One moment, two drops of vaccine, change a life

Ken Hughes, a member of the Rotary Club of Burlington, Kansas, USA, during the immunization trip. Photo courtesy 2012 NID Team

Ken Hughes, a member of the Rotary Club of Burlington, Kansas, USA, during the immunization trip. Photo courtesy 2012 NID Team

By Al Bonney, 2014-15 Governor of District 6290 (part of Ontario, Canada; part of Michigan, USA), and a member of the Rotary Club of Traverse City, Michigan

The sun was just peaking pink and yellow over the roof tops of the soon-to-be-busy street when our team of 15 Rotary members sleepily descended from the bus on the first day of the three-day National Immunization Day trip.

We were assigned to our work groups, briefed on the day’s work, and moved off down the street. By now it was starting to bustle with stands selling yams, water, cloth, and bike parts. Another business day in Kaduna, Nigeria.

Administering drops of the polio vaccine. Photo courtesy of 2012 NID Team

Administering drops of the polio vaccine. Photo courtesy of 2012 NID Team

We had only walked a quarter of a mile when the lead health worker turned left through an opening in a mud wall, and took us into our assigned slum in the middle of the city. We entered a warren of narrow, dusty, dirty alleys rimmed by single-level shacks forming a continuous ochre mud wall on both sides. The slum was punctuated by roosters crowing, baby’s crying, motorcycles revving and a muezzin delivering the morning call to prayers. The sights, sounds, and smells were overpowering as we walked through the alleys looking for children to immunize against polio.

The dirt streets were just wide enough to pass and still avoid the squalid trickle of fetid sewage oozing down the middle of the walk-way. Four little girls played tea-party with pop-bottle caps next to the filth. I could only hope they would live long enough to have a real tea party after touching that water.

The health worker touched my elbow and passed me a vial of polio vaccine. We had found our first child. A baby of about 9 months, held in her mother’s arms, looked up at me, not sure if she should cry.

I smiled, thanking the health worker softly and then looked in the mother’s eyes – a girl of no more than 16. As our eyes met and I raised the vial, I knew she and I were thanking our gods for the same thing: that Rotary had brought us to that moment and that we were sharing the miracle of two drops of vaccine guaranteeing that her child would never suffer the ravages of polio.

She smiled at me. I returned her smile and the team moved on. It was so simple I almost missed it. But the mother will never forget, and neither will I: that moment, together, we changed a life.

3 thoughts on “One moment, two drops of vaccine, change a life

  1. Pingback: Today’s Links | Rotary International District 3040

  2. I am so grateful that these brave workers continue to distribute the vaccine to these children. Our goal of 2018 will be met if the work continues in earnest. I am a polio survivor from 1948, As a small child, age 6 1/2 months, I was stricken. My life has been great with the help of my husband of 45 years and three grown children. I enjoyed a wonderful long career in dentistry and now retired devote time to my book “All the steps I have taken” and grandchildren. Bullying is the topic of choice now in the school systems to sixth graders. Children were disrespectful to me as a 7th grader and I aim to not let that happen easily to children now. We must not treat someone that is different differently. Thank you for all Rotary does, has done, and will continue to do until the world is polio free.

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