In April 2020, India fell prey to COVID-19. Life witnessed a paradigm shift, with adversity in full swing.
With the spirit of Toastmasters engraved in me, I decided to envision the opportunity in that adversity. I asked my mentor if Toastmasters is indeed present in 143 countries across the world and if most clubs now meet online because of quarantine restrictions. The moment he answered yes, I made up my mind.
I had been pondering what to do for my Distinguished Toastmaster (DTM) project. It had to challenge me. It had to be something that I would remember, not for a day or even a year, but something I would smile about decades later. Thus, I began Project 143—an attempt to attend club meetings in every country where our truly global organization is present. (Since this article was written, Toastmasters International has expanded into 145 countries.)
With a digital Toastmasters passport and the resolve to expand my horizons of thought, I began my journey in the Kingdom of Bahrain and ended it in Curaçao, a Caribbean island. I didn’t visit clubs that conducted meetings in their native language or were not meeting online. I did visit 127 countries, across 24 time zones, in exactly 127 days.
During that time, I learned that Toastmasters is a platform not only for improving communication but also for making meaningful connections with other members through actions of integrity, respect, service, and excellence. That was my deepest connection of all—with our core values.
The biggest region to cover was Europe, the Middle East, and Africa; I visited 71 countries in those parts of the world. The most challenging region was the Caribbean, because of the time difference. I attended meetings there as late as 2:30 a.m. and as early as 4 a.m.
One of my most emotional moments was listening to the story behind the Emancipation Day, when slavery was abolished in the British Colonies, including Trinidad and Tobago. When I visited MDA Toastmasters, in Valsayn, Trinidad and Tobago, one member spoke about that event. I could feel the pain; I could only imagine the adversity their people had to endure.
I also managed to fast-forward my own journey as a speaker—from fumbling in Table Topics® to winning the Best Table Topics Speaker in almost 30 countries.
I experienced a gazillion memorable moments in my online adventure. The funniest part was seeing people attempting to pronounce my Indian name as best they could. It went from Sindhooya to Sandhuja, Cynthia, Toastmaster Zinnov, and finally, Chelsea. (It’s actually pronounced Sin-dhoo-jah.)
Two other moments were highlights. Most people want to hear from that one esteemed person in our lives, the person who validates everything we have done so far and raises the bar on our future. I received that call in August 2020, from then-International President Deepak Menon, DTM. I was completely overwhelmed to see how a leader of that stature can be so humble. That is the beauty of Toastmasters. We spoke for over 30 minutes; I was visiting my 120th country and he gave me the push to tread the final path.
The second moment was during the 2020 International Convention, my first ever. I was honored when the International President’s report made mention of my Project 143.
At every meeting I visited, the club’s members and I wore different styles of clothing, ate different food, and represented different heritages and cultures. But we were bound by the Toastmasters spirit.
It’s been said that if you have not traveled, you have read just one page of the book. As the world stood still battling the pandemic, I am proud and humbled that I took the opportunity to travel digitally, immersing myself in this project and developing as a person holistically.
Being in Toastmasters the last two years has truly helped me discover an identity of my own. Project 143 is my way of thanking our mammoth organization. For me, 143 means I love Toastmasters International. What does it mean to you?
Sindhuja Nanduri, DTM is the President of a corporate club within Zinnov, a boutique management consulting company in Karnataka, Bangalore, India, where she works as a consultant. She is also a member of Spoken Word Toastmasters, also in Bangalore. She describes herself as a violinist by training, an engineer by education, and a Toastmaster at heart.