Friday, February 24, 2012

ROTARY DREAM TEAM - INDIA 2012: On the corner of MOSQUE and HAYWAGON... February ...

ROTARY DREAM TEAM - INDIA 2012: On the corner of MOSQUE and HAYWAGON... February ...: It seemed like a perfectly good idea, when Mr. Dargh suggested that it was time for us to take leave from the booth, but as we wandered furt...

Getting temporarily lost is part of being in India!!!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Worldwide Coverage of WHAT WE DID on the NID

Just heard from one of our Team Members, Greg Jones, who sent the following link to let everyone know what we were doing in India and what kind of an impact we, along with thousands of other volunteers had on finally reaching the goal of a polio-free world. Please visit the link and read about our activities.

Below is what Greg sent along for information regarding the cases of polio in India:

Last year, Uttar Pradesh not only accounted for nearly 40 percent of India’s 864 polio cases but more than a quarter of those worldwide.
If current trends continue, however, India’s most populous state will no longer qualify as the “poliovirus capital of the world,” as some health experts have called it.
Eighty percent of Uttar Pradesh’s 339 polio cases occurred in the Muslim community in 2007. But a Rotary-led initiative helped drop that rate to 30 percent of 20 cases during the first three months of 2008.
Overseeing the state’s effort to end polio is the Ulema Committee for Polio Eradication, established by Rotary International in July 2007. (Ulemas are leading Muslim legal experts in Islamic law.) Nearly 200 Muslim clerics and school representatives at the meeting received a booklet published by India’s National PolioPlus Committee, which linked polio immunization to the duties of parents as explained in the Quran. The booklet also listed the names and phone numbers of Ulema committee members who could be contacted to clear up any misconceptions about the polio vaccine.
Since that meeting, committee members have visited districts in Uttar Pradesh that reported large numbers of polio cases and convinced parents that the polio vaccine was safe and not contrary to Islam.
“The ulemas have done a remarkable job in making the polio program acceptable to hitherto ignorant Muslim parents,” said RI Director Ashok Mahajan, chair of the committee, at a meeting of the executive committee in January. “We want to spread the message of good health through the ulemas, who are so much revered in the Muslim community.”
“Misconceptions and rumors that were widespread in the community against polio have almost been removed, due to the efforts of the Ulema committee, and we will continue with our efforts until polio is eradicated,” said committee member Maulana Khalid Rashid Firangi Mahali, president of the Ulema Council of India. “Our religion is not against immunization. Even the Saudi Arabian government has issued a directive that pilgrims visiting Mecca and Medina along with their children should carry polio vaccination certificates.”
In February, The Rotary Foundation awarded US$5.65 million to the World Health Organization and UNICEF for social mobilization activities and operational support focused on more than 4,300 high-risk communities in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. The Foundation disbursed the funds from the $100 million challenge grant for polio eradication it had received from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
“Rotary’s Ulema committee is a very positive development,” said Ananth Mishra, health minister for Uttar Pradesh. “Eradication of polio is possible due to the pioneering efforts of organizations like Rotary, and more NGOs [nongovernmental organizations] should pitch in to mobilize the masses to achieve such health goals.”
Thanks, Greg, for sharing this information!

Friday, March 14, 2008


Upon my return from leading a group of fifty-four Rotarians and Friends of Rotary, from seven different countries, half-way around the world to India, I was met by a number of friends who asked, “How does it feel to have returned to India on your seventh trip?” “How does it feel to be home?” “How does it feel to travel to and witness what is no less than a paradox in society?” “How does it feel to be a part of Rotary International’s only corporate project – the eradication of polio in the world?” “How does it feel to have left your family, your job, your colleagues, your friends, your community to participate in a nationwide effort, with some 250,000 other volunteers, giving two drops at a time of life-saving polio vaccine, which may save the life of one child?”

Perhaps an underlying question which tacitly lingers just below the surface in the minds of many is, “Why did you do this?”

Nearly eight years ago, my wife, Jane and I traveled to Baltimore, where we attended a leadership conference for Rotarians in the northeastern United States. While there, each of us sat in on general plenary sessions, as well as numerous break-out discussion groups. One in particular remains in my mind, quite vividly. It was a breakfast meeting, sort of a round-table discussion. The topic was “Children at Risk”. The moderator of the session was a friend, G. Holger Hansen, a past District Governor for Rotary, from Pennsylvania. My first impression, when considering the topic, was to think we were going to be talking about youth in our society who are troubled within their families, their schools, their communities, and who unless intervening measures were taken, might well fall into a life of crime. This was not the topic at hand.

“Hogie”, as he was called, told us about a trip he was planning in January 2001, where he and other Rotarians would be traveling to India to participate in a National Immunization Day – where literally millions of children, under the age of five years, would receive polio vaccine, and all in a single day! It was at this point that my mind began to wander a bit. I remembered the mother of one of my father’s secretaries who was confined to an iron lung, to assist her in her breathing, as she was a victim of polio. I remembered a classmate in Portland, who had been stricken with the horror of paralysis and the inability to breathe. I remember the daughter of a friend of my parents who struggled to walk, because she had deformed legs, ankles and feet, and could barely stand without the assistance of a mother’s helping hand or a pair of wooden crutches. I remembered that as kids, we were not allowed to go swimming at the Boys’ Club or the YMCA, or drink from a public water fountain, for fear of contracting polio.

All the way home at the end of that weekend in Baltimore, Jane heard me say many times, “All I want for Christmas is to be able to travel to India to immunize kids against polio!” I told that to Jane, to my mother, to my daughter and son-in-law, and made up my mind that if it were at all possible, that I would be a part of that gathered force to work together to rid the world of polio. Christmas came and my wish came true. My family made it possible for me to purchase the ticket and pay for my hotels and my meals and the folks in my office agreed to cover for me during my two-week absence. To say that I was grateful would be a gross understatement.

As time neared, I asked my colleagues if there was anything in particular they might want me to purchase for them and bring home from India. There were trinkets and jewelry, clothing and carpets, but one request stood prominently before all others. One of the women in my office said, “Elias, don’t bring back anything for me, but sometime on that day, pause for a moment, as you squeeze two drops from the vial of vaccine onto the tongue of one of the children and think of me.” This comment stopped me for a moment and moved me at the same time.

A few weeks later, I was standing in the school yard of one of the grade schools in the oldest section of Delhi, facing dozens of children who were lined up awaiting their vaccine. As each child advanced and announced his or her name, or when a parent of an older sister or brother proudly presented a younger sibling for his or her drops, the exercise of administering the drops of life-saving serum became almost routine, almost monotonous. But something changed. As a young Muslim woman came forward to the head of the line, holding a tiny package in her arms, she looked at me from behind the burkha, which covered all but her eyes, and I guess determined it would be alright for her to entrust her most precious possession – her infant daughter, to me. At that moment, when I squeezed two tiny droplets into the mouth of her baby, I paused and looked up to the sky and thought for a few moments about my friend. My quiet thoughts were shattered by the crying of this tiny baby, who did not particularly care for the flavor of the drops, but who I am sure preferred her mother’s milk. I took a few moments and tried to calm the baby, by humming a soft tune, and when she stopped her crying, I gently passed her back to her mother. The woman, once again, looked at me and simply nodded in silence – a gesture of gratitude. But it was I who was most grateful for the opportunity I had just experienced, of knowing that through the generosity of Rotarians throughout the world, I might have served as the delivery boy for vaccinating this child – that I might have saved this tiny infant from the horrors of this crippling disease.

Seven years later, I still feel an enormous gratitude for the opportunity which first presented itself to me in January 2001. Knowing that somehow I was a part of a greater effort, not only to assist in the immunization of millions of children against polio, but to hopefully contribute to a greater understanding between cultures, which eventually will lead to a lasting peace in this world – for this I feel most grateful, I feel blessed, I feel humbled. Why did I do this? Perhaps the paperweight that sits on my desk, which shares a thought of Mahatma Gandhi, states it best: Be the change you wish to see in the world.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Pre-NID and NID photos with music (2/9-2/10/08)

Well, this will be a first, if I am successful in adding this 5-minute video to the BLOG. This is a series of photos, taken by several members of the ROTARY DREAM TEAM - INDIA 2008, of the activities for the day prior to the National Immunization Day against polio in India. At the pre-NID rally, we were greeted by the local and regional chief medical examiners, as well as local Rotarians and more than one hundred students from the Rotary Public School in Gurgaon. Together, we marched through Sohna, with loud speakers and banners, announcing the NID for the following day - February 10. We did our best to get out the word and to urge everyone to bring children under the age of five years to receive the polio vaccine from Rotarians and other volunteers.

Hope you are moved by this presentation - made possible by DGE Brad Jett from District 7780.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

TUESDAY means TURBANS!!! (Feb. 12, 2008)

When we arose this morning, there were a number of things we needed to complete before the end of the day. First of all, the wheelchair and the commode had arrived from Delhi, and several of us were going to be leaving for Nusera to deliver these items. Finishing touches needed to be put on the "work project" in Chahalka village, as we were going to be leaving the following morning for the travel portion of our experience. The unveiling of the total project would take place in mid-afternoon, with a ceremony at the schoolyard adjacent to the training centre and the day-care centre.

The majority of the team members ventured back to Chahalka for completing the work projects and even adding a few more, before we would sign off on our part of the project. Painting was to be completed, both inside and outside the buildings; the mural in the day-care centre was to be completed, including the painting of the floral design created by one of the local schoolgirls - that serving as a border to the mural design (that included, of course, the ROTARY WHEEL!); parts of the wall along the street that bordered the "green space" inside the walls which we had been building for the past several days also required painting. The banner needed to be hung and prominently displayed in front of the training centre. In addition, since there were extra bricks and sand and mortar and crushed stone, a few of the team members, principally Rick Mutchler, determined that if we were to create a "French drain" around the perimeter of the community well, any spillage would simply seep into the ground and be dissipated into the earth or if a great deal of water spilled, it would drain over into the drainage system we had created the previous year. The ditch was dug, then lined with crushed stone and then the sides were faced with bricks and mortar. The new drainage ditch already lessened the amount of standing water which will bring about a total drying of the area, and make it more healthful. Also, due to the fact of an excess of bricks, Ramish and a few of our team members built not one but two sets of stairs for the women and girls to be able to access the top of the community water supply (the well cover) without having to hoist themselves up and jump down. We were able to have one of the panchayat call to a young girl who walked in a stately manner to the bottom of the steps, carrying her water jug on her head, and then climb up the steps! Life in this tiny poor village of Chahalka are slowly improving, provided by the members of the team.

Following the "christening" of the new stairs, we then adjourned to the schoolyard, where hundreds and hundreds of grade school children awaited our arrival. The children had been gathered (350 of them with only 3 teachers!) to sit on the ground and attend a very important event. There were two parts to this event - one was the official acknowledgment by the members of the panchayat of the work we had completed to benefit their village. The other was the disposition of thousands of tiny gifts we had all brought with us to pass on to the children of the village. We have been working to try to convince children to remain in school, to convince parents that in the long run, it is better to have their children educated than to let them roam aimlessly through the streets and alleys of the village. We wanted to share this by rewarding those who DO stay in school with recognition of their accomplishments. Each teacher was asked to provide the names and ages of the top three students in his classes, so they could be publicly recognized, not only by us, but in front of their peers, to receive gifts which they could and can use for their education.

The three teachers for the students in the school maintained a tight reign over their charges, and the old-fashioned stick kept the children in line - at least most of the time. The ceremony began with the most senior member of the panchayat addressing the crowd, speaking through an antiquated and crackling public address system. He spoke and then Sanjiv translated from Hindi into English, so that the members of our team could understand the comments being made. This gentleman first spoke of how the team from 2007 had come to the village and had rescued the water supply that was deteriorating by the day, through mixture of waste water in with the clean drinking water. The team had come and through the construction of two washing platforms, which had been piped with water, and had proper drainage for the waste water to be eliminated from the area, slowly the drinking water supply cleared itself to a state of safe potability. He was most grateful for this effort.

He went on to talk about the team for this year and how with over fifty people, including several youngsters, we were able to transform derelict buildings into two viable resources for the village - one, a vocational and computer training centre, and the other with the painting of the wonderful mural on the wall, into a day-care centre, where mothers could bring their tiny children and leave them in a safe environment, while they went about their chores or actually enrolled in courses of study to better their own lives, through education.

Once he had concluded with his remarks, he called his "lieutenant" (also named Elias) to assist him. As the highest sign of respect and honor, the panchayat had decided that each male member of our team should receive a turban, one which was personally tied onto our heads. The fabric used was most colorful, and the process took a few minutes. Elias seemed to be very pleased to be able to place a turban on the head of another Elias. The honor was all mine! What a wonderful expression of respect and gratitude shown for all of the members of our team. Each of the women and girls also received an honor - the presentation of colorful scarves to each one, to use for head covering, but more important to remain as a lasting memory of how the people of the village of Chahalka appreciated the efforts made by each of us on their behalf. Rotary International Director, Kjell-Ake Akesson and I had the privilege of being seated in a place of honor throughout the ceremonies, and to oversee the passing on of gifts to the children. As mentioned before, the top three students in the classes from several schools which serve the community, received prizes - book bags filled with pens, pencils, writing tablets, crayons, marking pens, and so much more. Our team had taken seriously the charge that they were to bring lots of "goodies' to be given to the children of the village, and my recollection is that if counted individually, we brought some 20,000 items! Obviously, it was impossible to recognize each and every student. One comment that RI Director Akesson made was the observation that in many cases, the top students were the young girls, and it is hoped that by recognizing these girls, the parents and the panchayat will see to it that the girl children will receive the same opportunities as the boys for receiving an education.
With the turbaning ceremony concluded, the scene turned quickly to chaos, once the magic word CANDY was mentioned. The children literally stormed the front of the venue, reaching out to grab one or two pieces of candy out of the many carton boxes we had brought with us. The smart policy was to have us leave and return to our buses, and to allow the teachers and the members of the panchayat handle the distribution. Walking back to our buses, most of us had mixed feelings about leaving. For most, this was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. For some, we will be returning to Chahalka in the coming year, hopefully with either a Matching Grant or better yet, a 3-H Grant to help fund the construction of sanitary enhancement facilities (toilet blocks) in several locations in the village. There is a desperate need for improvement in sanitation, and we have the capability of raising the necessary funds, as well as the ability to help construct these facilities in the coming year. Bidding farewell to some of the villagers who had made a deep impression upon us, and upon whom some of us had made a lasting impression, was difficult to say the least.
I had boarded the bus, and we were about to leave, when I looked out the window and saw my friend, Ramish the brick mason looking around him with concern on his face. I got off the bus and called to him. When he heard my voice, he came toward me. He extended his hand to me and I took his hand in mine... we shook hands and I noticed his eyes filled with tears. I drew him closer to me and opened my arms to him, whereupon he clung to me, sobbing against my chest. We stood there, still for a few moments, until he had regained his composure, and then I said, "Ramish, it is time for us to leave." He dropped his gaze and then turned and walked away, still with tears streaming down his cheeks. We have promised to return and we will.
We followed this year's theme - Rotary Shares, but more important, we made a positive difference in the lives of the people of Chahalka, by Making Dreams Real! For this, we are most thankful.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Post-trip Interview - February 25, 2008

A day or two before leaving on this most amazing trip, I was invited to be interviewed on the local FOX NEWS affiliate in Portland, Maine - with connections to WLOB radio (FM 96.3 and AM 1310). Both Ray Richardson and Ted Talbot were very interested in the work we were carrying out - not only with the National Immunization Day against polio (NID) on February 10, but also with respect to the work project we had would undertake in the village of Chahalka. That interview is posted on an earlier entry.

They were gracious enough to invite me to return for an extensive interview following the trip, and I did so on February 25. Click on this link to access that interview:

We truly appreciate the support we have received from FOX NEWS 23 in Maine, in helping to spread the word throughout southern Maine and New Hampshire with respect to WHO Rotary International is... WHAT Rotary International does... and how together, one tiny step at a time, we WILL eradicate polio from the face of the earth, and also help to achieve a lasting world peace, through greater understanding.