Making a difference, one child at a time
Beck (seated, second from left), other volunteers, and health officials use a map to plan the immunization of children in Chandigarh, India. Bottom: Beck administers polio vaccine to a child. Photos courtesy of Robert Beck
For more than a decade, Robert Beck has provided input to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as a public representative on the National Vaccine Advisory Committee.
Earlier this year, he fulfilled a desire to do something hands-on with vaccines.
An attorney and member of the Rotary Club of Fluvanna County (Palmyra), Virginia, Beck traveled to India to help vaccinate children against polio during National Immunization Days (NIDs) in February. He was part of a 43-member Rotarian team led by Noelle Galperin, 2008-09 District 6990 PolioPlus subcommittee chair and a member of the Rotary Club of Coral Gables, Florida, and Luis Ortega, then a member of the Rotary Club of Miami Dadeland-Pinecrest, Florida.
The team served at immunization booths in Chandigarh, where families brought their children to receive the oral polio vaccine. After this first phase of the NIDs, Beck and his team followed detailed, hand-drawn maps into the city's poorest areas.
"Picture each vaccination team walking through dense slums, across garbage troughs, and through drainpipes and all manner of debris, animals, and structures to vaccinate needy children," Beck says. "Add air thick with dirt and pollutants, so that we often could not see the end of the street. Then include the smells of decay, garbage, and insects, and you have what each team encountered each day."
Beck is quick to add, however, that there was more to the scene.
"One must also draw into that picture the smiling faces of beautiful people and especially children, mothers dressed in colorful native clothes, and their offers of food and drink and their sincere thanks for our efforts," he says. "Only then can you see why we went back each day. We really believed we were making a difference, even if it was only one child at a time."
While in India, Beck and his team also visited several Rotary club-supported projects, including:
- A hospital in Delhi where surgery is performed to rebuild the deformed limbs of polio survivors, usually without charge
- A Rotarian-sponsored vocational training center, where young women learn to make clothing designs and patterns to obtain better jobs
- An advanced eye care center established by Rotarians in India and the United States
- A school that provides hearing-impaired children with hearing aids and an education
"My Rotary PolioPlus experience has given me a profound appreciation for what it means to be a Rotarian," Beck says. "Rotary programs are empowering local people, communities, and governments to create local solutions in which all may derive pride. PolioPlus and my fellow Rotarians have made me proud to be a Rotarian."
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