Saving One Baby at a Time

This is a guest post by Philip L. Graitcer and the second in a five-part series about a group of dedicated Rotary volunteers helping to eradicate polio in Kaduna, Nigeria.  

Fomwan Maternity Hospital, Kaduna

Anne Lee Hussey Rotary volunteerFor most of the team, this is a new experience. They’ve never been in a developing country or given polio immunizations. Now, on our second day in Kaduna, they’re getting their sea legs – learning how to give polio immunizations in a maternity clinic, where 40 crying infants, held by their mothers, are waiting.

AnnLee Hussey, (left), a veteran of more than 20 polio teams and the team leader, tells the group how to do it. “Make sure you don’t touch the child’s lip or tongue, tip it up, you can’t administer vaccine like this…” The Rotarians watch nervously and take notes. Finally it’s their turn. First up is Patrice. She leans over an infant, and as the baby opens her mouth, Putnam squeezes the dropper. Bull’s-eye! “I got both drops in the mouth. Saving one baby at a time.”

She’s all smiles but says giving the vaccine was harder than she anticipated, “making sure it was going in the mouth, at the same time, you’re trying to squeeze, at the same time you’re shaking with excitement.” Team member Mary Stitt is an old hand at polio  immunizations.

Volunteer Mary StittStitt (right) is 87 and a retired elementary school principal from Chicago. This is her fifth Rotary trip to Nigeria. She’s also been on Rotary trips to India and Upper Volta. Although she’ll miss her great-grandson’s madrigal recital while she’s away on this trip; she doesn’t see that as a sacrifice. “It’s nice to do a variety of things. It’s just living out my life the way I feel it ought to be lived.” With a slight stoop, her wide brim hat, and white hair, Stitt attracts a lot of attention as she goes door to door immunizing.

Rotary Volunteers give vaccinations


In Nigeria, it’s unusual to see someone so old out and about, and the Nigerians are impressed. They smile and call her grandma. She says that makes her feel really good, “The people here revere older people. That’s very reassuring. It’s lovely. It’s a very needy country. They’re very grateful. I think we like that as Americans. We don’t see that very often.” Seven years ago, Mary celebrated her 80th birthday on a polio trip. She’s thinking about celebrating her 90th birthday on another trip.

Graitcer is an independent radio producer based in Georgia. His stories have been heard on NPR, The World, Studio 360, and VOA. This is his fourth career – he’s also been a medical epidemiologist at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, a university professor, and a bicycle tour leader in Europe. His most recent radio stories can be heard on the website. You can follow him on Twitter at @radio_phil. 

To learn how to volunteer for a Rotary polio trip, contact your local club or Rotary International.

For part 1 of the series, click hereCheck back for Part 3 of this series next Wednesday. 


 Photos by Philip Graitcer