By Al Bonney, a member of the Rotary Club of Traverse City, Michigan, USA, writing from Nigeria as part of a team taking part in National Immunization Days
Before this trip, I had never looked a polio survivor outside the United States in the eye, engaged him in conversation, and seen his pain, sadness, and even resignation.
As a Rotarian, I have been aware of Rotary’s efforts to eradicate polio once and for all. But this was just two humans, mano a mano, seeking the same life of dignity and respect as the other, and it was my responsibility to communicate that respect and dignity.
The first half of my awakening took place while my new friend was crawling through the dust of the presentation grounds, from his chair in the waiting area to his new wheelchair. What came next stood my hair on end.
I watched him look at the wheelchair, reach his calloused hands forward and swing himself from the ground into the seat of the tricycle handcrank with the fluidity of a trained performer. Once he was seated, his smile and the look of opportunity in his eyes took my breath away. The words of another polio survivor came back to me, “Once I had my wheelchair, the whole world was mine.”
After the emotions of the moment had passed, I was struck by how needless this young man’s suffering had been. If his mother or father had permitted him to receive just two drops of the vaccine some 10 years ago, his pain might have been avoided. Thanks to the vaccine we were there to deliver, many other children will never know the pain I saw in this young man’s eyes.
My friend rode off, cranking on his new wheelchair for all it was worth. Pure joy took him farther in 30 seconds than he had probably moved all day. I sure hope his parents allow drops for his baby sister.
You can follow this group of dedicated volunteers throughout their journey to fight polio in Nigeria on the End Polio Now blog.
- Read polio survivor Ann Lee Hussey’s post about the Nigeria trip
- Learn more about Rotary’s efforts to eradicate polio
- Be part of the effort to make the World’s Biggest Commercial at www.endpolionow.org
- Purchase End Polio Now, an album of songs performed by Rotary polio ambassadors, available as a digital download through iTunes and as a CD from shop.rotary.org.