What About the Survivors? Wheels of Hope

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

En route to the Abuja, Nigeria airport. On our way home. It’s been a week of 10-hour days and the Rotarians are visibly tired.

Rotary Volunteers on Bus

They’ve trudged down countless alleys, endured smoke, dust storms, and long bumpy bus rides. But in spite of these inconveniences, no one would trade this week for anything - even a bike trip in Italy.

I asked Patrice Putnam if she’d come back. “I’d do it in a minute. With Rotary you pay your own trip, so for two of us it was fairly expensive to come over here. We went to Provence on our honeymoon and had a wonderful time. But THIS is life changing.” Her husband, Jerry Casey, is emotional. “I wish I had done something like this in my twenties, it may have been a life changing experience and maybe changed to direction that my life went in. But not having done that I’m very glad I’ve done it now.”

Al Bonney, the Rotarian who organized the Wheels of Hope wheelchair giveaway program, says he’s profoundly changed. “If there is to be definition of success for this trip for Al Bonney, it would be my personal growth and transformation as a result of what I’ve seen and what I’ve been able to do here. If you really want to know the number one takeaway is that I am a different guy, and my wife will see a different guy when I arrive home on the 21st than she kissed goodbye on the 7th of December.”

On this short trip, the Rotarians have had an impact – 4,000 more Nigerian children are immunized, and polio is a little closer to being wiped off the face of the earth. But I can’t help thinking that the impact of this trip goes in the other direction, too.  The team members have learned about polio and life in Nigeria, but most importantly, they’ve learned about themselves.

Photos by Philip Graitcer

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 here. Part 2 here. Part 3 here. Part 4 here