By Sue Wambolt, Contributing Writer
Marlborough – According to Rotary International, the mission of The Rotary Foundation is to “enable Rotarians to advance world understanding, goodwill, and peace through the improvement of health, the support of education, and the alleviation of poverty.” For Rotary's 1.2 million members, the commitment to “Service Above Self” is the foundation upon which they hope to change the world. Among their many humanitarian service projects, one has been a 25-plus year commitment thus far – the PolioPlus program.
Launched in 1985, the PolioPlus program has helped to all but eradicate one of the most crippling diseases of the 20th century. When the program was initiated, there were more than 350,000 cases of polio each year in more than 125 countries. Today, with more than 2 billion children receiving the vaccine, this number has been reduced by 99 percent, according to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The group also goes on to state that the disease has been eliminated in all countries except India, Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Still, according to Peggie Thorsen of the Rotary Club of Marlborough, there's more work to be done.
“Rotary persists because we realize that, especially in this world's easy transportation, the polio virus could return to our countries by just a plane ride,” she said.
Rotary has been working to raise $200 million in response to a $355 million challenge grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. To date, Rotary Club members locally and worldwide have raised $190 million of the $200 million challenge.
In the words of Bill Gates, “If we all have the fortitude to see this effort through to the end, then we will eradicate polio.”
The Marlborough club has been doing its part to raise funds for PolioPlus. At its Community Recycling Day event Oct. 22, a display was set up to educate residents and to collect monetary donations. The group uses a small cooler for donations to illustrate the fact that the serum (oral polio vaccine) must be kept cold and Rotarians often transport it into the mountains or jungles by pack animals. In addition, red wristbands are being sold that say “Goodbye Polio – Thanks Rotary” for $2 each. They can be purchased at various Rotary events.
According to the Rotary website, their organization's goal is to completely eliminate polio, causing it to join smallpox as the only two human diseases ever eradicated. However, there remains the daunting task of treating those already affected. The irreversible, crippling and potentially fatal disease can cause paralysis within hours. Survivors are left with limited mobility and, at times, with misshapen limbs that may be rendered useless.
For David Talbot, himself a polio survivor, a trip to Uganda in 2005 became a call to action. At the time, Talbot was working on a documentary for a nonprofit organization. While filming, Talbot observed people unable to walk on their own, using tree limbs, roughhewn crutches and often, nothing at all, just scooting along on the ground using their hands and arms for locomotion.
Shocked by what he witnessed, Talbot founded Crutches 4 Africa, a 501(c)3 organization. The mission of Crutches 4 Africa is “to provide a basic human right – mobility – to those who have little hope. Mobility, health, dignity, access are what we offer by providing a way to greater mobility. Another benefit of this effort is the value of recycling. Each donated mobility device is one less item destined to poison a landfill, making this a win, win situation.”
“This is the best kind of recycling,” Talbot added. “You don's have to melt them down to make them into something else, they are ready to go just as they are.”
Crutches 4 Africa provides more utility for unused crutches, canes, walkers and wheelchairs. The basic idea is to collect here and distribute there. To date, 12,000 mobility devices have been collected and distributed throughout Africa. There is much still to do, though, as the group's goal is an ambitious 1 million devices delivered [to Africa].
Rotarians have partnered with Crutches 4 Africa to help bring mobility to those in need. The groups are working together, in the true spirit of Service above Self.
“Most people have an old set of crutches or a walker or wheelchair taking up space in basements or attics. Donating those aids to this organization would be a win-win for all concerned,” Thorsen said.
To find out more about Crutches 4 Africa – how to donate and where to find drop-off locations – visit crutches4africa.org. For more information on the PolioPlus program, contact the nearest Rotary Club.