One of the things I have always enjoyed about Rotarians is their dedication to making life better for others, illustrated perfectly by the international service club’s motto, “Service Above Self,” and demonstrated for the past 76 years by Rotary clubs on Kauai.
I was a Kauai Rotarian for 18 years. My favorite Rotary story is one I was told after joining the organization. It took place in 1985, when members of Rotary International were pondering whether to take on the huge task of eradicating the dread disease polio from the face of the earth.
Polio – a disease that cripples children – was eliminated in the United States by vaccination in the 1950s, but in 1985 it was rampant throughout most of the rest of the world.
Before deciding whether or not to accept this challenge, one Rotarian asked, “What if we fail?” To which another Rotarian replied, “What if we succeed?”
The decision was made to proceed. Never was I prouder to have been a Rotarian than when I heard that story.
Since 1988, when the Global Polio Eradication Initiative was launched and Rotary began taking on international partners in its efforts, the number of polio-endemic countries has decreased dramatically from 125 to three. Those numbers represent millions of children who will not become paralyzed and subjected to a life of poverty.
That’s the power of working together for a cause.
The foot soldiers in this battle have been Rotary’s volunteers, their families and friends, traveling at their own expense to countries such as India and Nigeria to personally administer life-saving serum into the mouths of children, one by one. The cost of the drug is only 60 cents per child — paid for by Rotary and other non-profit groups – but reaching those tiny mouths can be challenging in developing nations.
In 2004, I was privileged to be one of about 15 Kauai Rotarians who participated in a polio immunization day in India.
All across India, Rotarians and other volunteers from around the world each squeezed two drops of polio-preventing medication onto the tongues of every child under 5 years old they could find. Even infants held in the arms of parents received their drops, too, their parents expressing gratitude with tears in their eyes. All it takes to prevent polio is those two little drops per child.
Experts say that if we don’t finish the fight right now and eradicate the last of polio left in the world, more than 10 million children under the age of 5 could be paralyzed by the disease in the next 40 years.
You can help. Kauai’s five Rotary clubs have joined together to host the End Polio Now fundraising concert on Saturday Oct. 26 at the Kauai Beach Resort. The world’s most popular female Hawaiian musical group, Na Leo, and singer Amy Hanaialii Gilliom, accompanied by her trio and Kauai keyboardist Michael Ruff, will perform. North Shore-based Indian jazz guitarist Amit Heri will open the show.
All funds raised that evening will be matched 2:1 by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. How does it get any better than that?
Also during the evening, the Rotary Humanitarian Award will be presented in each of five categories: Firefighter/Water Safety Officer, Police Officer, Healthcare Worker, Social Worker and Teacher.
In all the years I was a member of Rotary clubs on Kauai, I was constantly amazed how much we accomplished working together, and how much fun we had in the process. Let’s keep it going.
Ticket information for the End Polio Now concert can be found online at www.kauaiendpolionow.com or call (808) 346-7095.