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Out in the Field

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

After a day of practice, everyone's ready to get going. We're prepared, and we're dressed for long, hot days in the sun. One team member, Al Bonney, 63, from Traverse City, Michigan, particularly stands out. He looks like a fisherman without any water to fish in. He's wearing a fishing vest, a fishing hat, khaki cargo pants and boots. On his back is a Camelback water pouch. His got a lot in his vest pockets, too.

Polio vaccine volunteers

"Patrice Putnam, Bob Stuart, Al Bonney"

"I've got all kinds of stuff. I've got a magic marker that I'm supposed to use to mark the fingers of the kids we vaccinate. I've got the scissors that we're supposed to use to open the vials of vaccine. I've got my camera. I've got hand sanitizer. I've got mosquito repellant and sunscreen. I've got toilet paper, a pen and paper, and a notebook." And he's brought along lunch and a couple of power bars, too. We're divided up into smaller teams - three American Rotarians, a Rotarian from a Nigerian club, plus three local health department workers - and head out into the neighborhoods of north Kaduna.

Vaccinnation team

My group is going to the Fulani Road neighborhood, a poor Muslim area in north Kaduna. Fulani Road is a small, lined with shops and one-story houses. We leave the street and head down an alley about 2 feet wide. Mud walls of houses line each side, a trench - filled with sewage - is in the middle. Smells of rotting stuff permeate the air and cooking fires make my eyes water and cause me to cough and sneeze. Because this is a Muslim community, men can't go in the compounds, but I can tell from the outside they are poor. On one, the corrugated tin metal door falls off the frame as the vaccinators open it. There are a few dogs and chickens running around. We wind around the alleys until we get to another paved street, or it may be the same one - it seems like we're walking in circles.

"Off the street, vaccinating in the neighborhood."

As we move from house to house, following a pre-determined plan, one of the Rotarians gives the polio drops while another marks on the walls in chalk the date we visited the house, our team number, the number of kids in the house and the number we vaccinated today. Last, we draw an arrow to show the direction we are heading next. I'm paired with Mary Stitt and Ken Hughes. He's from a Rotary club in Burlington, Kansas. He's retired now, but use to work in a nuclear plant. He's a little overwhelmed by the sights and smells. "I'm seeing things for the first time. The people here have been so friendly. I just love the children. This is something I never expected to be a part of."

Ken Hughes volunteer giving vaccine

Hughes is excited to be part of a worldwide effort to get rid of polio. As he bends over a child and gives two drops of the polio vaccine, he tells me, "I just had to do this. This is what I want to be doing. I may never get a chance to do this again. Polio eradication is a huge effort, and I just wanted to be a little part of it, just to say, when polio is gone, I did something to help." On the first day in the field, the Rotarian teams give over 1,200 polio immunizations.

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.  Check back for Part 4 of this series next Wednesday. 

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