By Kate Campbell, president of the Rotaract Club of Canberra, Australia
Standing alongside my fellow Australian Rotaractors and Rotarians in front of Parliament House in Canberra 21 October to raise awareness for the End Polio Now campaign was a truly exhilarating moment.
The event aimed to show support for the amazing work done by RI and their partners in the Global Polio Eradication Initiative and encourage the Australian government to continue supporting the fight against this deadly disease.
The notoriously fickle Canberra weather had kindly obliged and delivered some glorious spring conditions — soaring blue skies, warm sunshine, and a brisk breeze that showcased the huge Australian flag above Parliament House at its best. It was a moment that made me immensely proud to be a part of the Rotary family and the effort to eradicate polio.
We were assembled for a photo shoot that was to be the finale of the Australian Rotaract Conference held over the weekend. Spirits were high and the excitement was contagious. We wore End Polio Now T-shirts and our little fingers were painted with purple nail varnish to symbolize the purple dye used to mark a child’s finger once they have been immunized against polio.
Two experiences before and after reminded me why we need to keep raising awareness for polio eradication. A few weeks before, I was talking excitedly about the event when an acquaintance expressed genuine confusion why I would get all worked up about getting rid of a harmless sporting event. He had confused polio, a crippling disease, with polo, a popular pastime.
Sitting on the bus home from the event, an elderly lady inquired what event I was coming from. When I told her, she expressed surprise. “Polio?” she queried, “wasn’t that wiped out years ago?” Both responses are somewhat understandable when you consider that polio has been wiped out in the western world for some time. Australia was officially declared polio-free in 2000.
But while the virus remains anywhere, it remains a threat to children everywhere. Campaigns such as Rotary’s End Polio Now and the Global Poverty Project’s The End of Polio are doing an admirable job of keeping the issue on the agenda.
The end of polio is within reach, and there is something intrinsically exciting about that prospect. The prospect of being “This Close,” of being on the brink of such an unprecedented, incredible opportunity makes my heart beat a little faster and my mind race. I think “How can I be a part of this? How can I help?” While I personally cannot go to India or Pakistan to administer polio vaccine, and my capacity for giving is considerably less than the likes of a Bill Gates, I and my fellow Rotaractors and Rotarians certainly can raise awareness and encourage advocacy.
The Australian Rotaractors who gathered in front of Parliament on 21 October were proud to be doing their bit. The message we were advocating is simple. Polio can be defeated. The world is “This Close.” Now is the time to join the fight and ensure momentum is not lost and the hard-won successes are not wasted. If we continue in our support, when the time comes and polio is finally vanquished, we will be able to stand up proudly and say “We were part of that. We helped win the fight.”