By Amy Pisani, Executive Director of Vaccinate Your Family & President of Rotary Club of Mystic, CT
Today is “World Polio Day” and as the world grapples with the devastation caused by COVID-19, children worldwide face the possibility of losing their lives to other deadly diseases as access to healthcare is greatly diminished. Developing nations are also forced to deal with the economic impact of worldwide travel bans, leaving the fight against polio in jeopardy. But there is a bright light in this decades-long battle against an enemy that primarily targeted children throughout the world: Africa was declared polio-free in 2020. Allow me to repeat this amazing statement. Africa was declared polio-free in 2020! Now all eyes are on Afghanistan and Pakistan, the last two countries still dealing with this devastating virus.
With polio nearly eradicated, Rotary and its partners must sustain this progress and continue to reach every child with the polio vaccine. Rotary has contributed more than $2.1 billion to ending polio since 1985. However, without full funding and political commitment, this paralyzing disease could return to polio-free countries, putting children and adults everywhere at risk. Rotary has committed to raising $50 million each year to support global polio eradication efforts. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has pledged to match that 2-to-1, for a total yearly contribution of $150 million.
My parents used to tell me that surrounding yourself with good people can bring you more joy in your life. By serving as the President of my local Rotary Club, I have been blessed to have a group of like-minded friends who, above all else, want to make a difference globally and locally. As an added bonus, my family and I are able to give back to our local community through volunteer efforts, grants to local charities and organizations, student scholarships, and international projects.
This month, the Rotary Clubs of Connecticut donated 1 million masks to first responders and nonprofits, and I found great joy in distributing 3,500 masks to our fire, police, and ambulance crews. In 2019, our Club awarded scholarships totaling $12,000 to local graduating seniors and provided over $31,000 of grants and direct contributions to a wide range of deserving organizations – and we are on target to match this amount in 2020.
One of the long-term projects our Club is most proud of is the commitment that several of our Club members made to volunteer on the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe Reservation through Simply Smiles. Through contributions from our Club and other neighboring Clubs, we have built homes for Lakota families in La Plant, South Dakota and helped to purchase $13,500 of school supplies for a regional, tribe-run school. Most recently our club members helped to build the first residence and fill it with furnishings for the Simply Smiles Children’s Village, a home for children in need of foster care.
As a vaccine advocate, the highlight of my Monday meetings with Rotary is the chance to support efforts including donating to the cause of Polio Eradication. As Rotarians, we all have our eye on the ultimate prize – wiping polio from the face of this earth. During my travels to Africa, Rotary seemed as popular as Coca Cola – everyone was so grateful for the polio eradication efforts organized by Rotary. As a woman who has spent a lifetime in the fight against vaccine-preventable diseases, the lovely people of Africa were the ones that inspired me to join Rotary.
Everyone has a spark that ignites them to serve – let the COVID crisis be your spark. You can make a difference in your backyard and globally by joining your local Rotary Club. Our family has always been willing to pitch in at our many events, from fundraising through serving hot dogs and frozen lemonade, to cleaning up the interior and exterior of the homeless shelter. This Spring, my children and I made a difference by Facebook fundraising, shopping for, and delivering 300 pounds of food for our local food bank to help those struggling through the COVID-19 crisis.
So what can you do to help?
- Reach out to your legislators, and tell them not to forget that polio is the second disease (smallpox being the first) that could be eradicated from the face of the earth. Ask them to vote for funding for global polio eradication. You can find your legislators easily here.
- Consider making a donation to Rotary today. Your donation- of any size – will save lives and give children a chance at a healthy, polio-free future. With the match from The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, we can make this happen. Donate now: endpol.io/give
- Join your local Rotary Club, so that you too can make a difference locally and globally. You can find the Rotary Club in your town quite easily. During the pandemic most clubs are meeting by Zoom and volunteering more than ever before. If you feel the spark to make a difference during these times of crisis, your Rotary club is the best place to start. By joining Rotary you will make friends far and near, who will forever be dear to your hearts, through service to your community and the world.
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