Faik Tokatlioglu is a Rotarian from Izmir, a large port city on Turkey’s Aegean coast. He is a past District Governor (2005) and the current president of a mid-sized manufacturing firm.
When and why did you join Rotary?
My father was a Rotarian. When I was younger, he encouraged me to join Rotaract, which is a youth program sponsored by Rotary International. This was a wonderful experience. Through Rotaract, I made great friends, participated in interesting projects and even met my wife! Rotary has highly educated members, many of whom are well-known in the community. This was very appealing to me. Most importantly, I was inspired by one of Rotary’s key goals: to help people worldwide better understand each other. I have always enjoyed this cross-cultural aspect the most. You have been a Rotarian for 26 years.
During this time, which projects did you find the most inspiring?
Two projects come to mind. The first is an ongoing effort to combat illiteracy. People who cannot read or write are isolated. Sometimes they do not even feel like complete human beings. In my district, we’ve worked on a number of inspiring projects designed to confront this social problem. I remember receiving a letter from a man who learned to read through our Rotary language program. In the letter, he indicated that he had always suffered from social anxiety. He was even afraid to ask for directions. After becoming literate, however, a new world opened up for him. He became free. Second, during my district governorship (2005), we organized the university Olympic Games in Izmir. Students from all over the world participated in this event; over 8,000 athletes were present. I was inspired because the Rotarians from my district worked so hard to make this project a success. They really supported me during my governorship.
What were the major challenges of being a District Governor?
If you are a doctor, you must join the medical board. If you are an attorney, you must join the bar association. Rotary membership is voluntary. Thus, as a Rotary District Governor, you have to find interesting projects that inspire people to commit their time and resources. People expect new ideas. They expect you to be motivational. As a District Governor, you travel constantly and do a lot of public speaking. Yet, these are positive challenges. I experienced great hospitality while travelling throughout my district. The Rotarians who invited me to their clubs and into their homes were very gracious. Because of this experience, I now have many close friends throughout the country. Perhaps the best part of being a District Governor was the amount of time I was able to spend with my wife. Your spouse plays an essential role during your governorship. You must work closely together for long hours. This was wonderful! In fact, I’ve never spent so much time with my wife in my entire life!
In your view, do foreigners have an accurate perception of Turkish culture?
The average American probably knows little about daily life in Turkey. Yet, Americans may be somewhat familiar with Turkey in a political sense. For example, during the recent war in Iraq the Turkish Parliament refused to allow American troops to pass throughTurkish soil. This had a negative impact on the American perception of Turkey. Some Europeans have a negative view of Turkish society. Some believe we are backward and misogynistic. This prejudice has a long history. For centuries the Europeans held an unfavorable view of Ottoman society. But people who visit Turkey usually have a positive impression. Those who experience our culture firsthand can look beyond the stereotypes. When you visit a country you can appreciate its essence. That’s why its important for us, as Turks and Rotarians, to share our culture with people from other lands.