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  • Paul Van Nest

ROTARY’S ROLE in ERADICATING POLIO: PART 2

When Rotary clubs around the world were called into action to fundraise for the newly established PolioPlus program, the Rotary Club of Kingston launched its plan under the guidance of President John Boone and committee chair and past president Reg Shadbolt. We raised $79,000 that year!


To begin, every member was asked to donate US$100; each donation was enough to immunize 100 children in the world. The committee then developed a public fundraising campaign and anyone donating more than $200 was given a certificate of appreciation. School children stepped up in a big way knowing that $10 would immunize 10 children. We still smile remembering children attending our meetings week after week and dumping hundreds of pennies on our head table. In return, they were given a plastic ruler to recognize their contributions. Their enthusiasm and empathy were profound.



As part of the community fundraising campaign, local McDonald’s restaurants owned by Karen and Ron Sutherland (Rotarians) along with other chains and banks collected a great deal of change through coin boxes.



What all three Kingston clubs did at that time was being done world-wide. The Rotary International Convention, an annual meeting of Rotarians from around the world, was held in Philadelphia in 1988, attracting 16,000 Rotarians. From the Kingston Club, Reg Shadbolt, Alan Wale and I, along with our wives, attended. We were there to celebrate Rotary’s contribution towards ending polio in the world. The plenary sessions were held in the Spectrum, the Philadelphia Flyers arena, and an array of lights had been mounted on top of the boards surrounding the rink. Each light signified a contribution of $100,000 towards immunizing the children of the world: 1200 lights to represent the $120 million goal.


The contributions from South America, then Africa, Eastern Asia and Europe were announced, but the number of lights lit fell short by $20 million. When the contribution from North American Rotary clubs was announced, the lights raced the rest of the way, completing the oval, and then raced almost around the arena again. $219,350,449! It was the most dramatic moment in Rotary, ever! It was declared Rotary’s finest hour.


All three Kingston clubs continued fundraising, year after year. The Kingston Club’s fundraising efforts passed $100,000 the following year. Just a year ago, one member volunteered to match donations made by club members. That doubled the club’s donation to PolioPlus that year, which was then matched by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

As last week’s Reflection mentioned, the 2005 goal was more than surpassed but polio was still popping up in several countries. Much like the COVID-19 virus, as long as there is one person carrying the virus, it is a threat. Periodically, we hear of new flareups in a country, and WHO and Rotary step up to help prevent its spread. We still have to bring to zero the number of new cases of the wild virus in Afghanistan and Pakistan for a three-year period before we can say that we have won. “We are this close!”

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