Polio survivors share a wealth of insight

John H.G. Soe at the 2012 RI Convention in Bangkok, Thailand.

By John H.G. Soe, a polio survivor and member of Rotary Club of Jakarta Sentral, Indonesia

At the age of four months, I was stricken with polio. My parents, due to their superstitions and lack of understanding, abandoned me to the nuns of a Catholic orphanage in Medan, Indonesia. It was a huge orphanage of 200 children, and I remember listening to the bells and sounds of prayers.

On school holidays, relatives would come and pick up many of the children, but not me. I was always left alone. I had never been cuddled or carried on someone’s lap. I had never known my parents, but only the gentle kindness of the nuns. I was starving for the warmth of family love.

Rotary changed my life

But even as a child, I worked hard not to be surpassed by others. In those days, a wheelchair was a luxury. I crawled for short distances, but most of the time used a pair of steel calipers and wooden arm pit crutch to walk freely. Before I learned to walk, I was fitted with a full-length steel and leather brace. If you have seen the movie Forrest Gump, you can picture what the braces looked like.

In 1973, a bachelor Singapore businessman and past president of the Rotary Club of Singapore West, wanted to adopt a son, and talked to the nuns at the orphanage, who recommended me. A local surgeon examined my legs, and performed an operation free of charge that helped straighten them.

That kindness left a lasting impression on me. Thirty years later, I was visiting a prospective client to renovate his office when I noticed the Rotary pin on his lapel. When I told him Rotary had changed my life, he invited me to one of his club’s meetings.

It was a great moment when I was accepted and inducted as a member of the Rotary Club of Jakarta Sentral in April 2004.  Without Rotary, I would not be what I am today. I’m a richer person for the people I’ve met and the things I’ve done.

Learning from polio

My attitude about polio was much more important than its physical effects on me. Through polio, I learned not only to be independent, but to insist on my independence. Polio survivors today have an astounding amount of social support. And I believe we have within us, both individually and collectively, a wealth of knowledge and insight that can help others grow and flourish. My children learned from my disability. They learned to be resourceful, helpful, sensitive and accepting of people different from themselves.

Polio is not over. There are millions of survivors living rewarding and productive lives. We want to stop the disease from threatening future lives. Join the effort to end this disease once and for all.

8 thoughts on “Polio survivors share a wealth of insight

  1. Pingback: 24th District Conference

  2. I found your story to be very moving as my mom is a polio survivor. Like you she contracted polio as an infant and she h always been a very strong, independent, and hard working person. Fortunately she had a lot of support from her family. She was the first person in her family to emigrate to the United States and she came here all alone which was a pretty gutsy thing to do in the 1960s.


  3. Pingback: Polio survivors share a wealth of insight | Warsaw Rotary , Club 3393, District 6540

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