Florida Interactors fight polio in India
Interactors Sophia Hameed (left) and Anna Holmbraker, of Florida, USA, administer the polio vaccine to a child during National Immunization Days in Chandigarh, India. Photo by Jean-Marc Giboux
Interactor Sophia Hameed, of Miami, recently returned to India, her country of birth, to participate in National Immunization Days.
Hameed, and fellow Interactor Anna Holmbraker, both 17, of Key Largo, joined a group of more than 40 Rotarians to help immunize children in Chandigarh during a 12-day trip in February.
Born in Nagpur, Hameed came to the United States when she was nine. She says she wants to do her part to resolve the paradox of India's growing wealth and extreme poverty.
"India is an amazing country with great doctors and hospitals and a strong upper middle class," says Hameed, a member of the Interact Club of Miami High. "But there is still extreme poverty in places where children can't receive the most basic medical care. So, I jumped at the opportunity to join Rotarians and return to India to give something back."
For three days, the Interactors and their group walked through the Bapu Dham Colony, a slum in Chandigarh, vaccinating about 80,000 children. The challenges facing families there were on stark display.
"It was heartbreaking to see the devastating conditions some of these children live in," says Hameed. "The children I interacted with will always be imprinted in my mind as a reminder of my mission of trying to combat the unfairness in the world."
Holmbraker was impressed by the optimism of the children she met. "I fell in love with the kids," she says.
Hameed raised $3,500 to cover expenses, including a $1,000 grant from the Rotary Club of Miami, which sponsored her trip, and donations from faculty and staff at her school, where she is a senior.
Holmbraker was sponsored by the Rotary Club of Upper Keys. She collected more than $2,000 during a spaghetti dinner fundraiser she held for friends, teachers, and church members, and received a $2,500 grant from the Rotary Club of Key Largo.
"I'm so glad I was able to share this experience with another student," says Holmbraker. "Sophia was a great traveling buddy."
Both agree that although traveling internationally can be educational, it isn't for every Interactor, especially younger club members.
"It takes a level of maturity to go on a trip like the one we went on," says Hameed. "It's important to have a strong support system in place from your parents, local Rotary clubs, and school."
"Rotarians took such good care of us," says Holmbraker. "I was blown away by the hospitality host clubs showed."
Both look forward to being Rotaractors, and maybe someday Rotarians.
"There was so much I learned about what Rotary does," says Hameed. "This is the type of international organization I would like to stay with my whole life."