Rotary clubs here and around the world are determined to do whatever it takes to achieve a world free of the crippling disease polio. A key component of that effort is fundraising. Rotary members are working to raise $200 million in response to a challenge grant of $355 million from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
That may seem like a daunting task, but Rotary's track record shows it can be done with perseverance and hard work. Since launching its landmark PolioPlus Program in 1985, the volunteer service organization already has contributed more than $900 million to the cause, not to mention countless volunteer hours logged by Rotary members.
Although the polio epidemic may be a distant memory to many — cases have been slashed by 99 percent worldwide — it still threatens children in parts of Africa and South Asia.
Gil Cherry, the PolioPlus Chair for the Sweetwater Rotary Club, was diagnosed with polio at age five. He was quarantined for around six weeks at an Abilene hospital, but he could only see his parents once a week.
Once Cherry was released, his family was told he would never walk again. His grandfather, however, told the family that he would walk one day. For the next six months, Cherry exercised four hours a day, seven days a week.
Because of his personal exposure to the disease, Cherry says, "I feel that it is my obligation to give back to polio."
Indeed, for as little as 60 cents worth of oral polio vaccine, a child can be protected for life.
However, a major funding gap now faces the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, of which Rotary is a spearheading partner (along with the World Health Organization, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and UNICEF). More than twenty years of steady progress is at stake, and polio — now on the ropes — stands to stage a dangerous comeback unless the funding gap is bridged.
In response to the funding crisis, Rotary eagerly accepted a US$355 million challenge grant from the Gates Foundation, which Rotary will match with an additional US$555 million, all of it dedicated to polio eradication.
Rotary's worldwide membership of 1.2 million men and women — representing about 33,000 clubs in more than 200 countries — immediately embraced the effort by digging deeper into their own pockets, planning special fundraisers and rallying community support. Rotary invites everyone who wants to learn more about this historic opportunity to end polio to visit www.rotary.com/endpolio .