Our 2002 Experiences In Our Own Words...

Click on the titles below to jump to that story



If you have an experience from the trip you'd like to
share, please e-mail it to the webmaster.
Submissions are very much appreciated!

A letter to my friends about the trip, by Ralph Munro

For the past week I have been in Ethiopia, vaccinating hundreds and hundreds of children against polio. Please accept my apologies if correspondence has been late or delayed.

This was an activity that 65 of us participated in from the Pacific Northwest. Rotary Clubs around the world started a campaign in the early 1980's to eradicate polio from the face of the earth. We work in cooperation with the World Health Organization, the Center for Disease Control, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the United Nations Children's programs, and scores of others. Thousands of Rotarians around the world are supporting the effort. Now there are 10 countries left with the live polio virus and less that 400 cases were reported last year. Just ten years ago the new cases numbered in the hundreds of thousands annually.

Last week Ethiopia had their national immunization days on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The goal was to vaccinate almost 14 million kids in a three day period. Most of this years work was at 'set location' clinics. This can be anything from a urban health care center to a 'well known tree' in the countryside. I arrived at one such site in the hills above Shashamene and there were hundreds and hundreds of kids waiting on a big grassy field next to a farmers storage shed. We sat down in the shade next to the shed and administered the vaccine to about 300 children under five years of age. The moms and their babies line up, the health volunteer checks of the youngsters age, the mom sits in front of me and helps to open the babies mouth ...................

and I look down at the child, smile as big as I can, lift up his or her chin, make sure the mouth is open wide and squirt in two drops of oral vaccine. The child's often does not like the taste, squirms a bit and we reopen the babies mouth and squirt in vitamins. That's it, except for one other thing. As the mom moves away, she invariably looks in my eyes and says 'thank you for protecting my baby' Seldom is it said verbally, but always the message is communicated.

I am sure that I look 'strange as hell' to her. This big white guy in a yellow Rotary shirt and hat. Sunglasses, strange language, etc. But they have learned about polio, and they want their babies protected.

So in a three day period, our people traveled the width and breadth of this beautiful old country. It is very poor and facing many difficulties but the people were wonderful, supportive and very friendly. It was a very rewarding experience. National immunization days are taking place in the 9 other countries that have live polio virus later this year, and Rotarians will be there by the 1000's to help. Every Rotary Club in the world is concentrating on this effort for the final push to eliminate the disease.

So if you see or know of a Rotarian, you might want to thank them for putting up the money and support to make this happen. I am not asking for your thanks, but thought you might know someone in a local Rotary Club that has thrown a few bucks for polio in the 'kitty' and wondered what ever happened to the money. I can tell you that it is being well spent overseas to get rid of this terrible disease.

I think that I will see those little babies faces the rest of my life. Sometimes they were clean and well scrubbed and other times they were virtually covered with flies. Some little ones smiled and giggled, while others squirmed and screamed. Some had adequate clothes and necessities, while others appeared to have nothing. But I do know one thing..................... none of them are going to get polio. What a week.

[Return to the top of this page]
A heartbreaking story from a small village, by Howard Stirk

I was immunizing in Ambo, 175 KM west of Addis Ababa, with Lori Lawrenson (Southcenter RC) and Nancy Gruel (Northshore RC). Ambo is a farming village where the people barely eke out a subsistence living. While moving from on immunization post to another our guide stopped his SUV in the road so we could hand out candy to children playing. I watched as 5 kids in descending age came out of the stick fence surrounding their adobe and thatched roofed hut. As they were getting their candy, a 6th child, a 2 year old toddler came out of the yard. The father, who couldn't speak English, motioned toward the littlest girl and then to us gesturing "take her with you". Having too many kids and not enough money, he knew his best chance of caring for her was to giver her away. It broke our hearts

[Return to the top of this page]
How many adults does it take to hold down a one year old? by Howard Stirk

We all quickly learned the oral vaccine does not taste very good. We also learned kids under 5 do not like being restrained while "white" strangers in bright yellow hats and aprons approach them. One 4 year old boy started to struggle while being brought toward me. One health worker helped her pick him up, but he turned his head so another helped turn his head toward me. He arched his back and twisted so more volunteers helped restrain him so I could get the 2 drops of vaccine into his mouth. When I was finally able to administer the drops, I counted how many of us it had taken to help protect that young child from Polio. Six adults to hold down one 4 year old.

[Return to the top of this page] 
American style production line efficiency, by Kevin Talbot (webmaster)

My wife Bonnie Hilory (Southcenter RC), Maggie Lawrence, Linda Pancheri and I visited many small clinics on our first day of immunization in Addis Ababa. We were hosted by two local Rotaracts, Samson and Noel who were the nicest young men you could imagine. After wondering out loud to them why we were not being allowed to immunize many kids, Samson and Noel reluctantly told us the local health workers really didn't think we knew what we were doing and were more for "show" than for working. This frustrated us a bit, but it didn't upset us as we really wanted to work and help.

On our second day of immunizing, Samson and Noel took us to a larger clinic in a densely populated part of Addis Ababa called "World Bank" neighborhood after the financial aid to build homes in the area. When we got to the clinic, there must have been nearly a hundred kids outside and about two dozen inside but only two health workers. After being introduced, we just stood around waiting to help. After a while with no work being given to us we kind of bugged Samson and Noel to ask the workers how we could help. Although they were reluctant to have us help as we saw before in the other clinics, they finally did let us start dispensing the Polio vaccine and vitamins. After a few minutes, the workers could see we knew what we were doing and they let us continue immunizing and accepted our help.

They had a fairly large room and several benches in the room. Their procedure was to bring in about 20 sets of kids and parents as a group, talk with them for a few minutes about the program (and maybe about the odd looking strangers in yellow bibs) then start the actual vaccinations. As they got vaccinated, the kids left the room until it was empty and the process started over with another group.

After the first group or two, we suggested some changes - have one person do the polio vaccine and the other do the vitamins (those little capsules are slippery little buggers!). We also suggested doing two lines of kids in parallel since we had enough workers and benches to handle it. We realized our description of what we wanted to do was not making it through the language barrier so we just took the initiative and rearranged the benches and chairs into two lines and started dividing the incoming kids between the two benches. These two "production lines" with two workers per station (one on polio, one on vitamins) worked much better. It seemed like we were able to empty the room of 20 or so kids in just a few minutes.

This went on for a few hours until until the number of kids awaiting vaccination slowed to a trickle. At that time our Rotaracts decided to take us back to the hotel and call it a day. Then a very unexpected thing happened - the two health workers at the clinic asked if we could come back the next day to help some more! They realized we really were helping and how much less tired they got with some relief from us. That really made our day to be asked to come back and help some more.

[Return to the top of this page] 
Ethiopian NID Report to Seattle #4 on 11/13/02, by Danner Graves

Three months ago I didn't know squat about Africa. I didn't know there were 47 countries and I sure couldn't point them out on a map.

Many of my friends have been to Africa but mostly for safaris or to South Africa. They all raved about going there but I never got excited--until Rotary said we could go over there and help wipe out polio in one of the last pockets of resistance. Then the trip made sense.

What I can now tell you is that Ethiopia is a beautiful land with wonderful people-despite poverty and hardship that makes the worst off of our citizens look like they are living the life of royalty.

For our polio work we went to the ancient walled city of Harar. The first European didn't arrive until 1870 and then he had to sneak in because it was entirely Muslim. We flew into the nearest airport, Dira Dawa, then drove for an hour and a half in a UN vehicle to get there. We stayed in the nicest hotel in town, government run, for $15 per night. It made Motel 6 look like the Ritz Carlton in comparison.

The clinics we went to were all over the place, hidden behind walls in town or out in the country. We drove over roads that were so bad it felt like we were riding a bucking bronco. In one case, we finally left the car and hiked up a trail for about 20 minutes. It was in the center of the region where they grow chat, the mild narcotic leaf that all the men chew all day while the women work. I assure you, we chewed but we didn't swallow. (Joke)

Someday I'd like to go back because there's so much that I didn't get to see:--the source of the Blue Nile at Lake Tana, the incredible churches of Lalibela, carved entirely out of rock, underground, in the shape of a cross. Our tourism would do a lot to help their economy but right now they don't even have the infrastructure to support it.

You're all busy people and you didn't come here today to hear me give a mini-travelogue. So what's the point of all this?

The point is that they didn't need us to come over and give polio drops. Think about it. In a country of 60 million people w/ 40% of the people unemployed, they could certainly train some locals to squeeze two drops from a little plastic bottle into some kid's mouth. They didn't need us for that. It's the same principle as the organizations that ask you to run a marathon to raise money for a cause. They want you to become aware and be committed to the cause. That's what this trip was all about-our care and our commitment. They also need our money to pay for the vaccine and the health workers the refrigeration necessary to preserve the vaccine when it has to travel for hours to places without electricity.

So what's the bottom line? It's why I started out saying how little I knew, or cared for that matter. Now that I've been there, I do know and I do care. So do 68 other Rotarians who were there. Hopefully, some of you here today will also care and try to help in this effort, whether it's with a contribution to Polio Plus or in just being better informed. From our small group we left behind about $20,000 for Polio Plus, a library and a fistula hospital. All I can say is that we got far more out of this trip than we gave. I still don't know a lot about Africa, but I sure know a lot more than I did. Thank you.

[Return to the top of this page]
  Opening the doors of the Presidential Palace, by Bill McCarthy (DGE 5020)

When we went to the Presidential Palace (in Addis Ababa) on Thursday afternoon, my local Rotary host from Addis Ababa East, Casaaye, drove me there after lunch at his house. When we met again at the reception following the TV broadcast he sought me ought & with tears in his eyes told me that this had been his first time in the Palace, in his life. We Rotarians (from the States) were being honored for giving credibility to the local NID, but more importantly we brought in with us the local Rotarians, the citizens of Ethiopia into their Palace. Rotary truly opened doors that day

[Return to the top of this page]
  Reflections from the Cheshire House, by Bonnie Hilory, Southcenter Rotarian

Cheshire house had 70 students affected with the Polio virus. It was a very powerful experience. Some children were crawlers, kids who need the surgery. Most children hadn't been to school. Most were shunned in their villages. As we toured we saw a room that was dedicated to making footwear and leg supports. They also showed us that they were making tricycles. The gardens were well maintained and the children were introduced to some learning.

Kevin and I brought tootsie roll pops to give to the kids. I was impressed by a little boy who looked down at his hand to show me that he had received one already. The children were honest, polite and determined. They were all wearing their rotary shirts and hats for the NID.

We saw the same children at the National Palace. Many of them recognized us and beamed wonderful smiles and waves.

[Return to the top of this page]
  Reflections from the Fistula Hospital by Bonnie Hilory, Southcenter Rotarian

Dr. Catherine Hamlin is a quiet spoken women that exudes passion. They perform surgeries on M-W-F, and have served 20,000 with the help of post graduate students, and women that have stayed on to help others. Their annual budget to operate is $400,000.

I was awestruck by Dr. Hamlin. She is like the pied piper. She and her late husband arrived here in 1959 and she has been in this hospital since 1974. She shared that they came for 3 months and never left.

Her goal is to "make each woman a new citizen of the world". Girls go untreated for so long and are treated as social outcasts. This Fistula Hospital clinic treats 1,200 a year and they feed 250 to 300 a day. Dr. Hamlin shared that there are an estimated 9,000 cases a year, the majority which go untreated.

The girls are given a brand new outfit (sewn by other girls) to return home in as the clothes that they arrive in are stained in urine, blood, etc. Often a family sells a cow for a bus ticket. Dad or husband or brother carries the girl to the clinic. The clinic pays for the ticket for the girl to return home if the environment is safe. The clinic provides a card for the girl describing their condition for the hospital, in case this happens again. When the clinic runs out of room the girls will share beds. It is better than sleeping on the streets.

I was surprised by the girls ages. From really young 13 or 14 to older ladies in their 40's They teach the girls to read and study, allowing the girls to give back. They were also learning to knit. There are places to sit and relax, a church, library, classroom, physical fitness area and rehab area, laundry, kitchen, and sewing room. Also staff housing. The setting is peaceful, beautiful layout and wonderful gardens. The hospital is painted white and in very nice and clean condition. 30 are moving to the new village for girls that are recovered but unable to return home. This need has grown out of the success of the present clinic.

Dr. Hamlin would like to improve the salaries of the doctors and nurses--- to continue impact change. She has trusts in England, California, and Sweden (I think I missed a couple of others.) She has raised 3 million US dollars and wants to raise another 4 million to endow the clinic forever. She would like this to cover salaries, food, and medicine. Andrew from Australia is the doctor that we were introduced to who lives on the compound. She is hopeful that he will take over her role we she passes on. She is 78 years old. In touring her office we were able to see her award from Rotary for World Understanding presented to Dr. Catherine Hamlin on the 16th of June 1998 in Indianapolis, Indiana, USA. She has authored a book, not published in the USA yet called the "Hospital by the River". She gave a signed copy that I understand will be part of a fundraising effort at a later date.

She shared that World Vision installed a well 109 meters deep (350 feet) which provides water for laundry and drinking etc.

Dr. Hamlin split up our group into two groups. I was in her group and my husband Kevin went with Andrew. Here is my recollection of what we experienced: Dr. Hamlin had a female assistant who did the interpreting. Through this interpreter Dr. Hamlin was able to talk with a young girl who had just arrived. They needed to do intake. Dr. Hamlin discovered her age, village, and how she traveled to the clinic. Her family had sold a cow for her journey to the clinic. Dr. Hamlin used a piece of paper with a whole torn in it to visually explain what was wrong with the girl and that they will fix her. They gave her a clean dress for her to wear�and by this time the dozen or so of us that had jammed into the room had not a dry eye in the room. It was a sobering experience. Following this we visited the women that had surgery and were recovering, and then we toured her facility.

One benefit is that we all think alike as Rotarians. Many suggestions of passing the hat etc. same forth. Some left Dr. Hamlin some money that afternoon, however as a group we decided to pass the hat when we returned to the hotel.

If a Rotary club is looking for an international project this would be a very rewarding one to adopt.

[Return to the top of this page]
"I will walk", a poem by Kerry Radcliffe's sister

The following poem was written by my sister after listening to some of my stories about the polio campaign as well as the Fistula Hospital. As may be evident to those who were there, section I is about the mothers bringing their children to fixed posts, section II is about the men carrying the vaccines in ice chests on their backs up to 15 kilometers to the fixed posts, section III is about the instructions given to the patients at the fistula hospital to start walking to a hospital when they have their next child, and section IV is about the Rotarians.


Written by Kim Radcliffe, November 2002


Today I will walk. I will take my young children and we will walk together. The road is not too far, and I know we will be joined by others. We are going for our young ones. They are afraid and I am too, but we will walk. There are people at the end of our journey who will help my children stay healthy.

Today I will walk.


Today I will walk. My journey is long, and I will have a load on my back, but I will walk. What I carry will help those who have come to help our children. I may get a ride along the way, but if I do not, I will walk.

Today I will walk.


Today I will walk. I have felt the child growing inside me move, so I will walk. My journey might take several weeks, but I must go to a hospital for the baby, for me. My child lives in me, and will live in this world.

Today I will walk.


Today I will walk. I will gather my notes and my photos and I will walk to gatherings of people who want to listen. I will tell them of my travels, of the people I met on the road, and where there are no roads. I will tell them about our big, interconnected world. I will tell them about the people who walk. That is why I went, that is why I came home.

Today I will walk.

[Return to the top of this page]
Ethiopian Experiences by John Jacob Gardiner (DGE, 5030)

The Power of Touch
The experience of actually giving polio vaccine to little children in Ethiopia was transformational. It was about touching and being touched by little Ethiopian children whose faces were open and joyful (mostly) and pure� and realizing that, while their futures were not as bright as their faces, at least polio would not be part of their days to come. Rotary brings hope.

After Polio Eradication
On the last day of our time in Ethiopia, our extended host family (PDG Nahu-Senaye and Minti Araya and Nahu�s two brothers) shared with us a wonderful evening of hospitality �and a story of the inevitability of a famine coming into their land. On my return to the USA, I read in the New York Times a story about the devastating mix of famine and AIDS in Ethiopia further confirming their prediction.

After polio eradication, Rotary should focus on famine and AIDS � two potent challenges facing the people of Africa. And as RIPE Jonathan Majiyagbe recently told us in Eugene, the first step may involve education. Rotary brings hope to the people of the world. We must stay the course �and continue to bring hope to the children of Africa.

Next November, another National Immunization Day (NID) is being planned for Ethiopia to be jointly sponsored by Districts 5020 and 5030. Ralph Munro and Ezra Teshome will coordinate the polio eradication mission � an adventure into Rotary service. More information will be forthcoming. Consider being part of Rotary�s finest hour in this special way. Blessings.

[Return to the top of this page]

All text and images on this website are copyright � 2002-2011
Rotary Districts 5030 and 5020 of Washington State.
Use of any text or images from this website requires permission.
Please contact the webmaster for further information.