‘My life has been enriched,’ Raymond Coffman says
The horrors of polio used to be global. America’s most famous victim was President Franklin D. Roosevelt. But now it’s been eliminated in all but three countries: Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria. India is off the list. While India’s last case was in 2014, 167 million children under age 5 are vaccinated every year to prevent another outbreak.
Since 1985, Rotary International has combatted polio in more than 125 countries. It’s Rotary’s biggest project worldwide, though it has thousands of others.
Twenty-year veteran Smyrna Rotarian Raymond Coffman, the chaplain for WellStar Hospital in Austell, went to India for its 2017 Polio National Immunization Day. He says this trip was like no other.
Arriving in Delhi with 20 Rotarians, Raymond got a crash course on India.
“Everything was extreme,” he says. “Extreme poverty, traffic, trash, kindness, thankfulness, colors, etc. Traffic is crazy, and the smog and air pollution are awful. You share the road with cars, scooters, buses, three-wheeled taxis, men pushing carts selling everything, cows, goats and dogs too.”
In Ghaziabad, Uttar Pradesh, Raymond spent his first day immunizing children and the second immunizing door to door. The smiles and gratefulness locals exhibited were incredible.
Next, he visited Rotary projects in Delhi, Dhanbad—600 miles southeast of Delhi—and Kolkata—125 miles southeast of Dhanbad. These projects included sanitation improvements in communities using open sewer systems.
“We cut the ribbon on toilet blocks and hand-washing stations, Raymond says. “Now a girl having her menstrual cycle doesn’t have to miss or drop out of school. They can go to the bathroom in private. It’s a miracle that we eradicated polio in India under such conditions.
“In Dhanbad, we visited a special needs children public school sponsored by the local Rotary Club. Children are provided a loving and productive center to learn that would not be possible without funding from local Rotarians. Eight students received eyeglasses that day for the first time.
“My life has been enriched by witnessing Rotary’s work firsthand and seeing lives changed by caring people,” Raymond says.