By Ramesh Ferris, polio survivor and member of the Rotary Club of Whitehorse-Rendezvous, Yukon, Canada
In late September, I traveled to New York City to attend two events to promote global polio eradication. To say my weekend in the Big Apple was amazing would be an understatement.
Consider these memories: Joining Bill Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai, Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, and others in sharing the urgency of polio eradication with world leaders assembled for the UN General Assembly during a special side session on polio. Then two days later, standing back stage in New York’s Central Park with Emmy-award winning actress Archie Panjabi and singer Neil Young, himself a polio survivor, for the world’s largest syndicated charity concert, the Global Citizen Festival.
I was given an opportunity to speak at both events about something I feel very passionately about – ending polio.
Some of you may remember that with the help of Rotary in 2008, I hand-cycled 7,140 kilometers across Canada to raise awareness and funds for polio eradication. It was a long and difficult journey, and I took every opportunity I could to talk about the disease to others. Because I know how vicious polio is.
Born in India, I contracted polio 25-years after the world had a vaccine to prevent it. The disease attacked my body when I was six months old — withering my leg muscles and weakening my lungs. When I was 18 months old, my mother gave me up for adoption so I could have a chance at a better life. I was raised in Whitehorse, Yukon, Canada, and had access to surgery, rehabilitation, and mobility aids. Because of my birth mom’s selflessness, I can stand and walk today.
I didn’t let polio stop me. I have lived my life focusing on my abilities! Ever since my travels to India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan — where I witnessed firsthand the realities of life for polio survivors crawling on the dirty streets — I have committed my life to do whatever I can to make sure polio doesn’t infect another child, ever again.
I joined Rotary, an organization that has worked tirelessly to eradicate this disease since 1985. And I tell everyone who will listen that we have a monumental, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to change history by wiping out polio once and for all. I’ve shared my story with Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II; Archbishop Desmond Tutu; the prime ministers of Canada, Australia and the UK; the presidents of Pakistan, Nigeria, and Afghanistan; Ban Ki-Moon; Margaret Chan; Bill Gates; Neil Young; and even actress Selena Gomez!
And you know what? People are listening. Just recently, Canada agreed to match every single dollar raised by Canadian Rotarians, up to $1 million, to fight polio!
We can all make a difference. Rotary recently launched a new website, www.endpolio.org, with a special page for advocacy, where you can sign a petition to let government leaders know they need to keep funding the Global Polio Eradication Initiative.
The World Health Organization has predicted that ending polio would prevent 10 million children from suffering from paralysis during the next 40 years. Let’s finish this disease off now!