By Al Bonney, 2014-15 Governor of District 6290 (part of Ontario, Canada; part of Michigan, USA), and a member of the Rotary Club of Traverse City, Michigan
The sun was just peaking pink and yellow over the roof tops of the soon-to-be-busy street when our team of 15 Rotary members sleepily descended from the bus on the first day of the three-day National Immunization Day trip.
We were assigned to our work groups, briefed on the day’s work, and moved off down the street. By now it was starting to bustle with stands selling yams, water, cloth, and bike parts. Another business day in Kaduna, Nigeria.
We had only walked a quarter of a mile when the lead health worker turned left through an opening in a mud wall, and took us into our assigned slum in the middle of the city. We entered a warren of narrow, dusty, dirty alleys rimmed by single-level shacks forming a continuous ochre mud wall on both sides. The slum was punctuated by roosters crowing, baby’s crying, motorcycles revving and a muezzin delivering the morning call to prayers. The sights, sounds, and smells were overpowering as we walked through the alleys looking for children to immunize against polio.
The dirt streets were just wide enough to pass and still avoid the squalid trickle of fetid sewage oozing down the middle of the walk-way. Four little girls played tea-party with pop-bottle caps next to the filth. I could only hope they would live long enough to have a real tea party after touching that water.
The health worker touched my elbow and passed me a vial of polio vaccine. We had found our first child. A baby of about 9 months, held in her mother’s arms, looked up at me, not sure if she should cry.
I smiled, thanking the health worker softly and then looked in the mother’s eyes – a girl of no more than 16. As our eyes met and I raised the vial, I knew she and I were thanking our gods for the same thing: that Rotary had brought us to that moment and that we were sharing the miracle of two drops of vaccine guaranteeing that her child would never suffer the ravages of polio.
She smiled at me. I returned her smile and the team moved on. It was so simple I almost missed it. But the mother will never forget, and neither will I: that moment, together, we changed a life.