Rotary’s Fight to Eradicate Polio
Rotary has spearheaded the fight against polio over the years. It started in 1979 when a group of Rotary clubs took on a project to buy and help deliver polio vaccine to more than six million children in the Philippines.
Then, In 1985, Rotary launched its PolioPlus program, the first initiative to tackle global polio eradication through the mass vaccination of children. Rotary has contributed more than $1.6 billion and countless volunteer hours to immunize more than 2.5 billion children in 122 countries. In addition, Rotary’s advocacy efforts have played a role in decisions by donor governments to contribute more than $7.2 billion to the effort.
In 1988, a public-private partnership that includes Rotary, called the Global Polio Eradication was formed. In addition to Rotary, it includes the World Health Organization, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, UNICEF, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and governments of the world. Rotary’s focus is advocacy, fundraising, volunteer recruitment and awareness building.
Today, there are only three countries that have never stopped transmission of the wild polio virus: Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan. Less than 75 polio cases were confirmed worldwide in 2015, which is a reduction of more than 99.9 percent since the 1980s, when the world saw about 1,000 cases per day.
Sammamish Rotary’s Involvement
All Rotary clubs are involved in the polio initiative by their contributions to Rotary International which manages the granting of the funds in coordination with the other partners. However, individuals could become personally involved by participating in some aspect of the operation based on one’s skill set. Here is an example of one of our Rotarian’s experience as documented by the Sammamish Review:
On a service trip to Ethiopia in 2009, C.J. Kahler, a Sammamish Rotarian, not able to speak the local language — managed to get the children of Komboleho to line up single file and follow him house-to-house as he administered polio vaccines.
It didn’t matter that he was the foreigner who only spoke English. Despite their poverty, the children were joyful and eager to see the work the team was doing such as C.J. administering a polio vaccination to a child as shown in the picture above.
Kahler, a Sammamish resident since 2002, has spent much of his retirement applying his desire to serve others and skills in the medical field to enrich lives locally and internationally.
“The kids in Ethiopia and Uganda are the ones I connected with most,” Kahler said. “You kind of feed off of those kind of trips.”
As a volunteer, who helps locally with events like the Nightmare at Beaver Lake and various service projects, Kahler has drawn on his experience as a community pharmacist. He worked in the business for 40 years and owned two pharmacies in the greater Seattle area. Pharmacists are near the front lines of working with people in health care, he said. Having spent so much time helping generations of families with their health care needs, Kahler said he gained his sense that relationships are the most important thing in life.
“You really get involved in their life,” he said. “That, for me, was really cool — that connection. People talk to their community pharmacist about a lot of things.”
When he retired in 2004 — he and wife Mary Jo Kahler had lived in Sammamish two years — he realized he needed to get to know this community better.
“He’s a can-do kind of a guy,” said Bernie Lucking, chair of the Rotary Vocational Service Committee. “He’s always looks for ways to get things done.”
As a six-year member of Rotary Club of Sammamish, Kahler found his niche quickly. He started serving on the Community Service Committee, helped establish a partnership with Eastside Baby Corner, and eventually took a trip in late 2009 to Ethiopia and Uganda.
“It doesn’t take long … to get your feet wet,” Kahler said. “There’s always a need for help.”
During the Africa trip, he traveled around to various villages to immunize about 300 children from polio. Kahler’s Christian faith drives him at the deepest level — “serve God, serve others,” is his philosophy.
He still has emails from people there and spoke fondly of the relationships and stories cultivated during that experience. He said it helped him understand a little better why he wants to serve the local and international community as much as possible.
“I can have a direct effect on making people’s lives better,” Kahler said.
The short-term African experience led Kahler and those at Rotary to seek a long-term service partnership in Nicaragua. Rotary of Sammamish recently began a four-year partnership with Agros International to implement a community development program in rural Nicaragua, Kahler said. Rotary plans to send a work team in January or February 2012, he said.
In addition to helping with international service efforts, Kahler has served as point man and founding member of Sammamish Cares, a partnership between Rotary, Habitat for Humanity, Sammamish Kiwanis and the city of Sammamish. It organizes small work groups and offers one-time assistance for Sammamish residents who are unable to fix or can’t financially afford to maintain their property or home, according to the organization.
While Kahler works with many other volunteers to get things done in his various roles, Lucking said it would be difficult to find someone as driven and hard-working as Kahler.
“We’d be hard pressed to replace him,” Lucking said. “He’s really taken this community service role by the horns.”
Reflecting on whether there was a specific point in life when he realized he wanted to give of his time, money and skills, Kahler said it actually was a gradual realization.
“The reason we’re in this world is more than just for ourselves,” he said. “You’ve been given God-given skills. You’re not supposed to keep them in a box. Use them.”
Written on April 5, 2011 By Christopher Huber for the Sammamish Review
The March issue of District 5030 Bridges has a piece that features comments made by Bill and Melinda Gates in their Annual Letter. It also has this update on the polio cases reported so far this year. And Rotary International posted the video below as a call for...