Ways and Means:
Raising Money for Polio
Since the first Rotary-led polio vaccination project in the Philippines in 1979 and the launch of PolioPlus six years later, Rotary has contributed more than $2.2 billion and countless volunteer hours to protect some 3 billion children in 122 countries. As the world nears our goal of eliminating the disease, we asked Rotary members to share why they decided to get involved in the effort — and how they’ve stepped up to do their part.
The major donor
Ten years ago, Nigeria held the unfortunate distinction of having more than half of the planet’s polio cases. “Many of my age-mates, friends, and schoolmates were infected by the poliovirus,” says Sir Emeka Offor, a member of the Rotary Club of Abuja Ministers Hill. As a young man, Offor pledged that one day he would help them — and also would do what he could to prevent others from becoming infected.
Offor rose to great success in the business world, enabling him to carry out his pledge in an impressive fashion. A member of the Platinum Trustees Circle of the Arch Klumph Society and the largest donor to The Rotary Foundation from Africa, Offor thrilled those in attendance at the 2014 Rotary International Convention in Sydney by announcing a $1 million donation to PolioPlus (his contributions now total more than $3.3 million). “I can say that it pays to give,” he says, citing the World Health’s Organization’s August 2020 declaration that Nigeria, along with the entire African region, was free from wild poliovirus.
The shop stewards
Recruited to lead the End Polio Now campaign for District 1110 (part of England and the Channel Islands), Jannine Birtwistle and her husband, Paul, got down to business. Despite having no retail experience, the Birtwistles, both members of the Rotary Club of Guernsey, studied up on branded merchandise, and at the 2010 Rotary in Great Britain and Ireland conference, they dazzled delegates with an array of shirts, hats, balloons, pens, and piggy banks. Since then, the online End Polio Now Shop Guernsey, which ships globally, has generated more than $40,000 for polio eradication. “People love the teddy bears, the pens, the badges, the clothing,” Birtwistle says. “We can all do one thing, and that is to raise awareness.”
The polio survivor
In 1956, at age 8, Urs Herzog contracted polio. Cruelly, that happened around the same time that the polio vaccine was introduced in his native country of Switzerland. Hospitalized for eight weeks with no contact with his parents, he recalls, “was like being in a prison.” Today, Herzog is a member of the Rotary Club of Allschwil-Regio Basel and a past governor of District 1980.
Driven to help avert future cases, he has organized End Polio Now events, including a 2015 concert by the Basel Chamber Orchestra, billed as “Music for Life,” which drew an audience of 1,400 and raised about $300,000.
A believer in using challenges — and flights of fancy — to stave off “donor fatigue,” Jeffry Cadorette, a past RI director and a member of the Rotary Club of Media, Pennsylvania, plunged two miles from an airplane on 22 May. He joined Tony Marmo, governor of District 7210 at the time, in the “Drop to Zero” skydive, which elevated polio giving in Zones 28 and 32 to more than $2.5 million during the period from July 2019 to April 2020 (the parachute drop itself was postponed a year due to the pandemic).
Also, as a district governor in the late 1990s, Cadorette nudged Rotarians in the Philadelphia area in a fundraising effort that resulted in a donation of $100,000 to PolioPlus.
To raise funds for, and awareness of, polio eradication, Owen P. Standley of the Rotary Club of Johnstown Sunset, Pennsylvania, set his sights on hiking the 2,200-mile Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine. He posted video testimonials from polio survivors on social media “to put a face and a voice” to the issue, and set out in early 2021. Overeager and lonely, Standley, 34, was thwarted by injury and illness after 28 days and 428 miles on the trail, but not before collecting nearly $40,000 through the Raise for Rotary online platform, an amount that had grown to more than $55,000 by August. He is considering a return to take care of unfinished business, so long as he can find one thing: “It’s incontestable,” he says. “I need a hiking partner.”
The hair guy
For nearly a dozen years, Fred Heitman has put his hair and beard on the block — to be colored orange, green, or suitably purple — to generate buzz among Interactors and raise, over the course of 11 years, about $100,000 for polio eradication. As many as 600 high schoolers participate in the Interactors’ annual conference with the aim of raising $1,000 “so the guy dyes his hair,” says Heitman, a past governor of District 6780 and a member of the Rotary Club of Oak Ridge, Tennessee.
Clubs in 145+ countries organized awareness and fundraising events
Was raised in online donations
Media articles mentioned Rotary and World Polio Day
Views of Rotary’s World Polio Day Global Update were recorded
This story originally appeared in the October 2021 issue of Rotary magazine.