RYLA participant fights polio in Nigeria
To graduate from South Tahoe High School in California, USA, students are required to master a new skill for their senior project. This year, some chose a musical instrument, others a foreign language or snowboarding. Seventeen-year-old Brittney Cummings talked her way onto a polio immunization trip. She left for Abuja, Nigeria, in mid-November with about 70 Rotarians and other adults.
Cummings helped the group immunize children in Abuja and visited the West Africa Project Fair, which is intended to promote Rotary's legacy in the fight against polio by supporting additional humanitarian projects in the region.
Cummings first learned about Rotary's work, including polio eradication, at a Rotary Youth Leadership Awards (RYLA) event run by districts 5180 and 5190 near Portola, California, in 2006.
"I didn’t know you could still get polio," she says. "I thought it had been eradicated, so that caught my attention."
Cummings's grandfather contracted polio as a child and endured lifelong difficulties walking. He eventually died of complications related to postpolio syndrome.
When her senior project came up, Cummings contacted Rotarian Brad Howard, the Nigeria trip leader and a member of the Rotary Club of Oakland Sunrise. "I told him I wanted to help. He said I couldn't do it since I'm a minor – that I needed to find a sponsor," she recalls.
But Cummings kept calling – and calling. She eventually got in touch with Michigan Rotarian Barb Groner.
Groner, of the Rotary Club of Dowagiac, Michigan, had already traveled on 11 National Immunization Day trips. She agreed to sponsor Cummings – but only after having multiple conversations, completing piles of legal paperwork, and securing fingerprint clearances and the like. "I told her she’d have to be joined at the hip with me for 10 days," says the retired educator and school principal, who also has hosted Rotary Youth Exchange students.
Groner adds that she received glowing letters from Cummings’s RYLA sponsors and teachers. "She's a fascinating, well-educated woman who knows what she wants to do," she says.
Cummings raised about $4,000 in three weeks for the trip by sending letters to the local business community, and making many more phone calls.
When she first mentioned her senior project idea, friends thought she was joking. Now they’re inspired, she says. Many of the younger students at her school have a new idea for their senior project: traveling overseas on a humanitarian mission.
Learn more about traveling on a polio immunization campaign.