Mission to Ethiopia
In late October last year, a team of over 60 Rotarians from District 5030 and nearby districts participated in a National Immunization Day (NID) in Ethiopia. The BBRC’s three representatives presented a program of their memories and impressions.
Kim Shrader introduced the program by explaining how the group left Seattle and flew to London – where they had a 9-hour layover – and then on to Addis Ababa, the capitol of Ethiopia. Next, the other two team members, Jim Owens and Margie Burnett, recounted their experiences.
Jim used a Power Point presentation to show the Rotary Mission to Ethiopia for the children. “The weather doesn’t change much in this part of the world. The country has no coastline. It’s twice the size of Texas, with a population of 65 million. Experts expect the population to triple in 10 years. The average annual income is $100.”
“There have been many changes in their government over the years. Many revolutions and wars. Ethiopia is the only African country not colonized by Europeans. In 1991, the Communist government was overthrown, and he current government is oppressive. There is no investment, no factories, and, yet, they have prospects of a solid workforce.”
Rotary has had a presence in Ethiopia for many years. There are four Rotary Clubs operating in Addis Ababa. One Rotary project that has received much attention is the Cheshire Home, a hospital which can serve up to 75 kids at a time. “They cry when they arrive and then cry when they leave.” While there surgery is performed on their polio-stricken legs, so that crawlers can walk. Braces are made at the hospital. Margie commented that it’s “such a wonderful place, and the patients are very happy.”
The Fistula Hospital is another long-operating program. Fistula means “condition caused by obstructed child birth,” Women in Ethiopia have a tough life. Girls as young as eleven become pregnant and there is no medical attention in the rural areas. When the woman is maimed in childbirth, she is shunned and ostracized by her family and people in the village. A simple operation fixes the condition and 90% can have children again.
Rotary has given hundreds of thousands of dollars to this 50-bed hospital that was founded in 1947 by an Australian couple named Hamlin. They have labored since that time to serve over a thousand patients a year. Nurses are trained there, too. Catherine Hamlin, the widow of her co-founder, is 78 years old and continues to actively run the hospital.
An AIDS orphanage is run by a Rotaract Club, connected to one of the Rotary Clubs. Our team gave out clothes, medical supplies, and school supplies to the patients. Seven percent of the Ethiopian population has AIDS or is HIV positive. The new clothes were donated by Kids Without Borders, another District 5030 project.
The main reason for the visit to Ethiopia was to participate in Rotary’s Polio Eradication Campaign. “It is a massive process to contact everyone in every nation to eliminate this terrible disease,” Jim related. “The planning begins in Geneva, home of the World Health Organization. Their task is to figure out how to get the vaccine to the children. Outposts are established to where people can travel with their children, or the alternative is to go house to house. Nurses and doctors must be hired to oversee the process. They must also establish a ‘cold chain’ to keep the vaccine refrigerated. They must mobilize and inform the population and then execute the program and continue surveillance.”
Jim went to the city of Jima, where he met Dr. Chacko from India. “This man was 29 years old and he has dedicated his life to helping these people. With one or two people carrying a freezer full of vaccine, some workers walked 10 miles to an outpost. The mothers and their children come to outposts. You give two drops of vaccine on the tongue.” Kim described the process as “thrilling. I went from hut to hut, door to door to give the children the drops. Tens of thousands of people were marshaled to do this. Seven million children received the vaccine in three days. There are another 7 million to go. We target children 5 and under and the goal is to administer three immunizations over a 3-year period of time.
Margie talked about ”community immunization.”’ Medical personnel have determined that if a community can be immunized by reaching 80% of the population, the disease can be eradicated.
Jim talked about Ezra Teshome, a University of Washington professor and a member of the University District Rotary Club. Ezra is the District’s International Chairperson and is a native of Ethiopia. Many of his family reside ther,e and he was instrumental in making this program come off as a success. “I think that Ezra should be named Man of the Year for District 5030. He’s a tremendous person,” said Jim.
In summary, Rotary is working for effective partnerships to make this campaign work. Together with the UN, World Health Organization, UNICEF, Center for Disease Control, and the Gates Foundation, these partnerships are making eradication possible. Immunizations are scheduled through 2005. At this time, Ethiopia is not certified clean of polio. A country must go three years with no polio cases before it can become certified.
Today, there are ten countries not yet polio free: seven in Africa, including India and Somalia. There are cultural ramifications to conducting a vaccination program. Margie pointed out that there will be another trip next year. “It was a life-changing experience for me. The Ethiopians called us ‘Forenge – rich and powerful foreigners.’ In many cases, they came to the outposts just to see the ‘Forenge.’”
Already, the country is bracing for another famine. Relief agencies are gearing up to provide food, since a drought has decimated the crops. They rely on rain and there ha been precious little.
In response to a question about literacy, the travelers said the people are hungry for education. The population needs to be educated about birth control, new farming techniques, given opportunities for more education, and health care programs need to be stepped up. Eritrea, the coastal country which has been at odds with Ethiopia, has recently given Ethiopia coastal access to bring in foodstuffs. Jim closed by saying that free and democratic elections would go a long way to help Ethiopia manage their problems.
For their presentation, Margie and Jim were each given certificates noting that the BBRC had donated 240 doses of polio vaccine to children of the world.
For more information about the trip to Ethiopia, check out this website that was recently established by those who made the trip: www.ethiopia-nid.org
At the close of the program, Chuck Barnes gave an update on the Club’s efforts to strengthen Rotary’s Annual Fund and to Eradicate Polio. “Our club’s goal is to have 100% participation by everyone in the club. We have a $36,000 goal and we’ve collected or had pledged a total of $32,000. We’re a bit shy of the goal … 82%, or 84 members, have contributed at this point. There are 33 members who have not participated. If you haven’t had a chance to make a pledge or give a contribution, I urge you make your intentions known. Please contact me for any questions you have.”