Area Rotary clubs act globally to finish polio eradication |

Area Rotary clubs act globally to finish polio eradication

When my neighbor Bill invited me to join the local 49er Rotary club a number of years back, I was quite perplexed. In my mind, Rotary was a group of older white conservative businessmen who gathered together every week to socialize and network over lunch. My partner Chip and I had just moved to Nevada City from San Francisco. Somehow, this didn’t describe the crowd that we might settle into here in our newly adopted town.

Perhaps accepting that I was indeed white, owned a business, and was getting older made it easier to attend the first few meetings as Bill’s guest. But then I began to uncover some rather amazing principles in the foundation of Rotary. First of all, one of the objects of the organization is “the advancement of international understanding, goodwill and peace through a world fellowship of business and professional persons united in the ideal of service.”

I found that Rotary takes those words “world fellowship” and “service” very seriously. There are 1.2 million members in 30,000 clubs throughout 160 countries. Rotarians develop community service projects that address many of today’s most critical issues, such as children at risk, poverty and hunger, the environment, illiteracy and violence.

In 1990, Rotary launched its Preserve Planet Earth focus. “Rotarians – and through them, others – are encouraged to live environmentally conscious lifestyles, to increase the number and diversity of environmental service projects carried out by clubs, and to promote greater awareness among all Rotarians of the critical environmental issues affecting their communities and the planet.”

Each year the organization’s entire global leadership infrastructure peacefully changes hands – a rather remarkable undertaking. This year’s Rotary International president, Bhichai Rattakul from Thailand, chose “Sow the Seeds of Love” as his theme. Next year, Rotary will welcome its first president from the continent of Africa in Nigeria.

As you might imagine, Rotary holds a different space in my heart these days. Rotary is the place where individual business leaders, both women and men of all races and faiths, truly make a difference in our community and around the world. It’s the place where “a thousand points of light” and “think globally, act locally ” mix together in remarkable unity.

One of Rotary International’s most compelling and far-reaching projects is the Polio Eradication Campaign. Initiated in 1985, the goal of the program is simple: Immunize all the children of the world against polio, and make the world polio-free by 2005. The result is powerful. Polio is a highly infectious disease that can cause paralysis and sometimes death. Children, mainly under the age of 5, are most affected.

To date, the project has been highly successful. In 2001, there were no more than 600 cases, representing 99.8 percent decrease from the 350,000 annual cases estimated in 1988. The Americas were declared free from polio in 1994, the Western Pacific region became polio-free in 2000, and Europe achieved that status this year.

As there is no cure for polio, the best protection is prevention. The World Health Organization estimates that a total of $1 billion is required between 2002-05 to ensure delivery of more than 6 billion doses of oral polio vaccine to 600 million children in the 10 remaining countries where polio is endemic. Rotary International is committed to raise $500 million by 2005.

Globally, local Rotarian Barry Turner led a team of nine volunteers to remote villages in Nepal last fall. Nine hundred children were given oral polio immunizations. Three hundred people received dental care. Two hundred children now attend a school that is safe because of renovations. A return trip is in the planning stages for spring of 2003.

Locally, the five Rotary clubs in western Nevada County have joined together to help reach the Polio Eradication Campaign financial goal. Individually, we are donating $250 or more over the next three years. Plus we’re reaching out to our community. You’ll see the bright yellow “Polio-Free World by 2005” donation cans in businesses and retail stores throughout the area. Each dollar donated enables three children to be vaccinated.

Help us free the world of polio. Once Rotary has reached this goal, imagine what we might accomplish next.

John Paul is a member of the 49er Rotary Club in Nevada City.

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