By Walter Hughes Jr., a member of the Rotary Club of Rocky Mount, Virginia, USA. Hughes is one of 12 Rotarians being honored 5 April at the White House as a Champion of Change.
I am honored to be a White House Champion of Change. I’m accepting on behalf of Rotarians and friends from a team of more than 80 Rotary clubs in the United States, Canada, Switzerland, Ghana, and South Sudan. We are celebrating the end of Guinea worm disease in Ghana in West Africa. It all started with a dream. I’m the lucky guy who gets to witness lives transformed around the world.
I’m passionate about bringing clean water because of three priceless moments. The first starts when the people see the drill rig hit water. Cheers erupt when the water flows. The second moment comes when people throughout the village bring their buckets after the pump is installed. Everyone is silent and finally cheers erupt when the water pours out. Seeing the smiling faces of the men, women, and children makes for a lifetime of unforgettable memories.
The third priceless moment takes longer to notice because it happens quietly over time. It is the moment when children are healthy because they have safe water to drink. We do this work for the kids who will grow up not knowing Guinea worm disease.
Children are less at risk of being crippled by polio. Rotary’s polio eradication efforts gave credibility to our team who partnered in the effort to eradicate Guinea worm disease which is transmitted by dirty water. The three-foot long parasite grows in the body for one year and feels like a hot iron hit the skin when it emerges. Adults can’t work and children can’t go to school when they are sick.
South Sudan has 96 percent of the 542 people suffering from Guinea worm disease. Our dream now is to get rid of the disease in South Sudan, too. In October 2012, I traveled to South Sudan to build and encourage the team needed to finish Guinea worm eradication. It is led by the South Sudan Guinea Worm Eradication Program. The team is complete with non-profit organizations, developmental partners, faith-based organizations, churches like Catholic Relief Services and Redwood United Methodist Church, medical professionals, The Rotary Foundation, and finally Rotarians! The Carter Center helps to fund water filters, education, medical care and mobilizing community health workers. Water is the missing piece of the puzzle.
Our plan is to repeat the success of Ghana by drilling wells in the remote Eastern Equatoria State where the majority of the people suffering from this disease live. We can eradicate this disease if we put wells in the places where the greatest number of people are sick. We’ve drilled five wells in South Sudan so far this year and helped to give 250,000 people water to drink since we started.
We can change the world when one person is united with others in a common purpose. If we can imagine and think we can, one day we can say we changed the world. Come join us. The journey is worth it.