May 27 • 12:14 PM

Healing hands, open heart

Imlay City woman takes part in Rotary mission to eradicate polio

Joyce Nolin administers oral polio vaccine to an Ethiopian child during a Rotary International sponsored trip to the African continent. Joyce says she’s long admired Rotary’s goal to eradicate the debilitating disease from the globe.

December 12, 2007
Polio. In our corner of the world, the disease was eradicated close to 50 years ago thanks to Jonas Salk and Albert Sabin's vaccines. But in remote corners of Third World countries, children aren't privy to the extensive, detailed immunization schedules we start babies on at birth.

Fortunately, Rotary International hasn't let the debilitating disease fall off of their radar. Through their 'Polio Plus' program, Rotary has set their sights on making polio obsolete. It's an intiative Imlay City's Joyce Nolin has admired since she joined the local Rotary chapter in 1985.

"My brother had polio," she said. "I think it's such a fabulous thing that Rotary's goal was to eradicate it."

So when retirement came this summer, Joyce knew she wanted to experience the 'fight' herself and in October she joined a group of fellow Rotarians from Seattle, Washington and headed to the African country of Ethiopia.

"We flew into Addis Ababa, the capital, and stayed with local Rotarians who were really great hosts," Joyce said.

On one of their first excursions the group visited a polio rehabilitation center for children, the Chesire House.

There, youth between the ages of 8-15 are prepared for surgery and as part of their recovery are fit with braces and special shoes and receive physical therapy.

While there, Joyce handed over a donation from the Imlay City Rotary Club for the purchase of three tricycles. The bikes, made at the Chesire House, consist of used bicycle parts and an oversized seat and can be operated with the childrens' arms and hands.

She had intended to purchase school supplies with the money but was impressed how such a simple machine returned mobility to the polio-sufferers.

"They can even use the bikes in the trains. Without it, they would have to be pushed everywhere in a wheelchair," Joyce said.

"The kids there really touched my heart."

The group also visited a school at the outskirts of the town.

"We did a little lesson on where we came from and where we live," Joyce said.

There, she was able to hand out a box full of pencils, courtesy of Mary Martinez, owner of Imlay City's Learning Depot.

"The children were just ecstatic," Joyce said, noting the scarcity of supplies.

Joyce poses with patients from the Chesire House, a polio rehab facility for children preparing to undergo surgery.
She also handed out 250 Hot Wheels cars she stuffed in a duffel bag for the trip.

"They loved those too. It was something bright and small enough for their little hands," Joyce said.

Later, on National Immunization Day, the Rotarians headed to the town of Nazret, the home base for the nationwide campaign.

"There was a really big kick-off ceremony," Joyce said. "Children were in costumes and sang songs."

The event was coordinated by the country's health minister and in addition to Rotary International, other participating groups included the World Health Organization and the International Red Cross.

"We went to four schools and did immunizations there and one afternoon we went door-to-door to canvas the area for anyone five years and younger," Joyce said.

The vaccine is administered orally as drops.

In subsequent days, the group visited remote villages.

"It was much different from the city—people really do live in mud huts with thatch roofs," she said. "Crowds would gather when we came."

Reflecting on the experience, Joyce said she was honored to have the chance.

"You can't do something like that without it changing your life somehow," she said.

"The world is much bigger for me now."

Joyce said she'll remember the Ethiopian people as being "very gracious and colorful."

As part of the trip, Joyce got the chance to take a four-day excursion to Kenya for what she called a 'photo safari.'

At Lake Nakuru, she saw water buffalo and baboons. On the Masi Mara plains, she snapped photos of lions, leopards, zebras, elephants, ostriches, crocodiles, hippos, rhinos and giraffes.

In Nairobi, Kenya's capital, Joyce capped off the trip with a stop at a unique giraffe park.

A month after returning from her trip, Joyce and other Rotarians were immensely pleased to learn that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation gave a $100 million matching grant to Rotary International for their polio eradication efforts.

According to a press release, most of the initial $100 million will be spent on mass immunization campaigns in polio-affected countries, poliovirus surveillance activities, community education and outreach and expanded research into ways to halt the spread of the poliovirus.

So far, Rotary has shown accomplishment in the battle against polio. According to their Web site, in the 1980s, 1,000 children were infected by the disease every day in 125 countries. Today, polio cases have declined by 99 percent, with fewer than two thousand cases reported in 2006.

Two billion children have been immunized, five million have been spared disability, and more than 250,000 deaths from polio have been prevented.

To learn more, visit Rotary's Web site at

Assistant Editor
Castle Creek
Milnes Ford
05 - 27 - 19
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