By Karen W. Kovacs
Photo by Jean-Marc Giboux – RIBI Image Library
On Colleen Bonadonna’s first trip to India as part of a team traveling to help with polio vaccinations, a young mother handed her a baby and lovingly looked at Colleen as if to say, “Thank you. Thank you for protecting my child.”
It was a powerful moment that Colleen will never forget. She keeps a photo of that mother and child in her office as a reminder and hope that one day no parent will ever have to fear that his or her child will contract polio.
Growing up, Colleen did not know anyone who had polio. In fact, until she joined Rotary, she was not aware that polio still existed. After traveling to India the first time and seeing polio victims crawling in the streets in Delhi, Colleen felt compelled to become an activist to help eradicate the disease. She is committed to seeing that someday no other child will have to live with its effects.
Colleen is the Rotary District 7610 Polio Plus Chairperson. Her job is to educate and inform club members about the current status of polio around the globe and encourage clubs to support Rotary International’s efforts to eradicate polio.
As a member of six vaccination team trips, five to India and one to Nigeria, Colleen has had the opportunity to see first hand the good that Rotary does in parts of the world where health needs are the greatest. She has met with members of the World Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control, UNICEF, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (which donates two dollars for every one dollar raised for polio eradication).
The teams learn about how the countries they visit are preventing the spread of polio. They are also taught how to administer the oral vaccine that allows people without medical training to give the vaccine. Local teams monitor children who are in need of vaccinations. And when a woman is pregnant, they keep in touch with her to make sure that the newborn gets vaccinated.
Colleen describes the people in the countries they visit as welcoming and appreciative of the team’s effort to travel such a distance to help protect their children. The teams stay in hotels in the larger cities, but when they are in the villages, they stay with Rotarians in their homes. That experience is one of the highlights of the trips for Colleen.
Many nations lack the finances and infrastructure to stop the spread of disease, including polio, which occurs because of poor sanitation and lack of clean water. They also don’t have the means to vaccinate all children to prevent polio. Political conflicts and war continue to be a barrier, too. Rotary’s effort to work with heads of states and religious leaders has helped break down some of these walls.
Author Karen W. Kovacs is a member of the Gloucester Point VA Rotary Club. You can help eradicate polio by making a purchase at www.PlantstoEndPolio.org or with a contribution to Gloucester Point Rotary Charitable Foundation (Plants to End Polio) P.O. Box 421 White Marsh, VA 23183