By Ann Lee Hussey, polio survivor and member of the Rotary Club of Portland Sunrise, Maine, USA
“Are you willing to lead a National Immunization Day team to Chad?” the email read. My immediate response was YES!
Having worked in Chad in 2012, I was happy to be asked to return. Chad remains at risk for outbreaks of the virus from the countries it borders – Nigeria to the southwest, Niger to the west, Sudan to the east, and both Cameroon and the Central African Republic covering the southern border. Chad’s last reported case of polio was June 14, 2012. We want to keep it that way.
Using miles from the United Airlines Mileage Plus Charity Miles program, we flew to N’djamena, the capital. We were met at the airport by our Rotary contact, the president of the only Rotary club in Chad, who proved to be a gracious host, supplying all our in country travel needs and handling hotel reservations. Three local Rotaractors were responsible for our safety.
I was there as an observer, a participant, and a representative of Rotary for WHO, CDC and UNICEF agents and government officials including the new Minister of Health. One of my primary contacts was a CDC member, Melinda, who helped me represent Rotary at a meeting with all our partners. She was also the primary reason we were able to be in Abeche, the fourth largest city in Chad, a fascinating ancient city surrounded by savannah type terrain. Our living quarters were basic to say the least with a bucket shower and squat toilet in each room. But considering our partners lived this way most the year, I knew we could manage a few days.
Our primary goal was to work in the open markets in high visibility areas, and I worked with a Rotaractor and two young women polio workers. I do not speak French but we managed well, sharing many smiles. This is a Muslim country, so I wore a scarf to cover my head, making an attempt out of respect of their religion.
The markets are amazing and here you see the real people, working to sell their wares, mothers making their daily purchases. We found babies attached to their mother’s back, hidden under their robes. Babies and children slept just behind the dried peppers, fresh vegetables, and the fried grasshoppers, whatever it was their mother was selling and it was our job to find them.
Immunizing involved lots of communication and reaching low to the ground, under plastic roofs, to place drops in the mouths of wiggling children. Knowing neither French nor their local dialect, I left the talking up to the health workers. Standing attentively at their side, I was then allowed to immunize the children. I always smiled and thanked the mothers and somehow I feel they understood. My favorite were the women, with babies or young children snuggled in front of them entering the market on donkeys, the local transport, with baskets hanging on either side.
Getting the job done
There is no question that Chad has challenges in its polio work but somehow, someway, the work they are doing is getting the job done. Each year, new tactics, greater surveillance and more information aid them in their success.
I am grateful for the mileage points, which helped to build bridges with the people working in the field. We were the first Rotarians the UNICEF and CDC workers in Abeche ever had worked alongside. All spoke of Rotary with the highest regard and praise.
We all gathered together for our final dinner with much laughter and story telling at the only restaurant near our night quarters. I was never prouder to be a Rotarian than I was there under the desert sky, in the midst of new Chadian friends and our partners, all spending their lives working for the same desire of a world free of polio.
- Rotary earned 3.3 million charity miles in United’s 10 Million Charity Miles giveaway this year. Learn more about the Rotary Miles program.
- Share your voice and find other ways you can help us end polio