We have come close, in that we have had families who cannot afford to make international telephone calls and we paid, as we did in the case of a photographer who was taken.
 
Q: Do people call you? Do you call them? How do they know that you are there?
A: We have printed handouts. We go places and talk. We do whatever we can to get media coverage. We do have our website [www.hostageuk.org]. We know some people don't really need us; they have money and contacts. But we try to let those who come in contact with hostage families know about us. And we try to stay relevant and maintain education programs for security people so they know what we can do.
 
Q: I have experience in HR with the International Monetary Fund, which provides a lot of support. Other employers do that also. Do you help by advising them on what to do before an assignment to prevent being taken hostage?
A: We do not prevent, but we make sure families facing risk know to do things such as put in place a power of attorney.
 
Q:  Do you make a distinction between hostages versus a child taken by a spouse?
A: We only deal with hostages. We are not equipped for other things.
 
Q: Is this getting worse?
A: It is hard to tell. There is no central point of information. Governments do not keep those records. Private security firms keep the data as proprietary information. We do think, however that there are 150 to 300 hostages taken each year from among United States citizens.
 
Q: Are there steps for release?
A: There probably are steps, but they are not in our area. There are kidnapping patterns. There are sieges where it is pretty clear no one is going to get out alive. Those are cases where hostages are used for propaganda.
 
Q: I've been captured with my children and held hostage three days in Africa. I could not imagine what my wife went through. Do you deal with cases other than in the UK?
A: We have become blinded to geography. We have not just been dealing with citizens of the UK.  We have been involved over the last three years particularly in helping families from the US. That is why we are here now starting Hostage US. Australia and New Zealand refer people to us.
 
Q: I grew up in El Salvador and later Colombia where there were high levels of kidnapping. How many cases do you decide to take any year, and how to choose which ones to take?
A:  We do not take the child-taken-by-parent cases or the forced-marriage cases. Last year we had 40 new cases in the UK. Some cases run as long as 3 1/2 years. We also have some that linger some years after the hostage comes back. For example it can take up to five years for PTSD to set in.
 
President David presented Rachel Briggs with a certificate stating that we would plant a tree in her honor in a national park area in DC.
 
Tyisha Cottman won the raffle small pot of $27, but did not win the large pot of $407.  
 
D.R. Butler, from the Mount Vernon, VA club and PDG of District 7610, used foundation gift points to present a Paul Harris award to a young member of our club whom he found to be outstanding:  Michael Harper.
 
President David thanked Balraj Gupta and Stu Shalloway for working at the Hospitality Desk;  Scott Love and Sarah Elsamanoudi for conducting the Raffle; and Secretary Mike Carmichael for writing the Meeting in Review.
 
President David announced next week’s program will feature William McCants, Director of the Project on US Relations with the Muslim World at the Brookings Institution.
 
Acting Sergeant-at-Arms Ken Brown sounded the bell, as the meeting adjourned at 1:30 pm.