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On the tracks of the Beast

In Mexico’s migrant shelters, a Rotary scholar puts his education into action

Story and photos by Levi Vonk

There are two inescapable elements of southern Mexico. 

The first is dust – desert rock ground to a powder that finds its way into your every crevice: the backs of your knees, the folds of your eyelids. You cough it up as you drift to sleep and discover its brume settled across your bedsheets in the morning.

The second element is violence.

I found both on the gritty tracks of the Beast.

Among those apprehended at the U.S.-Mexican border between October 2015 and January 2016 were 24,616 families – the vast majority of them from Central America. 

Over the past half-century, millions of Central Americans have crossed Mexico from south to north, fleeing poverty, decades-long civil wars, and, most recently, brutal gangs. To escape, migrants used to ride atop the cars of the train line known as the Beast.

In July 2014, Mexican immigration officials announced a plan called the Southern Border Program; part of it entailed closing the Beast to migrants. Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto said the plan would create new economic zones and safeguard migrants’ human rights by securing the country’s historically volatile southern border. Instead, the number of migrants beaten, kidnapped, and murdered has skyrocketed. Some have even been victims of the black-market trade in organs.

In early 2015 I had just completed my studies as a Rotary global grant scholar, earning a master’s degree in the anthropology of development. I had studied how trade and development initiatives in Mexico could make people’s lives more perilous, not less. To learn about what was going wrong, I went to southern Mexico to use the skills I had gained through my global grant studies.

Southern Mexico is poor and rural, made up of small pueblos and subsistence agriculture. In some ways, I felt at home. I grew up in rural Georgia, and I became interested in immigration after teaching English to farmworkers harvesting cabbage, berries, and Christmas trees in the foothills of North Carolina. Many of the men I worked with were from southern Mexico. Their descriptions of the violence brought by drug and human trafficking led to my interest in the region.

Shelters house migrants including children traveling with family members as well as young people on their own.

To understand how the Southern Border Program was affecting people’s lives, I stayed in migrant shelters, which are not unlike homeless shelters or temporary refugee camps. They are often without reliable running water or electricity, but they do provide migrants with a warm meal and a place to rest before they continue north. 

At first, shelter life was a shock to me. Sick or injured people arrived nearly each day. Severe dehydration was a big problem, and some people had literally walked the skin off the bottoms of their feet. I was there when a gang member entered the shelter to kidnap someone, but shelter directors stopped him.

By the time I arrived, shelters along the tracks of the Beast had seen the number of migrants dwindle from 400 a night to fewer than 100. Shelter directors explained that the number of Central Americans fleeing into Mexico each year – around 400,000 – had not fallen, but because immigration agents were now apprehending anyone near the Beast, people were afraid to approach the shelters. These safe havens had been transformed into no-go zones. “This is a humanitarian crisis on the scale of Syria,” one director said to me, “but no one is talking about it.”

In the shelters, I chopped firewood, cooked dinners, and scrubbed kitchen floors. I changed bandages and helped people file for asylum. And I lived and traveled with migrants headed north, recording their stories – about why they left, where they hoped to go, and what they had faced on their journeys.

In 2015, shortly after finishing his studies as a Rotary Foundation global grant scholar, Levi Vonk went to Mexico to work with migrants. He has written about what he saw, and about the experiences of migrants themselves, for Rolling Stone, The Atlantic, and National Public Radio. For Rotary Foundation Month, we asked him to describe what he has done and learned. Vonk studied at the University of Sussex, England, sponsored by the Rotary clubs of Shoreham & Southwick, England, and Charleston Breakfast, S.C. His master’s degree in the anthropology of development and social transformation led to his becoming a 2014-15 Fulbright fellow to Mexico. He is now a doctoral candidate in medical anthropology at the University of California at Berkeley.

Mildred, a single mother of three, was fleeing gang members who threatened to kill her family if she didn’t pay them a protection fee. Ivan, the oldest brother of six, singlehandedly resettled his entire family in Mexico – including his elderly mother and his two toddler nephews – after hit men tried to kill them in their home in Honduras. Milton had lived in New York City for years – and had sheltered ash-covered pedestrians in his apartment during the 11 September 2001 terror attacks – before being deported. 

The things I learned were terrifying. Instead of shoring up Mexico’s borders, the plan had splintered traditional migrant routes. Those routes had been dangerous, but they were also ordered and visible. Migrants knew approximately which areas of the train passage were plagued by gangs. They were prepared to pay protection fees – generally between $5 and $20. They traveled in groups for safety. And they were often close to aid – a shelter, a Red Cross clinic, even a police station.

The Southern Border Program changed that. Hunted by immigration officers, migrants traveled deep into the jungle, walking for days. Gangs, which had previously extorted money from migrants, now followed them into these isolated areas to rob, kidnap, or simply kill them. 

The Southern Border Program has failed as a development initiative. Not only has cracking down on immigration made southern Mexico less safe, but the increased violence has deterred business investment that the region so desperately needs. 

During my time as a Rotary scholar, I learned to look at development differently. We often think of international aid in terms of poverty reduction, and we often see poverty reduction in terms of dollars spent and earned. The anthropology of development aims to analyze global aid in another way. We pay particular attention to how initiatives play out on the ground to determine just what local communities’ needs are and how those needs might be met sustainably and, eventually, autonomously. 

Axel Hernandez, whose parents brought him from Guatemala to the United States as an infant, has been deported twice; he now lives in Mexico. 

When I was living in migrant shelters, we often received huge, unsolicited shipments of clothing from well-intentioned organizations. Had they asked us, we would have told them that their efforts, and money, were wasted. In fact, directors had to pay for hundreds of pounds of clothing to be taken to the dump when space ran out at the shelter. 

Among the things shelters actually needed, I learned, were clean water, better plumbing, and medical care. But shelter directors did not just want these items shipped over in bulk; they needed infrastructure – water purification, functioning toilets, and access to a hospital, along with the skills and knowledge to maintain these systems themselves. 

Of course, as one shelter director told me, “Our ultimate goal is to not be needed at all – to solve this migration crisis and violence and go home.”

Rotary’s six areas of focus mesh neatly with these goals. Such measures require money, but more than that, they require in-tense cultural collaboration to make them sustainable. Who better than Rotary, with its worldwide network of business and community leaders, to understand the challenges and respond effectively? 

One way Rotary is responding is by funding graduate-level studies in one of the six areas of focus. After his global grant studies in anthropology of development at the University of Sussex, my friend Justin Hendrix spent several years working in a Romanian orphanage, helping to provide the children there with the best education possible. Another friend, Emily Williams, received a global grant to get her master’s degree at the Bartolome de las Casas Institute of Human Rights at Madrid’s Universidad Carlos III and now works with unaccompanied Central American minors and victims of trafficking in the United States. My partner, Atlee Webber, received a global grant to study migration and development at SOAS University of London (School of Oriental and African Studies); she now works as a program officer with the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants.

Rotarians understand that to have the most impact, we need to learn from other cultures. As global grant scholars, that’s what we aim to do – during our studies, and afterward.

• Read more stories in The Rotarian

https://www.rotary.org/en/rotary-global-scholar-helps-migrant-workers-shelters

Scholar measuring and stopping public corruption

Global grant scholarship recipient Lusiné Mehrabyan is working toward solving one of the most difficult and pervasive world ills: government corruption.

Mehrabyan, a native of Armenia who was raised in Ithaca, N.Y., recognized the plague of corruption in her home country but also in the U.S. public sector. 

“I think it’s common in every country, and it’s something that should be addressed,” she says. “It’s very difficult, because it’s hard to measure.” Mehrabyan hopes to establish better ways to do that. 

She recently earned a master’s degree from the London School of Economics (LSE) and further developed her interest in fighting corruption while working with the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in Paris in the summer of 2016.

Q: How did fighting corruption become an important focus for you?

A: For a policy project for LSE, I looked at corruption in Estonia – specifically, how anti-corruption legislation would affect corruption levels. The patterns did not make sense to me. One of the ways to measure corruption is to do a survey, and that is a very flawed way of trying to measure corruption because people can lie on surveys. That’s why I approached the OECD. 

Lusiné Mehrabyan 

Illustration by Monica Garwood

Q: What was the focus of your internship with the OECD?

A: I worked in the division called Public Sector Integrity. Because of the quantitative skills I obtained at LSE, my task was to help with the empirical evidence in their research. I worked with my supervisor to show what happens to productivity levels in a country if there’s corruption in the public sector. I also created an index to measure conflict of interest and different trends, such as whether there’s more conflict of interest or less if you are very punitive as a country. 

Q: What did you learn?

A: I realized we need to look at different methods and different approaches to measure corruption. I’m doing research to see whether corruption is intuitive or deliberate. This is a question that has not been explored, and it is a critical question. If corrupt behavior is intuitive, you can change the environment in small ways. But if you learn that corrupt behavior is actually deliberate, then you have to do more of the traditional policy approach, which is sanctioning and punishing people who do corrupt work.

Q: What would you like to do next?

A: Since I moved here, Brexit happened, and I realized that a lot of people felt alienated from the discipline of economics. I’m trying to bring economics to the public sphere,  A: Since I moved here, Brexit happened, and I realized that a lot of people felt alienated from the discipline of economics. I’m trying to bring economics to the public sphere, using a touch of mysteriousness and a touch of spontaneity and fun to make it interesting to people. The idea is to use a guerrilla-style lecture format – I guess you could call it “pop-up economics.” The location is secret, the topic is secret, the occasional guest speakers are secret. In a very engaging, immersive way, people are going to be introduced to different economic concepts. The main aim is to get people to be more engaged citizens and to hold our politicians more accountable.

–Nikki Kallio

• Read more stories from The Rotarian

https://www.rotary.org/en/scholar-measuring-and-stopping-public-corruption

The power of a garden

Rotary members in Harvard, Illinois, USA, have teamed up with community groups to help alleviate hunger and bring the community together.

By Arnold R. Grahl
Photos by Monika Lozinska
Videos by Andrew Chudzinski 

On a sunny morning in July, two dozen preschool children from Brown Bear Daycare inspect a bed of milkweed plants for monarch butterfly eggs, holding magnifying glasses to the underside of leaves in search of the tiny, off-white objects.

View Slideshow

Preschool children from Brown Bear Daycare plant a young tomato plant. The class visits the garden every Monday morning spring to fall.

Curiosity stoked, the five-year-olds and their teachers move to the shade of a large tree to listen to a master gardener explain the role these butterflies play in gardens. The preschool class visits the community garden in Harvard, Illinois, USA, every Monday from spring to fall to learn about garden-related topics and even help out. 

“They get to taste the vegetables, some that they have never even seen. They get to experience what it is like to plant a garden from the planting to the picking to the eating,” says Sheila Henson, executive director of the day care center and a member of the Rotary Club of Harvard. “At the end of the summer, we have a parent night where the parents come and get to see the different things their children have been involved with.”

With the goals of alleviating hunger and educating the community, master gardeners from University of Illinois Extension planted the garden in 2001 on a half-acre parcel donated by the city and adjacent to the public library. Over the years, the master gardeners have enlisted the support of many businesses, organizations, and clubs, including the Rotary Club of Harvard, making the project a community-wide effort. 

As many as 250 needy families benefit from the 10,000 pounds of vegetables that are grown and donated every year to the local food pantry. The fresh produce serves as a safety net for many families. 

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Roughly a quarter of the community’s 9,200 residents live below the federal poverty line, a result of the limited employment opportunities in small farm towns across Illinois. The already fragile economy was further affected by the closing of a Motorola  plant here in 2003 after only seven years of operation.

“In this community, the only way we can get by is by helping each other,” says Dave Decker, site director for the Harvard Community Food Pantry. “Everybody needs a little help now and then.”

The Rotary Club of Harvard took on the project seven years ago, looking for a way to address hunger and help the community. With only seven members, the club has had an impact far beyond its size, amplifying its efforts by working with the master gardeners and other groups.

“Harvard is definitely a better place because of the members of this club, and that is what keeps us going,” says Mike Morris, the club’s president. “It’s the expertise of the master gardeners, individuals in the community, farmers who help, and the education provided through the day care that makes this an amazing team effort.” 

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The Rotary club has provided $400 to buy seeds and starter plants from a local nursery every year since 2011. It also purchased plastic drip irrigation tubing and fertilizer valves after a drought threatened the garden in 2012. This year, it provided a letter of support needed by the master gardeners to secure a $5,000 grant from the McHenry County Community Foundation for an organic compost mix that will add nutrients back to the soil and help keep weeds at bay.

Morris has made the garden his special focus and enlisted every member of the club to help with planting, weeding, and harvesting. Henson also recruited day care employees to volunteer. 

The garden needs everyone for planting, says Dale Nelmes, one of the master gardeners who volunteer every week.

“Many of us master gardeners are up there in years and can’t get down on our hands and knees like we used to,” he says. “I was so impressed with Rotary and Sheila, who brought all these young volunteers in. It was incredible how much we accomplished.”

The Harvard Rotarians also used a Rotary grant to buy a new freezer, which allows the food pantry to store vegetables longer. 

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Last winter, Morris secured another Rotary grant  for $2,000, which, when combined with $5,000 from club funds, funded seven weeks of food deliveries from the Northern Illinois Food Bank. A mobile unit from the food bank set up at Brown Bear Daycare once a month from October to April, each time distributing 9,000 pounds of meat, vegetables, boxed goods, breads, and fruits.

Morris says growing up on a farm in northwestern Illinois played a big part in his interest in fighting hunger. 

“I know we can produce more than enough food to feed everybody in the country,” he says. “It’s just a matter of the logistics of getting it from the farm to their table.”

On a July morning, about 20 people – Rotarians, master gardeners, and community volunteers – are scattered among the 14 rows, each 125 feet long, pulling weeds and picking vegetables. The garden is behind schedule this year because of heavy rains, and today’s harvest is smaller than normal. At the food pantry, Nelmes weighs each crate: 9 pounds of broccoli, 6 pounds of kohlrabi, 8 pounds of peppers, and 22 pounds of zucchini. Later in the season, many more hands will be needed to harvest.

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Reina Montes began volunteering at the garden after a back injury forced her to stop working temporarily and she had to go to the pantry to supplement her groceries. When she learned about the garden, she persuaded her daughter, Elizabeth Sanchez, to join her on Mondays to help plant, pick, and weed.

Montes moved to Harvard from Mexico City more than 20 years ago and fell in love with the smaller town. Her daughter now has two college-age daughters of her own, whom she hopes to teach the value of community service. 

“Thanks to the garden, we can feed people who can’t afford to buy fresh food at the supermarket,” says Sanchez. “I believe it is everybody’s responsibility to help the community. If our children see that there is unity, love, and support, they are going to do the same thing. We are leaving them a legacy.” 

https://www.rotary.org/en/rotary-and-garden-support-community

New partners build on Rotary's strengths

Habitat for Humanity and the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness join with Rotary to improve lives 

By Sallyann Price

Rotary has added two service partners that offer clubs new ways to collaborate with other organizations and strengthen their projects: Habitat for Humanity and the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness (IAPB).

  1. Habitat for Humanity, one of Rotary’s newest service partners, builds homes for families in need, and provides opportunities for hands-on community service.

    Photo by Alyce Henson

  2. Rotary members assemble in an Atlanta suburb to receive their work assignments for a home building project with Habitat for Humanity, one of Rotary’s newest service partners.

    Photo by Alyce Henson

  3. Randy Schiltz (right) helps put up siding during a Habitat for Humanity home building project. Schiltz owns a construction firm and is a member of the Rotary Club of Alpharetta, Georgia, USA.

    Photo by Alyce Henson

  4. Alpharetta Rotarian Glennette Haynes (middle) works alongside a friend of the new homeowner.

    Photo by Alyce Henson

  5. Local secondary school students join Rotary members, including Katie Rocco from the Alpharetta club (center), and other volunteers to lend a hand.

    Photo by Alyce Henson

Habitat for Humanity has a long history of working with Rotarians and Rotaractors to build the types of low-cost shelters that now qualify for global grant funding, under a recent Board decision. It’s also a natural fit for Rotary’s approach to vocational service, which encourages members to use their professional skills to help others.

When the Rotary Club of Alpharetta, Georgia, USA, participated in a Habitat home building project in the Atlanta area earlier this year, members showed up ready to work and lend their professional expertise. Randy Schiltz, who owns a construction firm, helped the new homeowners pre-drill holes to prepare for installing siding. Interior decorator Glennette Haynes, who works with people in transitional housing, was there to offer advice on furnishing and decorating their homes.

Habitat for Humanity International Chief Executive Officer Jonathan Reckford is a member of the Rotary Club of Atlanta. During the 2017 Rotary International Convention there, volunteers gathered on-site to help construct the wood framing for a home.

Our values are so closely aligned, and the desire to help others runs deep in both organizations.

Jonathan Reckford

Habitat for Humanity International Chief Executive Officer and Rotary Club of Atlanta member

“Often when I speak to Rotary groups and ask how many people have worked on a Habitat project, it’s not uncommon for more than three-quarters of the audience to raise their hands,” Reckford says. “Our values are so closely aligned, and the desire to help others runs deep in both organizations.”

Rotary’s values are also closely aligned with IAPB, a membership organization that brings together government and nongovernmental agencies, academics, and private providers to plan and implement sustainable eye care programs. 

“We seek to encourage both organizations [Rotary and IAPB] to promote greater awareness of the need for eye clinics and blindness prevention activities, to develop projects together, to consult, and to work together with their constituents,” says Peter Kyle, a member of the Rotary Club of Capitol Hill (Washington, D.C.), and Rotary’s Joint Committee on Partnerships.

Rotary is a global organization with members in nearly every community around the world, and the cause of eye health is just as universal. 

Victoria Sheffield

President and CEO of the International Eye Foundation and vice president of the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness

A global grant project in India, one of three pilot projects with IAPB, aims to improve access to eye care in Karol Bagh, a neighborhood in New Delhi, where private eye doctors and facilities are available but unaffordable for many.

Local Rotary clubs worked with the International Eye Foundation, an IAPB member, to raise funds and supply medical equipment for vision screenings and treatment at an eye hospital’s new facility. They also worked to design a social enterprise to sustain the hospital’s charitable outreach programs.

“There is a wonderful opportunity for our networks,” says Victoria Sheffield, president and CEO of the International Eye Foundation and vice president of IAPB. “Rotary is a global organization with members in nearly every community around the world, and the cause of eye health is just as universal. Everyone is affected by eye conditions at some point, whether it’s needing glasses or cataract surgery, or addressing a congenital issue or complications from diabetes. Everyone has two eyes.”

https://www.rotary.org/en/new-service-partners-build-rotarys-strengths

Rotary helps wildfire victims

Rotary helps wildfire victims

The Rotary Foundation has set up a special fund to help in the wake of deadly wildfires in California.

More than 220,000 acres have been scorched and more than 40 people have been confirmed dead.

“The magnitude of the devastation that is occurring in the North Bay and wine county is vast and far reaching. The recovery and rebuild is going to be a long process but we are confident that we can lead the way in bringing these communities back. Rotarians know how to get things done and won’t stop until we reach the finish line,” said Bob Rogers, Rotary 5130 District Governor.  

How to contribute

Check

Payable to: The Rotary Foundation DAF
In the Memo line: The Northern California Fire
Recovery Fund #615
Mail to: Rotary DAF
c/o NRS
12 Gill Street, Suite 2600
Woburn, MA 01801
US dollars only

Credit card

Contribute online at https://www.your-fundaccount.com/rotary/HowToContribute.asp.
You will be asked to enter the account name (The Northern California Fire Recovery Fund and #615) and provide your address.

Wire instructions

In addition to authorizing the wire, you must fax a copy of the wire authorization to (781) 658-2497 to complete the transfer of US dollars only.
Please wire funds to: Boston Private Bank & Trust Company
ABA Number: 011002343
For credit to: The Rotary Foundation
Account number: 943423732
For Further Credit: TRF DAF
Account Name: The Northern California Fire Recovery Fund #615
You can contribute to the Donor Advised Fund by following the instructions below.

Stock instructions

In addition to authorizing the trade, you must fax a copy of the trade instructions to (781) 658-2497 to complete the transfer.
DTC Shares to: SEI Private Trust Company
DTC Participant ID: 2039
Agent Bank ID: 94952
Credit to: Rotary Clearing/Liquidation Account
Account Number: 755Z0007
Agent Internal STC Account Number: 11110-C

If you have questions about how you can help, contact relief@rotary.org.

• Rotary raises money for hurricane, earthquake victims. Read the story.

https://www.rotary.org/en/rotary-helps-wildfire-victims

Rotary helps disaster victims

Rotary helps disaster victims

The Rotary Foundation and Rotary clubs are helping communities battered by severe weather and earthquakes.

How to contribute

Four Rotary Foundation donor advised funds have been set up to accept donations for hurricane and earthquake victims.

Puerto Rico

Account name: Puerto Rico Recovery
Account number: 614

Mexico earthquakes

Account name: Mexico Earthquake Recovery Fund
Account number: 613

Hurricane Harvey

Account name: Gulf Coast Disaster Relief Fund
Account number: 608

Hurricanes Irma and Maria
Account name: Hurricane Emergency Relief Fund
Account number: 296

You can contribute by check or wire transfer or online with a credit card. You’ll need to provide the DAF account name and number listed above. When contributing via credit card, please check the address box to share your address with Rotary. 

Learn how you can contribute.

Two powerful earthquakes hit Mexico, destroying buildings and highways, and killing hundreds of people. Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria have caused billions of dollars in damage.

The Rotary Foundation has established four special funds to collect donations to help victims rebuild.

Through his family foundation, Rotarian Robert Murray established the Puerto Rico fund. Murray wanted to encourage Rotary members to match the $1 million the Murray Foundation donated to the Red Cross.

Rotary club members continue to work on the ground to bring relief in their communities.

Rotary’s partner, ShelterBox, is providing support to families displaced by the storms.

If you have questions about how you can help, contact relief@rotary.org. To see how clubs are helping, go to Rotary Ideas.

• Rotary collects funds to help wildfire victims. Read the story.

https://www.rotary.org/en/rotary-helps-disaster-victims

Movie tells inspirational polio story

‘Breathe’ details life of British polio survivor Robin Cavendish, who contracted the disease in Kenya in 1958

By Dave King, Rotary International in Great Britain and Ireland

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As Rotary prepares to celebrate World Polio Day on 24 October,  an inspiring new film depicting the devastating impact of polio is hitting theaters.

Andrew Garfield and Claire Foy star in the love story “Breathe,” now playing in select U.S. theaters and scheduled for wider release over the next month. The movie tells the story of British polio survivor Robin Cavendish, who contracted the disease in Kenya in 1958. 

At the age of 28, he was paralyzed from the neck down, confined to a hospital bed with a respirator, and given just months to live. 

However, with the encouragement and help of his wife, Diana, Robin was able to leave the hospital and spend the rest of his life advocating for people with disabilities and popularizing a new wheelchair with a built-in respirator.

People were frightened by polio. People would shout at us in the street complaining about my father being in a wheelchair when he should have been in the hospital. 

Jonathan Cavendish

Rotary is working with the film’s producer, Robin and Diana’s son, Jonathan Cavendish, to promote the organization’s work to eradicate polio.

Speaking at the film’s European premiere in London, Jonathan, who is featured in the movie, described Breathe as “probably the most expensive home movie ever made.”

“The message of this film is that you can achieve anything if you have the right people around you,” he said. “If you put everything into your relationship and really go for it, life will start looking rosier and better.”

Jonathan joined Eve Conway, vice chair of Rotary International’s End Polio Now: Countdown to History Campaign Committee for Europe, for a question-and-answer session with the audience after the film’s screening in Leicester Square to launch the London Film Festival.

“The thing to remember about the 1960s is that we were all frightened about the things we didn’t know,” Jonathan said. 

“Nobody had ever met anybody with that degree of disability. People were frightened by polio. People would shout at us in the street complaining about my father being in a wheelchair when he should have been in the hospital. Can you imagine that? 

“However, my dad was a very nice, inspirational, and charming man — something which has been captured in the film. My dad wanted to put everyone else at ease and imbued that spirit with other disabled people who he encouraged to move out of the hospital.”

Since Robin Cavendish died in 1994, polio has declined sharply.  Now, thanks to the work of Rotary and its Global Polio Eradication Initiative partners, there are just a handful of cases worldwide. 

Robin’s mother, Diana Cavendish, who is played by Foy, said she loved watching the film. 

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Speaking at the red carpet premiere hosted by the British Film Institute, the now-83-year-old said, “I decided I was going to adopt a very detached attitude. My grandson told me to pretend it is somebody else. But I think they have made a really good job of it. 

“It is a long time ago, but when it all first happened, people who were as badly disabled as Robin were told they weren’t to leave hospital. If it hadn’t been for the legendary professor Teddy Hall and his revolutionary chair, we wouldn’t have got anywhere.”

Golden Globe winner Foy, who starred in “The Crown” and “Wolf Hall,” described Diane as a down-to-earth and very humble woman. “When I met Diane, everything about her impressed me,” Foy said. 

“She is an extraordinary woman, with her strength, her bravery, and her love for her husband. Everything she did is extraordinary, and I am really pleased the story has been told.”

This true story of love with no limits is directed by Andy Serkis and written by Academy Award-nominated writer William Nicholson (“Les Miserables,” “Everest,” and “Gladiator”).

“Robin and Diana were extraordinary people,” Serkis said. “They broke the mold. They were mavericks of their time, not settling for the limitations they were given about living life in a hospital waiting for death. 

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“It was about the risks that they took, and then the joy they had as a result of that which then went on to inspire millions of others. It is quite extraordinary.”

At the heart of this movie about polio is a celebration of positivity, bravery, and human possibility, a theme which struck a chord with Academy Award nominee Garfield (“Hacksaw Ridge,” “Silence”), who plays Robin Cavendish.

Robin Cavendish fought for value of life. He fought to make life meaningful and not just survive it, but to live a rich and connected life.

Andrew Garfield

“Robin Cavendish fought for value of life. He fought to make life meaningful and not just survive it, but to live a rich and connected life.

“Out of such loss and suffering, they created such joy, and that’s just an inspiration for all of us,” Garfield said. 

“What I saw in their story was a template of how to live. How to live a life of meaning with the inevitable loss incorporated into one’s life. To laugh at the universe, to laugh at the cosmic joke, the absurdity of the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune which befall all of us in some ways.” 

• On World Polio Day, 24 October, Rotary will release video messages from Andrew Garfield, Claire Foy, and Andy Serkis highlighting the organization’s work to end polio.

https://www.rotary.org/en/breathe-movie-tells-heroic-polio-story

Cellphones power disease fight

Pakistan and Nigeria replace paper-based reporting with fast, accurate cellphone messaging

By Ryan Hyland
Photos by Khaula Jamil

Mobile phones and simple text messaging may be the keys to victory in the world’s largest public health initiative: the eradication of polio. 

As the disease retreats from the global stage, thriving in only a few remote areas in three countries, it’s up to health workers to deliver vaccines and share information with speed and accuracy. 

Health workers in Pakistan are receiving cellphone and e-monitoring training at the Rotary Resource Center in Nowshera, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. 

Rotary and its partners in the Global Polio Eradication Initiative are strengthening the lines of communication by giving cellphones to health workers in Pakistan and Nigeria, where a single text message could save a life. 

In Pakistan, Rotary has been working to replace traditional paper-based reporting of maternal and child health information, including polio immunization data, with mobile phone and e-monitoring technology. 

Community health workers across the nation have received more than 800 phones through a partnership with Rotary, the Pakistani government; Telenor, the country’s second-largest telecommunications provider; and Eycon, a data monitoring and evaluation specialist. Organizers plan to distribute a total of 5,000 cellphones by the end of 2018. 

Health workers can use the phones to send data via text message to a central server. If they see a potential polio case, they can immediately alert officials at Pakistan’s National Emergency Operations Center. They also can note any children who didn’t receive the vaccine or parental refusals – and record successful immunizations. In Pakistan, the polio eradication effort aims to reach the nation’s 35 million children under age five.

The result is a collection of real-time information that officials can easily monitor and assess, says Michel Thieren, regional emergency director of the World Health Organization’s Health Emergency Program. 

Pakistan health workers are replacing traditional paper-reporting with accurate and timely cellphone-based reporting. 

“Cellphone technology signals tremendous progress in the polio eradication program,” says Thieren, who has directed polio-related initiatives for WHO in Pakistan. “The data we collect needs to have such a granular level of detail. With real-time information that can be recorded and transcribed immediately, you can increase accuracy and validity.

“This gives governments and polio eradication leaders an advantage in the decisions we need to make operationally and tactically to eliminate polio,” Thieren says.

Beyond polio

Health workers also are using mobile phones to monitor a multitude of maternal and child health factors. 

Pakistan’s child mortality rate ranks among the highest in the world, according to UNICEF, with 81 deaths under age five per 1,000 live births. 

But mobile technology can help reduce those deaths, says Asher Ali, project manager for Rotary’s Pakistan PolioPlus Committee. 

“Our health workers, including community midwives, are tracking pregnant mothers,” Ali says. “When a child is born, they can input and maintain complete health records, not just for polio, but for other vaccines and basic health care and hygiene needs.”

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They also can monitor infectious diseases, such as malaria, tuberculosis, and influenza-like illnesses, as well as child malnutrition and maternal health concerns. 

“If there is a problem with the baby or the mother, we can send information to the government health departments immediately, so they can solve the issue quickly and adjust their strategies,” Ali says. 

Cellphones also facilitate follow-up visits with families, because health workers can send appointment reminders over text message. 

Proliferation of phones

Mobile phone use worldwide has spiked recently, with about 7 billion subscribers globally, 89 percent of them in developing countries, says WHO. Even people living on less than $1 a day often have access to phones and text messaging, according to WHO. Cellphones are used more than any other technology in the developing world. 

Rotary and other nonprofit organizations are leveraging this fact to boost a variety of health initiatives. 

The Grameen Foundation conducts a “mobile midwife” program that sends daily texts and weekly voice mails to expectant mothers, offering advice during pregnancy and the first year of the child’s life. UNICEF provides similar support to mothers, with a focus on nutrition throughout pregnancy and the first two years of a child’s life. 

Mobile phones also are helping in the fight against HIV/AIDS in Africa. The British nonprofit Absolute Return for Kids uses text messages to remind patients about medications and upcoming appointments. 

The Ugandan health ministry’s mTrac program, a mobile text messaging data collection network run in conjunction with UNICEF and other organizations, has a broader focus. Nearly 30,000 workers at 3,700 health centers submit weekly reports through their phones and receive surveys, alerts, and other communications. Questions go out to health workers about medical supply levels, conditions in clinics, and other critical issues.

Members of the Rotaract Club of The Caduceus, India, collaborated with the Jana Swasthya Project in 2015 to screen more than 8,000 people for oral health conditions, hypertension, and diabetes during Kumbh Mela, one of the world’s largest Hindu festivals. The project established a digital disease-surveillance system to study epidemiological trends, replacing a paper-based data-tracking process and allowing officials to access live data with a few clicks. 

In 2016, after Nigeria saw its first polio cases in almost two years, Rotary and WHO officials rushed to replace traditional reporting with a cell-based system in the northern state of Borno, where the new cases were identified. The mobile phone initiative has since expanded to more than 11 states. 

“Traditional paper reporting was misleading our program. The information we were getting was not entirely accurate. This gave us the sense that we were doing better than we actually were,” says Boniface Igomu, program coordinator of Rotary’s Nigeria PolioPlus Committee. “With cellphones, we’re identifying problem areas quickly and acting accordingly.”

The country has yet to see a polio case this year. 

Nigeria is also using cell-based mapping technology to identify areas that polio immunization teams have missed. Health workers test stool samples from children arriving from remote areas and log reports of acute flaccid paralysis. This effort started in Borno but has expanded to three additional states, Igomu says. 

After more than 1,000 people died earlier this year in Nigeria from meningitis, the country used the same digital tools in emergency vaccination campaigns, he adds.

“Mobile technologies are the type of innovations that can fill in the gaps of our program and finally help us end polio for good,” Igomu says. “Their uses have never been more important than now.”

https://www.rotary.org/en/cellphones-help-disease-eradication

Rotary gives $49.5 million to help eradicate polio

Rotary gives $49.5 million to help eradicate polio and challenges the world to continue the fight to end the disease

EVANSTON, Ill. (Oct. 17, 2017) — With just 11 confirmed polio cases so far in 2017, the world is on the brink of eradicating polio, a vaccine-preventable disease that once paralyzed hundreds of thousands of children each year.

To recognize this historic progress, Rotary clubs worldwide will host events in conjunction with Rotary International’s fifth annual World Polio Day celebration on Oct. 24.

This year, the event will be co-hosted by Rotary and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and held at the foundation’s headquarters in Seattle. The program will feature an update on the global fight to end polio and an array of guest speakers, celebrities, and public health experts. People around the world can view the livestream of the event at endpolio.org/worldpolioday on Oct. 24 at 2:30 p.m. Pacific time. 

“Rotary and its partners are closer than ever to eradicating polio,” says Michael K. McGovern, chair of Rotary’s International PolioPlus Committee, which leads the organization’s polio eradication efforts. “World Polio Day is the ideal opportunity to celebrate our successes, raise public awareness, and talk about what is needed to end this paralyzing disease for good.”

Without full funding and political commitment to eradication, the disease could return to countries that are now polio-free and put children everywhere at risk.

Rotary is giving $49.5 million in grants to support immunization and surveillance activities led by the Global Polio Eradication Initiative.

Some of the funds will support efforts to end polio in the three countries where polio remains endemic:

  • Afghanistan: $9.32 million
  • Pakistan: $8.94 million
  • Nigeria: $7.71 million

Further funding will support efforts to keep six vulnerable countries polio-free:

  • Chad: $2.37 million
  • The Democratic Republic of Congo: $4.5 million
  • Guinea: $961,000
  • Somalia: $1.62 million
  • South Sudan: $3.77 million
  • Sudan: $2.56 million

An additional $7.74 million will go toward surveillance activities in Africa and the Eastern Mediterranean region.

In a show of solidarity and to raise awareness and funds for polio eradication, Rotary clubs around the globe will host nearly 1,900 events for World Polio Day. They include:

  • A viewing party of the livestream in Fond du Lac, Wis.
  • A Rock vs. Polio music event in Curitiba, Brazil
  • Placing of End Polio Now piggy banks in local businesses to collect donations in Viljoenskroon, South Africa
  • A soccer game in Cairo, Egypt between the street children of Hope Village Society and students from local engineering colleges
  • A golf fundraiser in Yoshiwara, Japan

“To protect all children from polio, world governments and donors must see through their commitments to fund critical work and support rigorous disease surveillance in both endemic and at-risk polio-free countries,” says McGovern. Rotary has committed to raising $150 million over the next three years, which will be matched 2-to-1 by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, yielding $450 million for polio eradication activities, including immunization and surveillance. 

Rotary started its polio eradication program PolioPlus in 1985, and in 1988 became a partner in the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, along with WHO, UNICEF, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation later became a partner, too. Since the initiative launched, the incidence of polio has plummeted by more than 99.9 percent, from about 350,000 cases in 1988 to just 37 cases in 2016. Rotary has contributed a total of more than $1.7 billion — including matching funds from the Gates Foundation — and countless volunteer hours to protect more than 2.5 billion children in 122 countries from polio. 

About Rotary

Rotary brings together a global network of volunteer leaders dedicated to tackling the world’s most pressing humanitarian challenges. Rotary connects 1.2 million members of more than 35,000 Rotary clubs in over 200 countries and geographical areas. Their work improves lives at both the local and international levels, from helping families in need in their own communities to working toward a polio-free world. Visit Rotary.org and endpolio.org for more about Rotary and its efforts to eradicate polio. Video and still images are available on the Rotary Media Center.

Livestream: Tune in to the World Polio Day livestream on October 24 at 5:30 p.m. Eastern, 2:30 p.m. Pacific, at endpolio.org/worldpolioday.

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Contact: Audrey Carl, audrey.carl@rotary.org, 847-866-3424

https://www.rotary.org/en/rotary-gives-495-million-help-eradicate-polio

Somali refugee spreads peace as Rotary fellow

Manitoba honors Rotary Peace Fellow for public achievement

By Paul Engleman

Refugees who come to Winnipeg often end up living in areas that are predominantly inhabited by indigenous people. 

“Newcomers do not know much about the indigenous life and heritage and, without that knowledge, the first thing they encounter is people who are poor and stereotyped by the mainstream community,” says Abdikheir “Abdi” Ahmed, a 2011-12 Rotary Peace Fellow and immigration partnership coordinator for the Social Planning Council of Winnipeg. “Indigenous people may see immigrants as encroaching into their neighborhoods. There is tension between both groups.” 

Abdikheir “Abdi” Ahmed, a 2011-12 Rotary Peace Fellow and immigration partnership coordinator for the Social Planning Council of Winnipeg.

Ahmed works to smooth relations, helping them see they have more in common than what divides them. “Integration is a two-way process,” he says. 

In recognition of his work, Ahmed received the Order of the Buffalo Hunt, one of the highest honours for public achievement issued by the Manitoba legislature, in January 2016. 

“I never thought what I was doing had this significance,” he says. “But I don’t look at what I have done. I look at what needs to be done to bring about better living standards for people.” 

Ahmed, 37, may understand the needs of immigrants better than most. 

Originally from Somalia, he and his family fled the conflict there and settled in Kenya when he was a child. 

My hope is that in the next 20 to 50 years, if we have more Rotary Peace Fellows around the world who are speaking the same language and taking on a leadership role to create an interconnected world, things will change.

Abdikheir “Abdi” Ahmed

As a young adult, he moved to Canada as part of the national resettlement program. He began working with refugee children who were struggling in school while attending the University of Winnipeg, where he earned a degree in international development in 2007.

After graduation, Ahmed began working at the Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization of Manitoba. 

He learned about the Rotary Peace Centers program from Noëlle DePape, a colleague who had earned her master’s degree at the University of Queensland, Australia, through the fellowship.

 After Ahmed completed his own peace fellowship at Queensland, he and DePape worked together to develop a curriculum for a summer course that they teach to high school students at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, part of a Rotary District 5550 (Manitoba and parts of Ontario and Saskatchewan) program called Adventures in Human Rights.

“We help them view the world from the perspective that everyone’s rights are equal and understand the idea of building a community where everyone’s rights are respected and each person is given a fair opportunity,” he says. 

In addition to his work in Winnipeg, Ahmed serves on the board of Humankind International, an early childhood learning center that he co-founded at the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya with two Somali friends who also immigrated to Winnipeg. He says it serves 150 children with four teachers, and he hopes to expand it to accommodate the many children who have to be turned away. 

Despite the suffering he has witnessed and the daily conflicts he works to resolve, Ahmed is optimistic about the prospects for peace and the potential of the peace centers program. 

“My hope is that in the next 20 to 50 years, if we have more Rotary Peace Fellows around the world who are speaking the same language and taking on a leadership role to create an interconnected world, things will change,” he says. “I also hope we can find an opportunity for Rotarians and past peace fellows to collaborate on projects in a more defined way.” 

Ahmed and his wife, Saadi, have three sons. He says their oldest, Mohamed, 9, dreams of playing in the NBA and says that with the money he earns, he will build houses for the homeless people he sees on his way to school. 

Ibrahim, 7, wants to be a firefighter so he can save people. One-year-old Yussuf has not announced any career plans yet. 

https://www.rotary.org/en/somali-refugee-spreads-peace-rotary-fellow

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