My meeting with Archbishop Desmond Tutu

Ramesh Ferris and Archbishop Desmond Tutu

Ramesh Ferris, left, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Photo courtesy of Ramesh Ferris

By Ramesh Ferris, polio survivor and member of the Rotary Club of Whitehorse-Rendezvous, Yukon, Canada

I had the honor recently of meeting with Archbishop Desmond Tutu in his home in Cape Town, South Africa, where I had a chance to talk to him about polio eradication.

The archbishop has been a wonderful supporter of Rotary’s efforts to rid the world of this paralyzing, horrific disease, as a participant in the “This Close” public awareness campaign. He was also a speaker at the World Peace Symposium in Birmingham during the 2009 RI Convention.

The archbishop and I have something in common: we both survived polio.

I was stricken with polio at the age of six months in Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu, India. With no means of access to rehabilitation, my mother placed me in a Canadian-founded orphanage. After my adoption by a Canadian family, I underwent a series of surgeries and physical rehabilitation and learned to walk with crutches and braces for the first time between the age of 3-4.  Polio affected my lungs, and I contracted pneumonia nine times before my 11th birthday.

After a visit to India in 2002, I decided to found Cycle to Walk Canada, a charity focused on polio eradication, education, and rehabilitation. In 2008, I hand-cycled 4,400 miles (7140kms) across Canada, participating in hundreds of media interviews along the way and making presentations in over 200 schools, Rotary clubs, churches, and various levels of government. The campaign raised thousands of dollars, some of which went toward Rotary’s polio eradication efforts.

Since then, I have continued to keep up my efforts to build awareness for polio eradication by meeting with government leaders and statesmen whenever the opportunity arises.

It was amazing to visit the archbishop and be able to share part of my personal journey with him. We need to keep spreading the word, and letting our governments know just how important it is to end polio once and for all. We are truly “This Close,” but we need to finish the job.  We cannot become complacent in our fight against polio. The World Health Organization estimates that 10 million children would be paralyzed over the next 40 years if we don’t continue our fight! 

Read more about Ferris at the Ramesh Ferris Polio Foundation. Learn more about Rotary’s efforts to eradicate polio. Contribute to help End Polio Now.

2 thoughts on “My meeting with Archbishop Desmond Tutu

  1. Ramish, we, the Rotary Club of Whitehorse Midnight Sun look forward to your return. We would be so honoured to have you as our Program Speaker. We look forward to hearing from you. Safe travels!
    Cynthia DeSoto
    867) 668-7131


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