Day 1 – Arrival in Delhi
I have safely arrived in Delhi, India after spending the last 35 hours waiting either on a plane or in an airport. I’m ecstatic to be here and to meet some of the people who have been working so hard to make India polio free. After clearing immigration and customs, I was welcomed by Mr. Stanley Samuel who is in charge of Logistics and Operations with the Indian National Polio Plus Committee. Stanley took me from the airport to the Rotary office, and on they way, he pointed out a banner hanging over a busy street that was promoting the recent Immunization Day that took place on November 9. One of Stanley’s responsibilities is to ensure the promotion of Rotary Immunization Days.
This afternoon I spent some time at the Indian National PolioPlus Committee office and met Communications Associate Nima Chodon. I’d like to express my gratitude to Nima, and to Petina Dixon, who is the Lead Media Coordinator for Rotary PolioPlus based in Evanston, IL, USA. Both Petina and Nima have worked very hard over the last several weeks arranging the logistics of my participation in the upcoming Sub-NID in Uttar Pradesh and Rotary’s Zone Institute in Agra.
I had the wonderful opportunity to meet with other staff in the Rotary PolioPlus office as well: Mrs. Prima Pravin, who works at the front desk and reception, Mrs. Anita Agarwal, who is the executive secretary, and Mr. Aby Abraham, who is responsible for information and technology. Rotary has always worked as a team in order to make progress in the fight against polio. It’s wonderful to meet so many people who work every day to make the dream of a polio free world become reality.
Over the next couple of days I will be meeting with Mr. Deepak Kapur, Chairman of Rotary International’s India National Polioplus Committee. I’ll also have the opportunity to meet Mr. Lokesh Gupta, who is the manager of the program.
Tonight I participated in my first Indian media interview when I spoke with Prashant Nanda, a Special Correspondent with the Indo-Asian News Service. I have learned through Nima that Prashant often covers human interest stories. It’s great that Prashant and the Indo-Asian News Service continue to cover the hard work that is being done at the grassroots level here in India, as well as covering the overall progress being made with the Global Polio Eradication Initiative.
Day 2 – Journey to the Rotary Zone Institute in Agra, India
This morning Nima and I departed Delhi around 8am destined for the Rotary Zones 5 & 6A Institute in Agra, which is located in the state of Uttar Pradesh. We spent 6 hours driving through streets littered with garbage, beggars, wandering cows, cars, buses, motorbikes, cyclists, and pedestrians going every which way.
When Nima and I were waiting to cross into the State of Uttar Pradesh, I saw a polio survivor dragging himself along the ground. This horrific sight raised many emotions in me, as well as questions. How could someone even hesitate to receive the polio vaccine? It’s inexpensive and available, and it prevents a lifetime of suffering. If you know you have not received the polio vaccine and you are even remotely questioning its value, I would ask you to think of what I saw today in India: A young adult, probably around 26, covered in dirt. He has small, shriveled legs, and he crawls on the ground. His situation could have been prevented if only he had received the polio vaccine. If Ron and Jan Ferris didn’t adopt me into their Canadian family, this could have been my life.
We were welcomed to the Zone Institute by Lokesh Gupta, Manager of the Indian National PolioPlus Committee, as well as Rotarian Deepak Kapur, Chairman of the committee. In the afternoon I was invited to attend a media conference where the Indian media had an opportunity to give feedback on the Indian National Polio Eradication Program. The following people were present to address questions and feedback the media brought up: Rotary International Director Ashok M. Mahajan, Rotarian Ashok Saxena, past Rotary International President from India Rajendra K. Saboo and Rotarian and member of the of the International PolioPlus Committee, Kalyan Banerjee.
I was impressed to see the number of media outlets that showed great interest in India’s polio eradication effort. In Canada, many people think that we have already eradicated this dreadful disease, and because of this, many Canadian media outlets do not cover global polio eradication efforts. Media is essential to ensure that communities are aware of the current polio situation and to inform every community member of their responsibility in the fight against polio. Thank you to all of the Indian media outlets for taking the time out of your day to attend the Rotary Zone Institute here in Agra, India. It’s the positive stories you will write about the successes of the fight against polio that will inspire the world to finish the job. Soon, hopefully, we will live in a polio-free world.
Day 3 – Rotary Zone Institute – Agra, India
Today I visited with Dr. Bob Scott and his wife Ann before attending a number of meetings. Dr. Scott is the Chairman of the Rotary International PolioPlus Committee and past Chairman of the Trustees of the Rotary Foundation. We first met in May 2006 at the Rotary District 5010 Conference in Juneau, Alaska. I had attended that conference with Dr. Allon Reddoch from the Rotary Club of Whitehorse. Dr. Scott was very pleased to hear about the success of the Cycle to Walk campaign. Rotarians around the world – all 1.2 million of them – have always been known for their generosity towards both local and global humanitarian service projects.
This morning, I was pleased to learn that Rotarians attending the Zone Institute together raised US$300,000 at a dinner event last night. These monies will be directed to the Rotary Foundation, whose mission is to help Rotarians advance world understanding, goodwill, and peace through the improvement of health, education, and the alleviation of poverty. The morning provided opportunities for RI Director Ashok Mahajan, Dr. Bob Scott, K.R. Ravindran, Kalyan Banerji, James Robinson, and Vikas Gora to address the Rotarian Delegates about the Rotary Foundation, its future and vision, Rotary International’s Humanitarian Grants Program, and Rotary Peace Fellowships. Later, Rotary Clubs and members who have donated significant amounts of their personal resources in order to demonstrate Rotary’s Motto of service above self were recognized.
I learned much more about what Rotarians are doing to fight polio in India over the course of the afternoon. I spoke with Deepak Kapur, Institute Chairman and Chairman of the RI Indian National PolioPlus Committee, at a meeting with trainers of the incoming district governors. Muslim children were present during the afternoon’s polio eradication session and they declared their commitment to work towards a polio-free world to everyone present, including Rotary International President Dong Kurn Lee. Mr. Lee travelled with his wife Young from South Korea to attend the Zone Institute.
This afternoon I had an opportunity to share my personal experience with polio, thank everyone for their efforts in the fight against polio and remind people why we need to continue working together to rid the world of this horrible disease. As I stood in front of so many young leaders from the Muslim community, I was so happy to see such excitement to work together towards the same common goal.
Day 4 – Arrival in the District of Moradabad in the State of Uttar Pradesh
I want to start off by thanking Rotary Zone Institute Chairman Deepak Kapur for allowing me to attend the Rotary Zone 5 & 6A Institute. It was a pleasure to meet so many committed, caring, and generous Rotarians who are working so hard towards making our world a cleaner, healthier, safer place to live. After saying goodbye to Lokesh Gupta, Manager of the Indian National Polioplus Committee, Nima and I headed towards Moradabad via taxi for the Sub-National Immunization Day which will occur tomorrow.
It took about six hours to drive through the heavily congested streets; the taxi dodged big buses, wandering cows, thousands of cyclists, stray dogs, and auto-rickshaws. Poliovirus is spread predominantly where people have had contact with contaminated water, which is linked to poor sanitation conditions. It is no wonder why polio is still an issue here in India: on our way I saw streams of water where people were excreting fecal matter, pigs rested, dogs swam, people washed themselves and laundered linens, and children played. The potent smell of feces filled my nostrils. The environment was so overwhelmingly disturbing for me to accept, yet for millions of people in India, it was nothing short of normal.
Dr. Mohammad Arif Khan, Field Programme Co-ordinator for the Polio Eradication Efforts here in India, welcomed us to Moradabad. He arranged for me to meet with Dr. Ashutosh Agrawal, who is the Sub-Regional Team Leader for the District of Moradabad, and helped set up times to meet with other doctors, team members and partnering organizations so I could learn more about the preparation, logistics, and ground work needed to run a successful National Immunization Day.
Dr. Khan gave us an overview of the current polio situation in Moradabad, and the role that each partner of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative plays. The partnering organizations take on many different responsibilities: The National Polio Surveillance Program and the World Health Organization are responsible for surveillance, monitoring, data collection, and training of health staff; the Government of India provides resources, implementation, human resources and funding; UNICEF provides social mobilization and communications, and Rotary provides funds, advocacy, and social-mobilization.
The polio program has divided the District of Moradabad into 22 planning units. There are 321 areas which have been identified as high risk by the National Polio Surveillance and the Social Mobilization Teams. 208 of these high risk areas are rural and 113 are urban. On Sunday there will be fixed immunization booths in both rural and urban settings. Teams of three – consisting of vaccinators and supervisors – will be mixed up with locals from each community, along with medical professionals and members from the Indian Government. Not only will there be fixed polio vaccination booths, but there will be two-member teams who will go out to transit points such as train stations, and temporary settlements. Throughout the week, there will be three-member teams responsible to visit approximately 100 homes a day within the entire District of Moradabad. As of October 8th, 2008, 795,515 houses have been visited. After one or two days of mass polio vaccinations, B teams will be deployed into the community. B teams consist of two people – generally from local NGOs as well as doctors. These two-person teams are tasked to visit about 50 homes a day. People who still haven’t been immunized will be visited at their homes by professionals as part of the Routine Immunization Visits.
In recent years, the following improvements have been made to ensure the Polio Eradication is as effective as possible: increased female workers involved in program, paid volunteers in some of the resistant communities, evening house visits to accommodate those working during the day, diversified community participation from NGOs, Rotarians, Civil Defence, etc., changing colour of marking pens from time to time, Indian Government supervisors, development of newborn tracking booklets, and free health clinics in order to build a stronger rapport with community members and to address any issues that health providers are concerned with. As you can imagine, there is a lot of work that has been and continues to be done in the fight against polio within the District of Moradabad.
To end the day, Dr. Khan, Nima and I met with Dr. D. P. Singh, Chief Medical Officer for the District of Moradabad, and a few other doctors. After a short visit with Dr. Singh, we visited the local newspaper where I discussed with reporters my experience with polio, the success of the polio eradication efforts in the District of Moradabad, and why we need to continue the fight against polio.
Tomorrow is a big day for me: I will participate in the vaccination effort first-hand by giving children the gift of a polio-free life. How exciting!
Day 5 – Participation in the Sub-National Immunization Day- Moradabad, India
Today was the reason for my travelling to India: to participate in the Sub-National Immunization Day here in the District of Moradabad. Dr. Khan, Nima and I all went to participate in the immunization activities which were occurring at the railway station. I vaccinated my first child in the morning and wow – what an amazing, overwhelming, experience. Giving those two drops of the polio vaccination to that child this morning was a miraculous dream come true for me. Those two drops will protect him for life against a disease which is so debilitating and socially isolating.
At around mid-morning we were joined by Kevin Hansen and his Wife Krista who travelled from the USA to participate in today’s activities and shoot some video of the Sub-NID. From the railway station we travelled into the urban areas of Pukhta and Karula where booths were set-up to vaccinate children. It was wonderful to be able to vaccinate more children and meet all of the hard working volunteers and staff at the booths. As we travelled on the busy roads ways to our next destination of the Lalpur Village, I noticed many public awareness signs about children receiving the polio vaccination as well as large banners that hung across roadways and on large buildings to make people aware of the National Immunization Day.
When we arrived in Lalpur we were greeted by many villagers who welcomed us into their community. It was great to meet with staff and volunteers at the immunization booth, vaccinate children, and then speak to teachers and students at a local school. I was pleased to hear that the Indian government directs all schools to be open during NIDs – even if they take place on a Sunday. This ensures that all children have the opportunity to receive the polio vaccine. Some of the teachers explained to me through translated conversation that all students under five years of age will receive the drops of the polio vaccine, and those students that are older will go out into their community to encourage families to bring children under 5 out of their homes to be immunized. This is part of the Social Mobilization Program. It’s wonderful to see young students take a such an important leadership role within their community to help make this a polio-free world.
Later on I met with leaders at the local mosque who announced the NID from its speakers. There has been great cooperation for the National Immunization Day from this heavily populated Muslim community. They will make announcements prior to and during the National Immunization Day as well as throughout the week when the house to house visits are occurring.
There has been great progress made in delivering the polio vaccination to India’s Muslim communities recent years: Rotary and its partners have been successful in establishing what is called the Muslim-Ulama Committee. This committee was established to address the growing number of concerns from the Muslim community that the polio vaccination program was a ploy to sterilize Muslim children. The Global Polio Eradication Initiative was established and is working to protect the children of the world. It’s great to see Muslim leaders come together with health care professionals and community leaders to support polio eradication efforts. Early in the evening I had an opportunity to travel to the Karula Miau Colony to personally thank members or the Muslim-Ulama Committee as well as members of nearby communities.
Polio does not discriminate nor does it respect any boundaries. It doesn’t matter what religion one believes, language one speaks, or culture one lives in – we all must come together as a global community to eradicate polio from our world. It’s beautiful to see so much cooperation between Muslims, Hindus, government and non-government organizations, citizens of India and citizens of the world to come together and forward the progress of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative. Tonight as I walked through streets, Dr. Khan said that people were recognizing my face from a newspaper article printed earlier in the day. It’s wonderful to see media shed light on the polio eradication efforts here, and and it’s even better to see entire communities get excited about being part of this truly remarkable global health initiative.
Today’s activities ended with large wrap up meeting with Dr. Sahena, the Chief Medical Officer, other doctors, and all of partnering organizations involved with the Sub-NID in Moradabad today. The meeting was chaired by Amit Kumar Ghosh who is the District Magistrate in Moradabad. This was a great way for each participant to give feedback on the program. I had an opportunity to personally thank everyone for their hard work and dedication in their efforts to bring an end to polio. It makes me so proud to know that I was born in a country with people that give up so much of themselves to work hard and cooperate for the spirit of humanity and the future of our children.
Day 6 – House-to-House Participation in the Sub-NID – Moradabad, India
Today started with a pleasant visit with past District Governor of Rotary District 3100 and member of the India National PolioPlus Committee, Mr. Sudhir Gupta. Mr. Gupta was pleased to hear of the success of yesterday’s Sub-NID activities. After our meeting, Dr. Khan, Nima, and I drove to a rural village where we visited participants at a community centre. We were greeted with an overwhelming standing ovation and were welcomed with flowers. The villagers were very excited that we came to visit with them.
While we were visiting, I was able to share my experience with polio and encourage both participants and staff to live their dreams, have fun, and to continue to be community leaders by promoting the polio eradication program. We then left the community centre to participate in a house-to-house NID. The polio vaccination teams visit approximately 100 houses a day over the course of the week to deliver the polio vaccination to children under five years of age. The polio vaccine needs to be kept cool, so the container we used to carry it in was full of ice packs.
The team marks the main door of each residence with either a P or and an X. A P indicates that the child did indeed receive the polio vaccination, while an X indicates that they have not. Other information, which is also marked on the main door of the residence, is the date of the visit, and the total number of house visits the team made for the day.
After participating in the house-to-house polio vaccination activities, Nima and I said goodbye to Dr. Khan and all of the hard working team members. The team provided me with promotional goodies to take back to Canada so I can continue to promote the good work of Rotary’s PolioPlus program. After our goodbyes, hugs, pictures and many thank-yous, Nima and I took a four-hour drive back to Delhi where I will a flight back to Canada early tomorrow morning.
En-route to Delhi we took a break and stopped at a little place to get some food and chai. As I sat and ate my food, I noticed to a polio survivor who was crawling. He had something padding his knees and he had sandals on his hands. During my visit I was happy to learn that some of the Rotary clubs in India have organized polio corrective camps – which focus on providing polio survivors with corrective surgeries, braces, and crutches. The World Health Organization says that there are approximately 10-20 million polio survivors currently living around our world today. Many crawl around just like the one I saw today at that little food stop in Moradabad. We need to continue the fight against polio as a global community. If we don’t, millions more will be affected.
Day 7 – Departure from India and Final Thoughts
The wake up call at my hotel room came at 2:30 am, and I was in a taxi en-route to the Indira Gandhi International Airport an hour later. I boarded a plane for London Heathrow at 6:30 am for a nine-hour flight and then another 13 hours of flying back to Whitehorse, Yukon. The journey back to Canada provided a lot of time to reflect on the past week in India. It was a great opportunity to be able to travel back to my country of birth and witness such caring, compassion and generosity from so many people from so many walks of life.
We have never been as close to eradicating polio then we are today. We have come this far because of the hard work which is being done on every level of what is the largest global public health initiative in world history: the Global Polio Eradication Initiative. Rotary International and its partners have truly demonstrated commitment in every way towards polio eradication. With that one goal in mind, there is concentrated program development, partnership building, community rapport building, financial contributions, and an overall belief in not giving up on the world’s children. These people are working so hard to deliver us a polio-free world.
It makes me so proud to be born in a country like India when I witnessed so much corporation by so many people for the common goal of eradicating polio. On the flight to London, I met a woman travelling from Delhi to New York with her 19 month old daughter who she just adopted from India. I explained to her a little about my adoption story and my participation in Rotary International’s PolioPlus Program. I congratulated her on the addition to her family and then asked if her daughter had received the polio vaccination. She said Yes! with a big smile.
The polio eradication effort will only be successful if we vaccinate everyone. We can not afford to become complacent regarding the immunization of our children, and we must continue to raise funds for polio eradication efforts. I can’t thank Rotarians around the world and the partners of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative enough for allowing me to be a part of this exciting time in world history. We are going to eradicate polio from the world, and it’s because of all the hard work, commitment and belief in this dream that it will happen.
Polio Survivor from Coimbatore, India
Adopted and now living in Whitehorse, Yukon Canada