(Left to right) UNICEF's Isabelle Bardem, Akpa Rafael Gbary from the World Health Organization, Minister of Health I Takpara (signing the ball) and Benin NPPC Chair Ashok Michandani attend a press conference for the arrival of the soccer ball in Benin April 15.
In the months leading up to the FIFA World Cup in June, Rotary clubs across Africa have been gearing up for the final push to kick polio out of the continent.
On 23 February, Rotary’s 105th anniversary, a Kick Polio Out of Africa campaign launched with the symbolic kicking of a soccer ball signed by Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, a polio survivor.
The journey began in Cape Town, South Africa, one of the host cities for the 2010 World Cup. The ball will travel through 22 polio-affected countries en route to the RI Convention in Montréal, Québec, Canada, in June. The primary sponsor of the campaign is DHL Express.
Following is a roundup of the ball's most recent stops on its journey through Africa.
- The ball's arrival in Benin 18 April served as a powerful catalyst to mobilize volunteers for an immunization drive beginning 24 April in the country and 18 other West and Central African nations. After a press conference and signing by dignitaries, the ball stopped at several Rotary clubs in Benin. It ended its stay at the Rene Pleven Stadium, where Rotarians, UNICEF staff, and coaches from the national soccer team attended two matches.
- The symbolic soccer ball received a rousing welcome as it touched down 10 April in Abuja, Nigeria. In February 2009, governors from all 36 Nigerian states gathered in the city to sign a commitment to polio eradication. Minister of State for Health Alhaji Suleiman Bello autographed the ball at a ceremony at the National Stadium press center. The three-day visit also included a cocktail party at the home of Past RI President Jonathan Majiyagbe and a formal presentation of the ball to the Northern Traditional Leaders Committee on Primary Health Care.
- The soccer ball's arrival in Douala, Cameroun, 7 April dovetailed with a meeting of The Rotary Foundation's African Regional PolioPlus Committee. Traditional dancers and music accompanied the ball as it arrived at the committee’s hotel, where it was signed by the minister of health. After a media event, a caravan of DHL vehicles, taxis, motorbikes, and a car displaying the End Polio Now logo paraded through the streets of Douala.
- Rotarians in Bangui, Central African Republic, organized a ceremony for the soccer ball as it arrived in the country 1 April. The country's minister of public health and minister of youth and sport, presidents of several soccer clubs, and other dignitaries took part in the nationally televised event, also covered by major newspapers. A youth soccer game followed.
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