By Celia Elena Cruz de Giay, RI director
In December 1995, my husband, Luis, and I visited Bombay (now Mumbai), India, during his year as president-elect of Rotary International. We were there to participate in a national polio immunization day and were very impressed by the social mobilization that went into it. It was the largest immunization day to that point.
When the day arrived, more than 10,000 volunteers were distributed throughout the country, easily identifiable in their yellow jackets and caps imprinted with the Rotary wheel.
The district governor picked us up early and took us to inaugurate a 10-kilometer long banner that announced the immunization activities and publicized polio eradication. They were hoping to make the Guinness World Records with the size of the banner!!
The governor next took us to a vaccination post located in a slum of Mumbai, where 5 million people live in extreme poverty and homelessness. We got out of the car and walked under a burning sun, the intense heat beating down on us.
The first thing I remember seeing was a long line of children accompanied by their mothers waiting to be vaccinated. We met the members of a Rotaract Club in Mumbai who were responsible for administering the immunizations. Like many volunteers, they were aware of the importance of their mission. But unlike most volunteers, they were all young people with special needs. In their wheelchairs, or with assistance of canes, these 31 Rotaractors helped each other put the saving drops into the mouths of children.
Seeing the joy on their faces as they overcame limitations to perform their tasks made me feel very small next to the greatness of their gesture. I saw for the first time the human face of Rotary, and what it is capable of inspiring in individuals such as these. It was a moment I never forgot – it is my Rotary moment.
On that day, more than 120 million children under 5 were vaccinated throughout India – that’s about 6,000 children a second!
Seventeen years have passes since that day, but still the memory of those Rotaractors is fresh in my mind and my heart. They and others helped achieve a milestone when India was declared polio-free in 2012.
That experience made me feel so proud to be a Rotarian, and made me understand how much you grow when you give more than you receive; when you help others. Thanks to the magic of Rotary, you get the chance to build a better world.