By Julia Yank, a member of the Rotary club of St. Clair County Sunset, O’Fallon, Illinois, writing from Nigeria as part of a team taking part in National Immunization Days
When my mother asked if I would go to Nigeria for a National Immunization Day to assist in the eradication efforts against polio, I had no way of imagining what lay ahead.
Being the daughter of past District Governors Greg and Catherine Taylor Yank, in District 6510, I have Rotary in my blood. My brother Gerrit Yank, a president-elect, and I, a membership chair, are charter members of the Rotary Club of St. Clair County Sunset in O’Fallon, Illinois. We are all Paul Harris Fellows and members of the Bequest Society. Although I have only been a Rotarian a year, I have attended numerous Rotary events. The opportunity to participate in an Immunization Day was right up my alley.
My first day of immunizations was spent in a Muslim neighborhood, Kaduna North, with team members Gretchen and Mike. Several local Kaduna Rotarians and five female health workers escorted us through the assigned settlements. Due to the Muslim religious practices, men were not permitted to enter into the living quarters. Gretchen and I followed the health workers into a maze of narrow passage ways that lead to multi-family units. The living conditions were unsettling in most places and it broke my heart to see children being raised in that environment. To my surprise, mothers, grandmothers, children, and even a few fathers were very receptive and overjoyed to see Americans. The immunizations happen extremely quickly, two drops into the mouth, left pinky marked, immunization recorded and chalked on the outside of the home.
I experienced many amazing moments on that first day. However one encounter with a Muslim mother stood out. We entered a community common area and requested the children age five and under be brought out for the polio vaccination. We knew there were young children as we could hear them inside playing. After several minutes, an older woman peeked out of a fabric covered doorway, and refused to bring out her children. She argued with the team for over 15 minutes. After the healthcare team educated her on the importance of immunization, she finally consented to allow her three children to be vaccinated. We were told later that she only consented because of the presence of the Rotarians. That moment, I realized the impact we can make.
The children from the settlement who had been following us throughout the day were so bright, beautiful, and full of curiosity. I snapped many photos, played counting games, let them touch my long hair, and hold my hands. Their fascination with “bature,” Nigerian slang for white people, was very flattering. They did not want us to leave that afternoon and neither did I. It was an extremely moving experience and I want to continue to reach as many children as possible until Nigeria is polio-free.
You can follow this group of dedicated volunteers throughout their journey to fight polio in Nigeria on the End Polio Now blog.