National Immunization Days in Ethiopia
National Immunization Days in Ethiopia
“I made a vow that I would keep going back to Ethiopia until we wiped out polio,” said Ezra Teshome, District 5030 Rotarian and District Governor-Elect 2013-2014. A man of his word, Teshome has led local Rotarians on more than 18 trips to Ethiopia over the past 16 years for National Immunization Days and is already planning another trip for October 2012.
Rotary members visit villages and towns to distribute vaccine supplies to local health centers, educate the community about disease prevention and the importance of vaccinations, and work with local officials to ensure that the vaccine reaches every child. Any Rotarian who participates in an NID trip says it is impossible to remain untouched by the experience.
Ezra Teshome was born in Ethiopia and moved to the Seattle area in 1971 when he was 17 years old. He attended college, became an American citizen and opened his own business – a State Farm Insurance agency in 1982. He also decided to join his local Rotary Club in the University District and became president in 1995. During that Rotary year, he attended a Rotary peace conference in Ethiopia and administered his first polio vaccine. He was hooked. “I made a vow on that day that I would keep going back to Ethiopia until we wiped out polio,” he said.
Teshome began leading Rotarians on trips to Ethiopia in 1996. Today, nearly 1000 Rotarians nationwide have joined him on these trips, many of them returning year after year. They start by administering polio vaccines in a village or clinic, but then they see the conditions of the villages or the schools or the local water source. They return to their clubs in the United States or Canada, determined to do more. As the result of these trips, the Rotarians stay committed to people, schools and villages they visit and lead projects to help in other ways.
The immunizations are too late for Ethiopians already living with polio. They are often outcasts from their local community and unable to access the medical treatments and equipment available in North America. Rotarians have shipped four large containers of wheelchairs to help these individuals.
Teshome tells the story of one man he met who was crawling around the city when he saw the Rotary team. “We’re going to help you be mobile,” said Teshome and showed him the wheelchair. The man started crying. He pulled a plastic bag from his pocket and explained that he puts it over his head when the rains come to his city. He can’t get out of the way, so he just sits and waits for the rain to pass. “I get washed by floods and knocked by rocks, and I can’t do anything to help myself unless someone finds me and helps pull me in. Now that I’m mobile, I’m not going to be washed away again.”
On another NID trip, Rotarians decided to help a local village they visited by building a well for the village. When the NID volunteers went back the following year to check on the project, one of the village elders came to greet them. He gestured toward his village and said, “Our children are healthy and we are clean, even our animals are clean. You don’t know us, but you made a difference in our lives.”
“After you witness something like that your life is changed,” said Teshome. One Rotarian tells another Rotarian about the experience and before long, more than 1000 Rotarians have visited the country and made connections with the people there. They commit and recommit to making a difference because of what they witness on these trips. “Every year I say I won’t do it again, he said. “But when I see the difference we’re making, how can I stop?”
Call to Action:
Ezra Teshome is tentatively planning another trip to Ethiopia in October 2012. Once dates are confirmed, there will be a sign up sheet on the website for Rotarians who want to participate. There are only 40 spaces available, so Teshome encourage interested individuals to sign up as soon as they can.
Rotarians pay their own way for trip and Teshome tries to arrange for reasonable priced accommodations. In addition, Rotarians will have an option for to sign up for African safaris in Kenya or Uganda after the National Immunization Days are complete.