By Kea Gorden, planned giving officer
On World Polio Day, I watched Rotary’s livestream event and realized that I really am in the middle of history in the making. As part of the Rotary staff Miles to End Polio team, I will be riding 106 miles on 18 November in the El Tour de Tucson. Riding that far is not something I’ve ever done before. But it gives me a great sense of accomplishment to feel like I can be a part of an effort that is having such a significant impact. As I watched Bill Gates announce his belief that this year will be the one where polio is finally stopped, I realized how close we really all.
The support I have received from family, friends, fellow staff, and fellow Rotarians has been amazing. Beyond contributions, they have asked me about my training and preparation, offered tips on the right gear and proper nutrition to keep me going, and otherwise helped me get ready for what will be a long 8-hour day of cycling through the hills of Tucson.
Peace Corps experience
While I am relatively new to long distance cycling, I do have some experience with long rides. As a Peace Corps volunteer in Zimbabwe, I sometimes had to cycle for hours to visit various projects I was involved with as a small business development volunteer. I worked primarily with women basket weavers, teaching bookkeeping, helping them to negotiate contracts with curios shops in Bulawayo, and finding sustainable sources for the ilala palms needed for the crafts they made.
On my visits, I would frequently pass large colorful tents that dotted the countryside amid the thatched rondavel huts. Most often, this was a sign that a funeral was taking place, a reminder of the prevalence of HIV/AIDS in the country.
During my time in the Peace Corps, 30 percent of the adult population of Zimbabwe was HIV positive. The terrible disease was ravaging families in the rural villages I visited, but I was powerless to do anything to stop it.
What excites me about the Miles to End Polio ride is that I feel like now, many years later, I do have the chance to impact communities regarding a communicable disease, this time polio. As a member of the Evanston Lighthouse Rotary Club and on staff at The Rotary Foundation, I have seen the power of volunteers and global institutions as they have devoted themselves to eradicating this disease. And when it is gone, the world can turn its attention to combating other diseases using the lessons we have learned from this effort. I am so grateful to The Rotary Foundation for the opportunity to be part of the final push to end polio.
Kea Gorden is a planned giving officer for RI and one of several Rotary staff members who will join General Secretary John Hewko and Rotarians from District 5500 and around the world in El Tour de Tucson in Arizona 18 November to raise money for polio eradication. Learn how you can support the team.