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History of RYLA

In 1959, the state government of Queensland, Australia, invited local Rotarians to help plan a festival celebrating Queensland's upcoming centennial. Learning that Queen Elizabeth II was sending her cousin Princess Alexandra, who was in her early 20s, to the celebration, Rotarians planned activities specifically for the princess's age group.

The gundoo, an aboriginal word meaning "festival" or "fun together," was a rousing success. More than 300 men and women between the ages of 17 and 23 attended. Encouraged by the event's popularity with the young attendees, Rotarians saw potential to create a similar annual youth program. With little hesitation, Art Brand, governor of what was then District 260, approved the project, and on 2 May 1960, RYLA was born.

Australian districts 258 and 260 established a committee together that developed the official framework of RYLA:

to train youth ages 14-30 in character, leadership, personal development, and good citizenship.


These guidelines helped RYLA expand to all Rotary districts in Australia and led to its approval as a Rotary International program by the RI Board at the 1971 Convention in Sydney, Australia.

By 1998, RYLA had become an established program in more than half of the 521 Rotary districts worldwide. Also in 1998, then RI President James Lacy, emphasizing his concern for children, appointed an international RYLA committee, dedicated to improving and expanding this special Rotary program throughout the world. Rotarians with different RYLA experiences were invited to RI headquarters to exchange information and ideas; they agreed that the program could be improved through regional training workshops.

After District 5520's first RYLA camp, about 20 years ago, a participant summed up his experience in one word: Camelot . He wrote: "If you know the story of King Arthur, you may recall that as King Arthur was dying in a young man's arms, he turned to the youth and said, 'If you learn of anyone that has not heard of Camelot, tell them loudly and clearly that there really was that one wisp of glory called Camelot.'"

Gundoo or Camelot ? RYLA is both, and aren't we fortunate? Dedication, passion, and love describe the heart of RYLA, a most remarkable investment that assures Rotary's future. Every Rotarian should take the opportunity to enjoy this exciting program and life-changing experience.


By Past Foundation Trustee Irving J. "Sonny" Brown. This article was originally published in the December 1999 issue of The Rotarian.

Irving J. "Sonny" Brown, a 2000-04 trustee of The Rotary Foundation, was chair of the RI RYLA Committee when this article was published. He has also served as RI vice president and as chair of the 2001 San Antonio Convention Committee.


See Also: About Rotary Youth Leadership Awards

See Also: Rotary's Profound Formula on Global Youth Leadership Training


RYLA 3450