Winners of the 2019 Rotarian magazine photo contest

Winners of The Rotarian photo contest

In this year’s photo contest, we received more than 600 entries from 59 countries and geographical areas — from Argentina to Zimbabwe and many places in between. Through your photographs, we traveled to a glacial lagoon in Iceland and a mountainside in Bolivia. We saw Rotarians working on projects and met the people they encountered along the way. Taken together, the photos you sent us create a composite portrait of our world and the ways Rotarians experience it.

Our judge, George Steinmetz, brings to the task his decades of experience traveling and photographing the world. Steinmetz shoots from the elevated perspective of a paraglider, where the landscape almost becomes abstract art, so he can appreciate a photo both for its aesthetic qualities and for the story it tells. In addition to the winners and honorable mentions in this issue, you’ll see photos from the contest in The Rotarian throughout the year.

First Place

Photographer: Santosh Kale
Rotary Club of Shirol, India
Location: Pandharpur, India

Steinmetz: I love the energy of this picture. It documents the flow of humanity experiencing the Pandharpur Wari pilgrimage and shows the architecture of this Indian site, the vibrancy of its storefronts. I also like that the photographer had the prescience to wait for his subject and took an unconventional approach by shooting the action with a time exposure.

Second Place

Photographer: Chin Fung Hou
Spouse of Yeong Hsiou Chen, Rotary Club of Taipei Hwachung, Taiwan
Location: Taipei, Taiwan

Steinmetz: The photographer made creative use of what many would consider a technical problem — raindrops on the lens front. Most people think great photos need good weather, but pros will tell you that bad weather is a photographer’s best friend. This picture of Taipei is very original and impressionistic.

Third Place

Photographer: Luca Venturi
Rotary Club of Siena Est, Italy
Location: Siena, Italy

Steinmetz: This photograph perfectly captures a public event at the Palio di Siena, a twice-annual horse race in the heart of the city. The rider’s expression and the faces in the foreground convey a lot of emotion, but then your eye travels around the image and you see the context of the town square. Framing on a tilt makes it feel like you are part of the scene, being jostled in the crowd. It’s a great way to capture the energy of the moment.

Honorable mention

Photographer: Yeong Hsiou Chen
Rotary Club of Taipei Hwachung, Taiwan
Location: Keelung, Taiwan

Steinmetz: This picture has a wonderful way of showing calm in the middle of an urbanized seaport. I like the subtle accents of color framed between a monochromatic sea and sky, and the surprising blurring of the boat in motion in the foreground.

Honorable mention

Photographer: Tono Valdes
Rotary Club of Guatemala Sur, Guatemala
Location: Guatemala City

Steinmetz: Sometimes you like a picture for what it doesn’t show. Here, you can’t see the ground or the background, just the emotions. What the smoke conceals creates mystery. In a way, it is like the mystery of religion itself. And this is a very sensuous photograph; you can almost smell it.

Honorable mention

Photographer: Roberta Kayne
Rotary Club of Dublin A.M., Ohio
Location: Lake Clark National Park and Preserve, Alaska

Steinmetz: We shouldn’t project human feelings onto animals, but you can read the child-parent relationship in the postures here. I think of times I have seen this sort of scene in the wild, with bears on the shore catching salmon.

Honorable mention

Photographer: Lee Won-Geol
Rotary Club of Daegu-Chungsan, Korea
Location: Andong, Korea

Steinmetz: The few bits of color make an otherwise monochromatic scene come alive. The snow adds beautiful texture to the traditional architecture, and the leaves and branches in the foreground create a nice frame. This is a landscape you want to explore.

Honorable mention

Photographer: Chris McDiven
Rotary Club of Sydney, Australia
Location: Niagara Falls, New York

Steinmetz: I’ve seen this kind of situation, a rainbow created by mist, many times in photographs, but this is one of the finest versions that I’ve come across. Sometimes simplicity is best. I love the placement of the boat at the end of the rainbow. It’s simple, powerful, and unexpected.

Honorable mention

Photographer: Roberta Kayne
Rotary Club of Dublin A.M., Ohio
Location: Westerville, Ohio

Steinmetz: Newspaper photographers are asked every year to photograph something that conveys the idea of patriotism for Memorial Day; this is an excellent version. The lines of flags create perspective and depth, which makes the person walking through stand out.

Get ready for your close-up

The next edition of The Rotarian’s photo contest will open on 1 October 2019 and close on 15 December 2019. For more information, go to

Meet our judge

Our judge, George Steinmetz, brings to the task his decades of experience traveling and photographing the world. Read story.

The View From Above

The View from Above

Photographer George Steinmetz has taken to the sky to show us the big picture


Above the door of George Steinmetz’s garage hang two unusual traffic signs: one of a llama from the Altiplano high desert of Bolivia, the other of a dromedary camel, the type that he has photographed in his trips across the Arabian Desert.

Inside the house, surfaces are stacked with books and collections from his travels, including butterflies and giant insects, hats, and bottles of desert sands. His sunny studio looks out on treetops, and cabinets full of photographic transparencies line the walls. Museum-worthy framed photographs are everywhere — some his own, others by his talented and famous friends and colleagues from around the world.


By Julie Bain
Photography by George Steinmetz

Above the door of George Steinmetz’s garage hang two unusual traffic signs: one of a llama from the Altiplano high desert of Bolivia, the other of a dromedary camel, the type that he has photographed in his trips across the Arabian Desert.

Inside the house, surfaces are stacked with books and collections from his travels, including butterflies and giant insects, hats, and bottles of desert sands. His sunny studio looks out on treetops, and cabinets full of photographic transparencies line the walls. Museum-worthy framed photographs are everywhere — some his own, others by his talented and famous friends and colleagues from around the world.

“I had no photography training; I just started taking pictures, and I fell in love with it.”

In more than 40 years as a photographer, Steinmetz has captured panoramic aerial images of the plains of Africa, the Gobi desert, the vast sand dunes of Brazil, and the frozen expanses of Antarctica. He has photographed New York City’s urban landscape, Kansas’ wheat fields, and Indonesia’s palm oil plantations. He has done much of his work while dangling from a paraglider in what looks like a flimsy motorized lawn chair.

His photographs have appeared in the New Yorker, Smithsonian, Time, and the New York Times Magazine, and he is a regular contributor to National Geographic. He has also published several books: African Air, Empty Quarter, Desert Air, and New York Air.

Steinmetz is used to being the observer, not the observed. Talking about himself may not be his preference, but he proved a lively conversationalist when he sat down with frequent contributor Julie Bain at the New Jersey home he shares with his wife, Lisa Bannon, and their daughter and twin sons. In a lengthy chat, interrupted by a tour of the house and a photo show-and-tell on his studio computer, he described what it’s like to capture the world from an aerial perspective.

In Wijdemeren, the Netherlands, peat was harvested from a bog until it became a lake with long, narrow islands.

© George Steinmetz

Q: You grew up in Beverly Hills, with all the privilege that confers, then studied geophysics at Stanford. When and how did the iconoclastic adventurer side of you emerge?

A: Beverly Hills is not a normal place, and I wanted to get away from it. I was majoring in geophysics almost by accident; I realized that I had most of the coursework done, and somebody pointed out to me that it was the highest-paying major at the time because oil prices were really high. This was in the late 1970s. In 1977, after my sophomore year, I went on a summer trip to Europe with a friend. With our rail passes we could go anywhere for free in the European network, plus Morocco. I thought, “Morocco? Cool! That might be interesting!” So I went to Morocco. While I was there, I met a guy who had just ridden a motorcycle across the Sahara. I couldn’t stop thinking about what an adventure that would be. The next summer, I got a job as an intern for Texaco. I saved about five grand and thought, “This is my Africa money.” Instead of going back to Stanford for my senior year, I bought a used camera and decided to hitchhike through Africa for a year, or as long as my money held out.

Q: How did that experience shape your life?

A: To be honest, I went to Africa to get away from my upbringing of privilege. But when I got there, I realized how much there was to learn and understand. Sometimes I couldn’t get a ride for days, so villagers would invite me to stay with them. From villagers and truck drivers, I learned how to get around in Swahili, French, and Arabic. It was exciting to be 21 years old and out on my own in a place like Zaire. I went from London to Zaire and back on my own. It was like graduate school for me.

  1. For his book New York Air, George Steinmetz saw everything from the southern tip of Manhattan…

    © George Steinmetz

  2. … to the taxi waiting area at John F. Kennedy International Airport.

    © George Steinmetz

Q: When did the photography bug hit?

A: I thought I’d see the kind of scenes that I grew up seeing in the pages of National Geographic, like bare-breasted women and people with plates in their lips, so I thought I should have a camera. I didn’t find much of that, but I saw things I’d never seen before. I came across some Tuareg people in northern Niger. They’re semi-nomadic camel and goat herders. I became interested in understanding the traditional ways of people in Africa, and I started to seek out those cultures to try to document their lives.

Q: Did you have any photography background to guide you?

A: I really didn’t know what I was doing! I had no photography training; I just started taking pictures, and I fell in love with it. It forced me to extend my own boundaries. Of course, I had to wait to get the film developed to figure out what mistakes I’d made. Nobody told me, “Do not take pictures in the middle of the day in Africa.” I remember coming back to my mother’s house after a year of traveling, staying up all night going through about 80 boxes of film, and seeing that I’d messed up so many times. All these amazing things I remembered, and the light was bad and the photos were mostly crappy. But I found a few pictures that worked. That’s how I learned. After traveling for almost a year, I went back to Stanford and finished college, then returned to Africa for another year and a half. I saw 20 countries, very slowly. I developed an intuitive feel for Africa. I got to know it on a grassroots level.

“I saw 20 countries, very slowly. I developed an intuitive feel for Africa.”

Q: How did you, as an untrained, unproven photographer, figure out how to make a living at it?

A: When I got back, I moved in with college friends in San Francisco. I’d show my work from Africa to local magazine editors and they’d say, “Well, this is great, but we don’t need pictures of people in Africa; we need pictures of things here in San Francisco.” So I made a new project for myself: to photograph just the block where I was living. There was a gospel church up the street, and a motorcycle shop where the Hells Angels hung out. It was the early ’80s during the start of the AIDS crisis, and my upstairs neighbors were drag queens who would go out on roller skates wearing nun’s habits and give out condoms. I started digging and found stuff that I never would have expected. I showed that work to editors and slowly started getting jobs.

I’ve been a freelancer ever since. I never had a job job. When you’re a freelancer, a friend of mine says, you’re like a jungle cat — always a little hungrier and lighter on your feet.

  1. African bush elephants graze in a marshy lake in Kenya’s Amboseli National Park, which is home to more than 900 elephants.

    © George Steinmetz

  2. Umm al-Maa is one of a dozen salty pools in Libya’s Ubari Sand Sea.

    © George Steinmetz

  3. In Niger, the Tuareg people use camels to carry salt across the desert to market.

    © George Steinmetz

Q: What made you want to get off the ground and take photos from the air?

A: When hitchhiking in Africa, I would often ride on top of a truck, where you get a pretty great view. I thought, “Wouldn’t it be amazing if I could fly over this landscape and see it that way?” I wasn’t so interested in going to flight school to be a pilot. I wanted to fly like a bird with my camera. I also wanted to fly at low altitude, as slowly and quietly as possible, to blend in and not disturb whoever or whatever was below. This was long before drones came along, of course. So I heard about motorized paragliders and started taking lessons. The whole thing packs up into three bags weighing less than 72 pounds, so I was able to take it with me into most airports and countries as standard baggage. 

“Everybody thought of [deserts] as wastelands, but to me, they were spectacular, exquisite wildernesses.”

Q: Once you figured out how to fly over stuff, how on earth did you decide what to focus on?

A: I do a lot of research before I travel. Before Google Earth, I would find ways to get satellite imagery from scientists and would pore over detailed maps looking for interesting features. And I make a lot of phone calls. I collect a lot of information. In the field I started collecting stuff too, like bugs and men’s hats. I had never thought about this before, but photography is kind of like collecting things. And I especially loved flying over deserts. Everybody thought of them as wastelands, but to me, they were spectacular, exquisite wildernesses. I discovered that nobody had done a book on all the world’s deserts, and I worried, “Well, maybe that’s because nobody cares.” But I did, and I trust my judgment. I decided to focus on the most extreme deserts because they were the most bizarre, like the earth with its living skin peeled away. Each one I explored was more interesting than the one before. Then I said, “Well, hell, I’ll try to go to all of them.” It’s a slow process with the glider, and I didn’t realize it would take 15 years.

Q: Some of your photos of Antarctica look like you’re on another planet. Does that continent really qualify as a desert?

A: I defined “extreme” by setting a limit of 10 centimeters of annual precipitation, and most of Antarctica qualifies. I applied for a grant from the National Science Foundation and described it as a “frozen desert,” which was a way that nobody had really thought of before. I was there for 10 weeks, which is about a month longer than I like to be away from my family. But it was incredible.

Q: Were you able to use your paraglider over Antarctica?

A: I was thinking about it, but the National Science Foundation was concerned about safety because of the extreme cold and fierce winds. But they gave me 15 hours of dedicated helicopter time so I could have control over where we went, and then I got around by mooching rides with the scientists. The NSF likes to promote what their scientists are doing. If pictures of their scientists appear in publications, it helps them get funding.

  1. Workers plant lettuce in a hydroponic farm near Tokyo.

    © George Steinmetz

  2. For a project on 21st-century agriculture, Steinmetz visited a turkey farm in Iowa.

    © George Steinmetz

Q: What is your fear factor in the glider? Are you one of those fearless adrenaline-junkie guys?

A: No. Oftentimes when I am flying, I get really frightened. On my first trip in Africa with the glider, I went up to about 5,000 feet for a view of a big volcanic crater, and it scared the crap out of me. People just don’t belong up there. You’re basically in a lawn chair with a harness on, and it’s quite frightening, and I thought, “I might die up here, but at least I should get a picture before I die.” That was the biggest altitude gain I ever attempted.

Q: You take many safety precautions, yet you’ve still had some mishaps. Best crash stories?

A: Everybody wants crash stories. All right. My splash story was in Mexico, where I was photographing whales in Baja California. It’s one of the biggest breeding grounds for California gray whales, and the mothers were out there with their newborns. I thought I could get a unique image from low, like a few hundred feet above the water. Then the motor stopped. I had a world champion of motorized paragliding with me as my assistant in a boat below, connected by radio. As soon as the motor quit, I called Alain on the radio. Bad move. I should have headed straight for the shore, where I might have been able to glide to safety. Save yourself before you call for help! I crashed into the water.

“I was asked by National Geographic to do a big project on the global food supply and how to meet the growing demands of the population.”

Alain was not watching me from the boat when the motor stopped, but still got to me within a couple of minutes and pulled me up before I sank. I had a lot of safety gear — I was wearing a life vest that inflates on contact with salt water with a CO2 cartridge, so it inflated automatically — and I probably wouldn’t have drowned, but it was very expensive and a major catastrophe. The motor was trashed, and so were my camera and my radio. We had had to think it out for ourselves; there’s no license for this kind of flying.

Q: I’m sure going into the water was scary, but wouldn’t crashing on land be worse?

A: Unfortunately, I did that, too. In 2006, I was assigned to do an aerial portfolio of China for National Geographic. It was a great gig, to cover the whole country. I decided to start in the Taklamakan Desert in Xinjiang province. It was a dry riverbed in a steep valley, with poplar trees on both sides and a big gravel bar in the riverbed. Alain and I had arrived late the night before, so we couldn’t scout the location beforehand. The next morning, we were rushing around in the predawn light and had to work quickly so I could be in the air before sunrise. We were a little groggy, and the equipment probably wasn’t set up quite right. Just as I took off from the gravel bar, the wing came up and — boom — I veered right into a tree. I tried to clear it, but I was at full throttle and hit the treetops seconds later. I woke up on the ground a bloody mess. Alain thought I was paralyzed at first, but I was OK. They took me to the hospital, which had a facial surgery department, and I was first in line. The doctors who sewed me up did a great job, and it cost like four bucks. After a day of rest, I continued on our trip.

Severe drought left Santa Rosa, California, vulnerable to wildfires in 2017.

© George Steinmetz

Q: You’ve said you are a bit of an accidental environmentalist. How did you pivot from wanting to see the world to wanting to save it?

A: I didn’t start out as a tree-hugger. But as I traveled around the deserts, I kept seeing signs of desiccation and hearing old people talk about how their natural environment was changing. Then I was asked by National Geographic to do a big project on the global food supply and how to meet the growing demands of the population, which could reach 9 billion people by 2050. I told them that for interesting pictures, we should look at mega-agriculture, and that’s when it got interesting. I envisioned aerial photos of cattle as far as the eye can see. The first place I went was Kansas. My first week there, I ended up in jail.

One morning, I was flying over thousands of cattle in a feedlot with my paraglider. The feedlot manager stopped my assistant on the ground and wanted to know what I was doing. My assistant explained that I was working for National Geographic, but the man wanted me to come down. I radioed back, “I’ll be happy to talk to him, but after I finish my flight.” Then he threatened to call the sheriff. I said, “If he wants to call the sheriff, call the sheriff. It’s a free country.” Well, he did call the sheriff, and I was arrested when I landed. I was put in the county jail for criminal trespass.

“You’re training your eye through editing and feedback as you try to figure out what works for you.”

We had arrived before sunrise, and there was nobody around, nobody to ask. There was no “no trespassing” sign, no fence, no gate. We just pulled off the road and found an empty patch with stubbly grass, and I took off. No damage to the place at all. It was a bogus charge, and they had to drop the case. I got into environmental issues through food. When you start looking at greenhouse gases, most people ignore the fact that agriculture is almost as big a contributor as transportation. To me, feeding people is the less well-told story. As a journalist, that’s what I find most interesting: to tell people what they don’t know about.

Q: How and when did you give in to the lure of drones for photography?

A: Drones came along while I was working on my food project. A lot of environments aren’t safe for the glider, like over water or industrial facilities, and I thought using a drone might be a better option. I went on a few trips where I had two paragliders and two drones. I filled up a whole Chevy Suburban with all my junk. I realized that the quality of the drone photos was not as high as what my cameras could produce. But I can’t maneuver the paraglider to the exact point in the sky as easily as I can with the drone, so it’s a trade-off. The drone has opened up new possibilities, but it’s not that good for exploring, because it only has about a couple kilometers of range and all you can see is the little screen in front of you. Often, while flying the glider, I discover things that I never could have imagined from the ground.

A steam vent on Mount Erebus, Antarctica, creates the intricate ice formations in this cave.

© George Steinmetz

You’re training your eye through editing and feedback as you try to figure out what works for you. It takes a lot of time, and I think that’s what separates the pros from the amateurs. It’s like when you hear somebody play the guitar in a very distinctive way, and you can just tell that they have spent gazillions of hours honing their craft. There’s no cheap trick.

— New York writer Julie Bain interviewed three previous Rotarian photo contest judges.

The Rotarian Conversation: Jonathan Quick

The Rotarian Conversation:
Jonathan Quick

When it comes to addressing epidemics, the public health expert says we have the solutions. We simply have to embrace them

Jonathan Quick thinks on a grand scale. His book The End of Epidemics: The Looming Threat to Humanity and How to Stop It argues that we can end not just one particular epidemic, but all epidemics. He lays out a seven-point call to action (e.g., “Invest wisely, save lives”; “Active prevention, constant readiness”) to prevent the inevitable outbreaks of diseases from growing into epidemics that kill thousands or even millions. The scale of his ambition is matched only by the scale of the problem and the price tag on his proposed solution: Quick calls for an investment of $7.5 billion annually for the next 20 years in prevention, but he points out that a severe pandemic — when an epidemic goes global, something made more likely by our interconnected world — could cost the global economy up to $2.5 trillion. 

When it comes to public health and disease prevention, Quick knows what he’s talking about. He earned his M.D. at Duke University and spent 10 years at the World Health Organization, working with local governments on access to medicine, particularly AIDS medications, in Pakistan and Kenya. During his time in Kenya, he was a member of the Rotary Club of Nairobi-South and was involved in the club’s polio vaccination efforts. When he returned to the United States in 2004, he led Management Sciences for Health, a nonprofit focused on helping governments develop effective health systems management.

Quick decided to write The End of Epidemics in 2014 during an Ebola outbreak in West Africa. He viewed with alarm the failure of governments, nongovernmental organizations, and affected populations to learn the lessons of recent epidemic outbreaks. “Based on what I’d seen with AIDS, with SARS [severe acute respiratory syndrome] in 2003, with Ebola, I asked myself where we would be in three years,” he recalls. “And my sense was we’d be just as vulnerable because we tend to go through a cycle of panic and neglect. I fear we’re going to leave my daughters’ generation a world that’s in more danger of pandemics if we don’t really get a good, solid, persistent response.” Senior editor Hank Sartin spoke with Quick about the factors that make for robust public health infrastructure, how engaged individuals have made a difference, what we should be focused on now, and the recent measles outbreak.

THE ROTARIAN: Since your book came out, we’ve faced a serious measles outbreak. What happened? And does this temper your optimism about the end of epidemics?

QUICK: The recent measles outbreaks in the United States and around the world are no surprise to those of us who have been tracking the rise of the vaccine resistance movement and the resulting global decline in measles immunization in many countries. This is a surmountable setback, but it must be confronted with utmost urgency.

The decade of the 2010s has seen an alarming decline in measles immunization. Between 2010 and 2017, more than 20 million children worldwide missed their first measles vaccination.

The global rise in vaccine rejection has been driven largely by a discredited and retracted 1998 article in a prestigious medical journal. The purported link between measles vaccine and childhood autism has been repeatedly disproven in rigorous scientific studies. As important, we now know much more about the real causes of autism, which include a combination of genetic and environmental factors, both prenatal and postnatal.

Our greatest challenge is not the microbes. Our greatest challenge today is combating the disinformation and underlying distrust of science that lead to vaccine rejection. The first step is to strengthen epidemic literacy, including vaccine literacy, from primary to graduate school and in continued public education. The second step is to acknowledge and respond to sincere concerns about past vaccine safety issues and to ensure the safety of new vaccines. The third, and most daunting, step is to develop local, national, and international vaccine acceptance efforts capable of turning around a well-organized global anti-vaccine community that has a simple, emotive message — “measles vaccine causes autism” — is highly effective on social media, and has enlisted stars and political leaders.

TR: You argue in the book that we need to move into prevention mode when it comes to epidemic diseases. But every time we’ve faced a previous epidemic, we have gone through a cycle of funding during the crisis and then defunding after. Is there any reason to think we will support a prevention strategy now?

QUICK: We had the combination of Ebola in 2014 and then the Zika virus in 2015. Coming so soon after Ebola, the Zika outbreak focused public attention on epidemics. And then in 2018, we had 80,000 flu deaths in the U.S. That accelerated the research on the flu vaccine. We have something new, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, dedicated to developing new vaccines. We have more funding put in the right places, and we also have much greater attention to building good public health systems. The global public health community put the SARS virus back in the box in 2003. We did that without a vaccine because of good public health: Go find the cases, isolate them, get their contacts, and stop it that way. The innovation, the funding, and the work on systems — those are the reasons I think it is possible.

TR: You write a lot about the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa. Why was that out-break so serious?

QUICK: Just about everything that could go wrong did go wrong. Before the West Africa outbreak, which infected over 28,000 people and killed more than 11,000, Africa had experienced 22 outbreaks since Ebola was first discovered there in 1976. Each of those previous outbreaks involved fewer than 1,000 cases and even fewer deaths. Most of the time these outbreaks were 50 or 100 cases. In this outbreak, the region wasn’t prepared. The conventional wisdom was that Ebola wasn’t in West Africa. In fact, there was evidence that it was there going back several decades, but that evidence was sitting in Europe, not with the people in Africa. Experts also said that Ebola was a “dead-end event” because it would burn out too quickly to spread. These three countries [Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone] had all experienced horrific civil wars and resulting poverty, so people didn’t trust the governments. And they didn’t have the basic health systems to be able to identify Ebola and quickly respond.

And the leader of the World Health Organization in 2014 [Margaret Chan] had not prioritized the emergency response and was more of a consultative decision-maker. It took the director-general of WHO four months before a global emergency was called; back in 2003, when the SARS outbreak occurred, the director-general at that time [Gro Harlem Brundtland] made a decision in four hours, and SARS was stopped within six months. In West Africa in 2014, we didn’t have decisive leadership and we didn’t have the early communication around safe burial and prevention. People panicked after SARS and made a lot of promises, but by 2008 the message had been forgotten, and when the financial crash started pinching the budgets, both the World Health Organization and to some extent the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention started defunding and de-staffing some of the emergency response capabilities. So it really was a perfect storm of all the things that could go wrong.

TR: What lessons can we draw from that outbreak about things that work?

QUICK: The story that took hold in the West about the Ebola outbreak in West Africa is that it was a disaster. That’s true about the start, but the success story that doesn’t get told is how quickly the epidemic came to an end once all the communities were mobilized. Mohammad Jalloh is a Sierra Leonean social scientist who runs a nonprofit that did a lot of work on immunization and was able to use communication and social engagement to get immunization rates up. When outsiders came in and tried to bring the messages, it was a disaster. Eight health workers and journalists drove into a town in Guinea and were killed by the population and thrown in the school cistern because the locals believed these outsiders were spreading the disease.

Jalloh was part of a team that went out and surveyed to find out what people believed. Then they mobilized the 4,000 market women — the small-business owners in the marketplaces where a lot of people gather. And they also involved the thousands of traditional healers, the religious community, and the popular press. With a consistent message, they were able to capitalize on the trust these community leaders had built. In times of real fear, it’s not facts that are going to convince people; it’s having the message from people they trust. And those trusted people were all carrying the same message.

TR: Rotary has helped put systems in place for polio vaccination and surveillance. Do those systems help in approaching other epidemics?

QUICK: Yes, absolutely. In Nigeria in July 2014, just when Ebola was coming up, a Liberian American lawyer was on his way to a conference. He collapsed in the airport in Lagos, Nigeria, and was hospitalized and found to have Ebola. Immediately the government mobilized the emergency command center that had been set up to detect polio. They got a rapid response team of 100 Nigerian doctors and identified 900 possible contacts this lawyer had made. They made 18,000 face-to-face visits to check on the temperatures of these people. They were able to get 100 percent follow-up of potential contacts. Building on the system that had been set up for polio, they were able to prevent an outbreak in Nigeria.

TR: In the book, you seem more concerned with influenza than Ebola or Zika. Why?

QUICK: Influenza is harder to stop. First, it is transmitted through the air. And typically, there is not one flu in one season; the different flu strains travel in packs, so that complicates it. The vaccine development process involves making a scientifically informed best guess of what strains of flu will be prevalent in the coming year. Then you make the vaccine with those strains. There are typically three or four different strains of flu viruses that go into the vaccine because in any one year, two or three or four different strains of flu are circulating. And they will evolve during the epidemic, and that’s why the epidemic can sometimes in one season look different in the United Kingdom, say, than it does in the United States.

And the genes of influenza mutate very fast. If the virus changes suddenly, you get people who don’t have any immunity. We always have some partial immunity to the flu, but when you have significant mutations, you get a pandemic. Influenza is constantly exchanging genes among humans, pigs, wild birds, poultry.

We have been really slow to recognize how inadequate the flu vaccine is and to properly invest in developing a flu vaccine that can outsmart the virus or at least keep ahead of it. We are used to one-and-done or two-and-done vaccines like what we have for measles, but we have not invested in doing the same thing for influenza. One of the major achievements in the past few years has been an explosion of work on a universal flu vaccine. In early 2018, the National Institutes of Health released its Strategic Plan for Influenza vaccine and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced its Universal Influenza Vaccine Development Grand Challenge. While a universal flu vaccine is at least five to 10 years from routine use, several promising universal flu vaccines are already in clinical trials.

TR: You argue that epidemics should be a concern not just for governments, but for businesses too. What should business leaders be doing to prepare for possible epidemics?

QUICK: Look at what companies do in terms of business preparedness planning. They think about what happens if there is a tsunami in Indonesia, what happens if there is an active shooter in a corporate facility. They prepare for a problem with global IT systems and cybercrime. What they don’t think about is what happens when we have an epidemic disease event that will affect suppliers, employees, and customers over perhaps a two-year period. Every business needs a pandemic preparedness plan. Businesspeople need to ask themselves, “What is our plan for a pandemic or for regional outbreaks?”

TR: You seem generally hopeful about our ability to stop small outbreaks from becoming epidemics. Is that partly because of technological advances that have made us better able to deal with viruses?

QUICK: The scientists and public health people know what to do. It’s really clear. It wasn’t anywhere near as clear five or 10 years ago, so that’s what gives me hope. Since the book came out, I’ve spent a year doing lectures about this topic. I know there are many committed people. We’re not moving quickly enough yet, because there are not enough people in enough positions of authority among political leaders and business leaders that are going to keep the policies going. Only one out of three countries worldwide have the systems in place to prevent, detect, and respond to epidemic outbreaks. The United States had provided incredibly good leadership in initiating a global effort to build epidemic preparedness worldwide, but we’ve stepped back. The support to do the things that need to be done is still subject to both political pressures and complacency.

Fighting disease is one of Rotary’s areas of focus. Learn how you can be part of the solution at

• Illustration by Viktor Miller Gausa

• This story originally appeared in the August 2019 issue of The Rotarian magazine.

What We Learn by Living Somewhere Else

A Chicago artist and actor spent a season away from home and found another place to belong.

Art and story by Tony Fitzpatrick

I left Paris over a year ago, and not a day goes by that I do not long to go back. I walked by Notre Dame four or five times a week while I was there as an actor filming the second season of Amazon’s series Patriot. Day or night, it was never less than breathtaking. Being next to it always stunned me. We filmed until just before Christmas, and to walk by Notre Dame in the evening during vespers, seeing the majestic illuminated stained glass and hearing the music, was early-winter magic. It was a landmark and it was life-changing. Living away from home made me grow in unexpected ways. My drawings show some of the things I noticed. What follows may explain a little more.

Notre Dame Mon Coeur

Art by Tony Fitzpatrick

Construction of the Cathedral of Notre Dame began in 1163 and was largely completed around 1250. Since then, there have been almost constant refurbishing and revitalizations. It is one of the most astonishing achievements of humanity. Although I am a lapsed Catholic, I am in awe of the majesty of the soaring architecture and history of Our Lady of Paris.

When later I opened my Facebook page and saw that Notre Dame was burning, I felt my soul ache. When you give your heart to the City of Light, its pain becomes viscerally your own.

In addition to the quick-thinking staff and firefighters, the structure itself was saved by those who designed and built it. They made this jewel of the human imagination very hard to burn down.

Both Paris and Chicago have flocks of nonindigenous birds. A huge population of green monk parakeets lives in and around the University of Chicago. They’ve been there since the late 1970s.

The Tumbler Pigeon of Sacré Coeur (For Anaïs Nin)

Art by Tony Fitzpatrick

Paris has a slew of canaries, probably escaped cage birds that have somehow adapted to the climate. Caged songbirds are still a big business in Paris and are especially prized for their lovely songs. Place Louis Lépine is where you’ll find the Marché aux Oiseaux, or Bird Market, on Sundays. Near Notre Dame, it does a brisk trade in canaries, parakeets, lovebirds, and many other songbirds. There is also a flower market, which somewhat sweetens the sadness and ugliness of the bird trade. I thought I saw a scarlet tanager while we were shooting in the Luxembourg Gardens. But when I got closer, I had no idea what it was. Then, when I walked through the Bird Market — bummed at the sight of all these gorgeous birds in small cages — I realized what I had seen was a red factor canary, which was bred for the cage bird trade. I like to think of those birds, escaped from their admiring captors, free in the huge parks of Paris, like beautiful fugitives.

Many people fall in love with Paris. I fell hard and fast. But I had the luxury of living there for four months, absorbing the city and soaking up its rich cultural broth with its incomparable baguettes. Familiarity with the place takes time and curiosity. The rewards are both heart-stopping — like first seeing the Eiffel Tower up close — and on a smaller scale, like the small treasures one finds while combing the streets. In some arrondissements, there are shops with ceramics, old costume jewelry, posters, scarves, ancient theater programs, wooden and clay figurines — things from a hundred years ago and things from a hundred days ago bump up against each other. Paris is a city that is loath to dispose of beautiful things just because they are old. Many rooms and hotel lobbies have the clean lines and glass walls of modernity but coupled with a timeless quality. It is that kind of place. A place one longs to belong to.

Paris is a city of neighborhoods, and mine was République. It surrounds the La Place of the same name, which is anchored by a 75-foot monument topped by a statue of Marianne, who personifies the French republic. She overlooks an 8-acre public square where I witnessed protests, musical performances, and kids doing amazing things on skateboards.

The morning after the terror attacks in November 2015 at the Bataclan theater and several restaurants, a young man wheeled his keyboard out to the République Square. The city, still in shock from the horror of the previous night, was quiet and numb. The man started playing John Lennon’s “Imagine,” and a crowd gathered, some weeping, some quietly singing along.

It was a near-perfect balm for what had happened. Parisians would not give in to savagery and fear. They would go on making music, making art, and living their lives. I became obsessed with the statue of Marianne while I was staying there. Most mornings, I walked around the Place twice, a little over a mile. I began collecting photos of this statue. She is a powerful symbol to the French and a fierce reminder that liberty, equality, and fraternity are what their country is built on. She is a wonder. And she is a reminder of what we owe to our own republic and to one another.

Autumn Saint (The Saint of Red Children)

Art by Tony Fitzpatrick

Paris has traffic of every kind — four-wheel, two-wheel, motorized, and human powered; it is everywhere around you, and you have to step into the street gingerly or you’ll get pasted. I saw scooters banging into cars, bicyclists getting “doored,” and much traffic-related calamity. But the recklessness of it is deliriously musical in a way. And don’t try to cross the 12 lanes of traffic that swirl around the Arc de Triomphe. There’s a tunnel that will get you there.

The city has a bike rental program. The bikes are lovely objects by themselves — elegant and beautifully designed. Their functionality is almost an afterthought for me. I found myself taking pictures of them, parked alone or when I saw a whole station of them. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s because of how the French are mindful of how much beauty there is in their surroundings and infuse it in the objects they make.

My wife and I rode with a cabdriver named Monique who festooned her taxi with all manner of Mickey and Minnie Mouse plush figures as well as lavender candies that she insisted we sample. She smiled a coquettish smile and told us she loved us and explained that she was driving her cab because she was on the prowl for love.

“I am only 76 and not ready for the shelf quite yet,” she told us. She sang an Edith Piaf song to us when we got out of her taxi.  

The Watchman of Père Lachaise (At the Break of Day)

Art by Tony Fitzpatrick

It’s odd to stroll around Paris and imagine Charles Baudelaire, Pablo Picasso, André Breton, and Camille Pissarro having walked those very same cobblestones. While there, I read Roger Shattuck’s The Banquet Years, a history of the avant-garde around the turn of the last century. It traces the path of four flawed men who possessed creative genius in spades: writer Alfred Jarry, painter Henri Rousseau, composer Erik Satie, and poet/art theorist Guillaume Apollinaire. They ran around Montmartre and were fond of throwing banquets and getting pie-eyed on absinthe. Montmartre still hosts the ghosts of that generation, and we’re rewarded for losing our way in its twisty streets.

It’s not lost on me that laying my head to rest every night in the cradle of surrealism has had its way with me. It’s also not lost on me how much I love this city, and how I would like to live here part time at least, because it has a way of unlocking ideas about what is and is not possible with great poetry and great hope.

Nearing the end of my four months in Paris, I realized that it would be hard to leave — and that when I did, part of myself would be missing. I felt so alive and connected to the ghosts here, I wanted, in some way, to belong to this magical place. Close to my final day of filming, I went to the Père Lachaise Cemetery to honor the ones who lit the way for me.

I’m astonished by the list of luminaries who occupy the afterlife there. Many Americans make a beeline for Jim Morrison’s grave. I sought out Max Ernst, Honoré de Balzac, Honoré Daumier, and Colette. I listened for nocturnes from Frédéric Chopin’s grave and arias from Maria Callas’. I hope that Edith Piaf found love among the gray stones and that Oscar Wilde found peace. I like to believe Marcel Proust is still busy with his remembering in this quiet ether.

It’s impossible not to want to be part of this city’s landscape and among its luminous ghosts, the ones who shaped its poems, music, dance, paintings, and all the other forms of magic.

No tragedy, hardship, or darkness can extinguish her joy. No matter what, she dances, she sings. She is a poem, and she awakens a singing hope in me. 

Tony Fitzpatrick plays Jack Birdbath on Amazon’s Patriot. His artwork is included in the Play It Loud exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

• This story originally appeared in the August 2019 issue of The Rotarian magazine.

What happens when you say yes to Rotary

Lisa Herring

Rotary Club of Junction, Texas

Every week when she was in high school, Lisa Herring and her fellow Interactors would visit a local nursing home and spend time with the residents. Other days she would help the local Rotary club with their projects. Today, she can see how that time changed her view of the world.

“When we’re young, we’re focused on ourselves,” she says. “But to see that there are needs outside my own, and that I can make a difference in someone else’s life, that was really important.”

Two of her kids participated in Rotary Youth Exchange. Her daughter traveled to Italy and Ecuador, and her son went to Switzerland, where he unwittingly found his calling: One of his host fathers was an engineer and a general contractor, and Herring’s son decided that’s what he wanted to do. But he also wanted to be a Rotarian. It’s a family tradition.

Karen Purdue

Rotary Club of Invercargill Sunrise, New Zealand

In 2006, Karen Purdue’s laundry business in the southern New Zealand city of Invercargill burned to the ground. Her fellow Rotarians helped Purdue get back on her feet, with a new workspace, new office furniture, even a new photocopier.

“When I think about my life — my family, my personal life, my business life — Rotary is part of all of those,” she says.

And Rotary helped Purdue find her purpose in life and her dream job.

“I now work in community engagement and community development,” she says. “I know my Rotary and volunteering background was the reason I was selected against others. I wouldn’t have gotten it if I wasn’t in Rotary.”

Paul Bucurel

Rotary Club of East Mississippi, Mississippi

When Paul Bucurel first joined Rotary, he was a young radio station manager, and it seemed like a good way to drum up business. New leads didn’t exactly flood in from the club, but he stayed, mostly out of habit. He rose to leadership, and when he was district governor, he saw how dramatically Rotary could change someone’s life.

“I was absolutely humbled that somehow I was asked to be part of the leadership of the world’s greatest humanitarian organization,” he says.

Bucurel says Rotary has made him more generous with his time, his money, and his efforts.

“When we say yes to Rotary, I don’t think many people really understand the scope of what they’re saying yes to. The great joy is finding that out.”

Gladys Maldonado Rodriguez

Rotary Club of San José de Cúcuta, Colombia

When Gladys Maldonado Rodriguez talks about Rotary, she gets so excited that no one can stop her. She says the years since joining her club in 2001 have been a journey of discovery. Formerly afraid to face a crowd, Maldonado learned, for example, that she loves giving speeches — so much so that she now trains senior Rotary leaders in public speaking. And Maldonado is not the only one benefiting from her membership: Her children are learning the values of leadership and service by attending Rotary activities.

A past governor of District 4271, Maldonado also discovered that Rotary could help her achieve some of her aspirations, such as assisting a local children’s home. “Before becoming a Rotarian, I was not able to help my community so easily,” she says. “Rotary, as if by magic, made my dream come true.” With her club’s help, the children’s home received an aqueduct, a water treatment plant, and musical instruments.

Maldonado believes that Rotary also helped enhance the joy she takes in her life. Where once she was exclusively devoted to her career and children, she now shares her time with a diverse group of friends from different parts of the world — and the difference in languages is no barrier to communication. “It is in la sonrisa, el abrazo” — the smile, the embrace — “that we Rotarians can understand each other.”

Book smarts


Text messages

Book smarts


If you want to get serious about reading, time is not your friend. Here are some suggestions for making each book count.

Story by Joe Queenan
Illustrations by Joey Guidone

Text Messages

Three writers, each a lover of language, explore expedient strategies for reading, the labyrinths of lexicography, and the subtle pleasures of rereading — and re-rereading — a favorite book.

Book smarts

If you want to get serious about reading, time is not your friend. Here are some suggestions for making each book count.

High definition

A longtime lexicographer reveals the rebarbative precision by which dictionaries are made and celebrates the unruly evolution of the English language.

Book returns

Rereading an old favorite at different stages in life is a chance to discover new things in the text and in ourselves.

I have read more than 7,000 books, but not all of them were a good use of my time. I had to learn the hard way that certain habits are wasteful or even destructive. As a young person, I frittered away too much time reading trash, dross, and drivel. Now that I am in the autumn of my years, I almost never read a book that might not in some way elevate me. Life is a zero-sum game: Every bad book you read takes the place of a good book. And no matter what your age, the meter is running.

Sooner or later, most of us reach a point in life where we realize that we are not going to make all of our dreams come true. We are never going to learn French, never going to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, never going to buy a stock like Amazon when it’s trading at four bucks a share. We will never have a 29-inch waist, never look good in leather pants, never learn to play the piano. These are the hard facts of life and we simply have to accept them.

But there are certain things we can control. And for those of us to whom reading books is like eating or breathing, there comes a time when we need to run the numbers. I read X number of books a year. I expect to live Y more years. Maybe Z, if I can get that cholesterol under control. So the question is: Do I have enough time to read all the books I want to read (X times Y) before the Big Sayonara? And if not, what adjustments should I make?

Here are a few thoughts on the subject:

Beware of recommended books. Books tell us an awful lot about the person recommending them, and sometimes we would be better off not having this information. If you are a thoughtful, well-read person, you will regard a suggestion that you try out Clive Cussler or V.C. Andrews or anything with Special Ops in the title as an insult. If you have read masterpieces such as The Guns of August and A History of the English-Speaking Peoples, you will regard the suggestion that you sample something along the lines of The Day They Shot McKinley or The Plot to Kill Tippecanoe — and Tyler Too! as an affront to your intellect.

Get rid of unwanted gifts quickly. Gimmicky books that fit the template of A Short History of Wheat or Hook, Line, and Sinker: Ways of the Wily Halibut or Why Rutherford B. Hayes Still Matters may have started out as harmless Christmas gifts, but the longer they sit on the shelf, the more they start to resemble taunts, dares, perhaps even smacks in the face. For this reason, you should never be afraid to ditch a book you have no intention of reading. Donate it to the library or a nursing home or leave it on a park bench. Using an unwanted book as insulation in a drafty crawl space is not an unacceptable suggestion.

But do not regift it: If the book is so dull, cute, or slight that you have no intention of reading it, it’s not fair to place that burden on another person’s shoulders. People can tell when a book has been regifted; it has the smell of death about it. And it often has the words The Untold Story in the title.

Don’t climb all the mountains at once. When we start college, finally emancipated from those dreary, politically correct high school reading lists, many of us devour the classics in quick succession. War and Peace. Pride and Prejudice. Crime and Punishment. We are like children who have broken into the larder — and at first glance the larder seems inexhaustible.

The larder is not inexhaustible. Yes, there are plenty of mountains in the world, but there are a finite number of Everests. If you polish off Homer and Jane Austen too early in life, you will wish that you had kept a few titles in reserve for your autumnal years. Hadji Murat isn’t in the same class as Anna Karenina. This Side of Paradise is no Great Gatsby. Troilus and Cressida is a joke compared with Romeo and Juliet. If you use up Middlemarch too quickly, you’re going to be stuck with Daniel Deronda. And Adam Bede. Close, but no cigar.

Avoid inspiring books by the professionally inspirational. A friend of mine once said that he read Tolstoy because he seemed like the kind of guy who could help you solve some of life’s problems. You could say the same thing about Plato, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Jane Austen. You cannot say the same thing about most guys named Guy. If you are looking for inspiration, try Great Expectations. Or the Bible. And if you absolutely must read these sorts of faux-chummy books, try to hold the carnage down. Just as no one really needs more than one Gipsy Kings or Chieftains record, no one really needs to read more than one book by Jimmy Carter or Deepak Chopra. You get the idea pretty quick.

Learn to speed-read. This is an effective technique for quickly disposing of books you have to read for work, books your loved ones gave you, or amateurish, self-published memoirs by close friends. Remember: Mysteries and thrillers do not need to be read word by word. Nor do books about Ironman triathlons.

If you’re going to read trash, read higher-class trash. These days, when I read mysteries, they have to be really good ones, usually set in Scandinavia or Laos or Japan, where the exotic settings alone add value to the reading experience. Mysteries about trailer trash out in the sticks won’t cut it anymore.

Read the article, not the book. An awful lot of nonfiction books start out as mildly interesting newspaper or magazine articles before morphing into something totally out of scale to their actual importance. Search Google for the essay that inspired the book and read that. This is particularly true of books written about “mentoring” or “building team loyalty.” It’s all padding. And it’s all ghostwritten.

Reading is a deeply personal affair. Meaning that no matter how much you may love The Little Prince or Fight Club or Dune, you cannot make other people like it.

Read the first two chapters and skip the rest. Writing is a form of marketing: Authors show off their top-quality merchandise first. In most nonfiction books, everything of interest is jammed into the first two chapters; the rest is filler.

Avoid books written by politicians. For starters, the pols didn’t write them; some industrious hack ghosted them. And on the rare occasions when they did actually write them, you’ll end up wishing some enterprising hack had ghosted them. These books are all the same: America needs to get back to its roots; why, when I was a boy, you didn’t need to lock your doors; yup, that feisty girl I met walking across campus back in 1973 is now my wife; hey, whatever happened to class? The obvious exceptions to this rule are books written by Winston Churchill, Marcus Aurelius, Niccolò Machiavelli, or any of the Founding Fathers. One other thing: Never read a book by someone who lost his last election. Read the book by the person who beat him.

Avoid rock star autobiographies. The template never varies: I was born dirt-poor; I could never measure up to my father’s expectations; I triumphed over seemingly insurmountable adversity; drugs brought me to death’s door; I was saved by the love of a good woman. The lone exception to this rule about avoiding rock star autobiographies is Keith Richards’ Life. Then again, Keith was always the exception.

Avoid anthologies. They always contain Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” or Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “Young Goodman Brown,” and they always make us think we are back in high school.

Recognize that not all reading pleasures can be shared. I have friends who will swear up and down that Frederick Exley’s A Fan’s Notes is the greatest sports book ever written. This, for the record, is like being the tallest office building in Duluth. Which in and of itself doesn’t make the building special.

No, reading is a deeply personal affair. Meaning that no matter how much you may love The Little Prince or Fight Club or Dune, you cannot make other people like it. My son assures me that spending my entire life without reading any science fiction or fantasy is to deliberately deny myself some of life’s greatest pleasures. For 68 years, I have been more than willing to take that risk. As the old saying goes, if it ain’t broke, don’t read The Chronicles of Narnia.

Seek out tiny classics. If you’re never going to get to The Portrait of a Lady, make do with Washington Square. If you’re never going to get to the daunting, six-volume History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, settle for the abridged version. If you can’t get to Dostoyevsky, settle for Chekhov.

Read three how-to books in your entire life, then call it quits. For my money, you still can’t beat trusty old classics like Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People, Charles Goren’s Point Count Bidding in Contract Bridge, and, of course, Caesar’s The Gallic War.

When purchasing used books, check to make sure that no one wrote in them. Nothing wrecks Macbeth more than coming across marginalia like: “Boy, talk about sexist behavior!” or “She is such a head case!” People who write in books are having conversations with themselves. These are conversations you do not want to join.

Avoid self-help books with a number in the title. As in: Seven Steps to Serenity, The First Nine People You Meet in Purgatory, Twelve — No, Make That Thirteen — Steps to a Slimmer You. Books like this are a form of PowerPoint; the authors make lists because they can make lists. These books are built around the premise that success or happiness requires doing more than one thing. Wrong. Success is built around doing one thing. Stop eating Twinkies. Stop smoking. Stop being lazy. Stop being mean to your kids. Stop reading dumb self-help books.

Be careful what you reread. People often say that if you have a wonderful meal at a restaurant, you shouldn’t go back because the second visit will be a disappointment. The same is often true of books. Some books — Kidnapped, Emma, The Sun Also Rises — hold up no matter how many times we read them. Some books are brutal disappointments when we return to them. Siddhartha and The Prophet probably seemed wise and knowing when you were 18. Try them at your peril when you’re 58.

Occasionally, very occasionally, read a bad book. Reading bad books helps you articulate what you like or dislike about a particular author. Moreover, the occasional Lee Child thriller is a good form of inexpensive psychotherapy. Feeling vulnerable, distracted, overmatched, ineffective? Spend a few hours with Jack Reacher or James Bond. They’ll show you how to cut through the red tape.

Read books in an age-appropriate fashion. Death of a Salesman will make no sense to a pimply 16-year-old. It will make sense only to an adult who has carried the burden of a job for a few decades. Catch-22 and The Catcher in the Rye are great books to read when you are a snarling, impudent youngster; if you don’t read them until you are middle-aged, they will seem flippant and immature. For the record, Wuthering Heights will probably make no sense to you or anyone else no matter how old you are when you finally get around to reading it.

One final thought: Waiting until later in life to read a classic is not necessarily a bad idea. I didn’t get to Don Quixote until I was 51. I was 53 before I finally cracked open Jane Eyre. In each case, the experience was enthralling: I turned off the phone, refused to answer the doorbell, immersed myself in the incontestably sublime. Proving that a pleasure delayed is not a pleasure denied.

Joe Queenan is a freelance writer based in Tarrytown, New York. He wrote about the joy of procrastination in the February issue.

• This story originally appeared in the September 2019 issue of The Rotarian magazine.

High definition

A longtime lexicographer reveals the rebarbative precision by which dictionaries are made and celebrates the unruly evolution of the English language.

Story by Kory Stamper
Illustrations by Joey Guidone

Text Messages

Three writers, each a lover of language, explore expedient strategies for reading, the labyrinths of lexicography, and the subtle pleasures of rereading — and re-rereading — a favorite book.

Book smarts

If you want to get serious about reading, time is not your friend. Here are some suggestions for making each book count.

High definition

A longtime lexicographer reveals the rebarbative precision by which dictionaries are made and celebrates the unruly evolution of the English language.

Book returns

Rereading an old favorite at different stages in life is a chance to discover new things in the text and in ourselves.

One day during this academic year, teachers will corral their third graders and tell them to sit quietly and pay attention. We have a special guest with us today, the teacher will announce — and into the room will stride a Rotarian carrying a box. The Rotarian will beam at the children and tell them that their local Rotary club has a very special gift for each of them. As little eyes widen, the Rotarian will reach into the box and lift out . . . a dictionary!

People who aren’t Rotarians, teachers, or dictionary writers might expect that a modern child’s response would be disappointment. “Aw, I wanted a Nintendo!” That sells kids short. News reports on what has come to be known as “the dictionary project” mention how thrilled kids are to receive the dictionaries. This is their very own dictionary, all theirs. They get to look up what they want, when they want. And inside that dictionary are not just fun words, or the tools they will need to excel at reading and writing, but a hidden story about how language, literacy, and culture have been interwoven for centuries.

I was never the recipient of a Rotary dictionary, but I have participated in Rotary dictionary projects, albeit obliquely, since the late 1990s. You see, I write those dictionaries.

When I tell people that, they usually gape and gabble for a bit. You write dictionaries? Then the corollary question: Someone writes dictionaries? Several someones, in fact. For 20 years, I was one of a couple dozen lexicographers — defined as “the author or editor of a dictionary” — at Merriam-Webster, the oldest dictionary company in the United States.

The Merriam-Webster headquarters are in a plain brick building in Springfield, Massachusetts, across the street from a community college parking lot and around the corner from the Salvation Army. There is no stately marker that tells you this is where the English language gets made, no neon signage. You could drive past it and not know it was there. I did just that the day I interviewed for my job. Twice.

The first thing that strikes you upon entering is not just that it’s quiet, but that there’s a peculiar type of quiet that enshrouds the building. It’s not the quiet of a library, punctuated by the shush of feet on carpet, the rickety creak of the book cart rolling through the stacks, the sudden fountain jet of speech when a patron asks the reference desk a question. Nor is it the quiet of the test room, concentration hovering over a tense stillness, the scratch of pencils and the breathing of a hundred anxious students raising the relative humidity in the room measurably. Instead, it’s a vast quiet, one so broad that the sounds of keyboards clacking, doors closing, and chairs squeaking all drop into a little corner of the aural space. The quiet is not cluttered, thin, or tense, but expansive, like a great inhalation.

This was intentional. I learned, in my first week, that there had been a formal Rule of Silence on the editorial floor for decades, and while it was no longer enforced, it was still very much in effect. Rather than talk, people communicated by passing notes through the interoffice mail, and if you needed to make or take a phone call, there were two very stuffy and claustrophobic phone booths on the editorial floor. Even the vintage coffee maker was silent — an old drip model from the 1960s that consistently produced a brown liquid that was coffee in the same way that the brown liquid at the bottom of an old flower vase was coffee — but we kept it around because it didn’t hiss and spit and belch as it brewed our cups of joe. The work of a lexicographer requires a lot of wide-open quiet.

And what is a lexicographer’s job exactly? If you are anything like me, you assume, as I did before I had that job, that the people who write dictionaries are the guardians of proper English. The good, correct words get in, probably after a formal trial that involves funny wigs and the phrase “hear ye, hear ye,” and the bad, incorrect, ugly words are kept out. The Dictionary, after all, is our ultimate language authority: a linguistic holy book that communicates the Truth of Good Grammar and Real Words, capital letters intended. We appeal to The Dictionary to prove that “twerk” isn’t a real word, or that the newspaper reporter used “innovate” incorrectly, or that Hank is full of it if he thinks he can play a made-up word like “puggle” on a Triple Word Score in Scrabble and get away with it. The Dictionary doesn’t just have standards: The Dictionary is standards.

So you will imagine my surprise — and, to be honest, horror — when I learned that that was not what a lexicographer did at all. Noah Webster, America’s most notable lexicographer and the Webster from whom Merriam-Webster gets half its name, wrote in 1816 that “the business of the lexicographer is to collect, arrange, and define, as far as possible, all the words that belong to a language, and leave the author to select from them at his pleasure and according to his own taste and judgement.”

Here’s how that works in practice. Every day, lexicographers spend time collecting words. We do this by reading everything we can: newspapers, magazines, trade journals, books, social media, blog posts, broadcast transcriptions, movie scripts, advertisements, junk mail, TV dinner containers. Just to make sure that we haven’t missed anything, we subscribe to enormous online collections of print sources, such as newspaper archives or books from the 18th century. If it’s written down, it’s fair game.

But we’re not just collecting individual words. The only way that words have meaning is within a context, and so entire chunks of the language as it’s used end up in our database. Each bit of language is called a citation, and most dictionary companies have millions of them. We are the hungry, hungry hippos of print media, indiscriminately gobbling up whatever we can.

When it’s time to write or revise a dictionary, those chunks of language in the wild become the raw material from which a dictionary entry is crafted. In the dead-tree days, we would get a page with one dictionary column printed on it, triple-spaced, and all the collected citations for the words on that page (“lawgiver” to “lay up,” let’s say). Your job is to read each citation and see if the contextual meaning of the word is already entered into the dictionary. Is the meaning of “lay up” in the sentence “We laid up emergency rations” covered by the current entry? Yes: There’s a definition for “to store up.” Is that meaning of “lay up” covered in the sentence “He tried to lay up a shot, missed, but rebounded the ball and made the winning basket”? No: This does not refer to storing up the shot, but to trying to make a shot in basketball. If this sports-related meaning has widespread, sustained use in print, then you draft a definition for it. This you will do forever, running from A to Z and back again.

It sounds simple, but it’s not. The mental gymnastics performed day in and day out trying to nail English to the wall can be trying. You need all that open silence just to hear yourself think. What’s the difference between “teensy” and “measly”? They both mean “small,” but they each describe a different quality of smallness, one that needs to be finely delineated lest someone talk about someone’s “measly bikini.” What exactly does “but” mean in the phrase “Mine not to reason why, mine but to do and die,” and how do you concisely express that meaning without the verbal equivalent of flopping around? Is the “general” in “a general dislike” the same as “a general opinion,” and is that the same as “the general populace”? Is a layup always played near the net, and does it always involve the backboard? Some days you want to stand on your desk and shout into the silence: “What am I doing here? I don’t even like basketball!”

There’s another reality, deeper and more unsettling, that you have to contend with every day. The more you work on dictionaries, the more you realize that the very process actually upends everything you thought you knew about dictionaries. The criteria for a word’s entry are just its usage in print or online. Not that the word gets some stamp of approval from a governing body; not that it fills a gap in our established vocabulary; not that it is aesthetically pleasing (I’m looking at you, “moist”). If enough people use any word in writing long enough, then it will likely be entered into a dictionary. The modern dictionary is a record of the language as it is used, not as we wish it were used.

This puts the budding lexicographer in a sticky spot. Most of us fall into this job because we love the English language, and this love usually manifests as a mastery of the rules of English usage. “Decimate” should only be used to refer to a small loss, not to utter destruction; “invite” is a verb, and to make it a noun is the height of laziness; “ain’t” ain’t a word ’cuz it ain’t in the dictionary. We have been taught that to love a language is to take care of it, to prune back the dead wood so that it may bloom more beautifully in the future.

The modern dictionary is a record of the language as it is used, not as we wish it were used.

But English is no garden. You would be surprised how many of the bad and ugly words routinely make it into (edited!) print. The majority of the obscene, unprintable words were well in use before the arrival of the printing press in England and have stalwartly held on since. The noun “invite” goes back to the 1600s, as does the “utterly destroy” meaning of “decimate”; “ain’t” shows up in print in the 1700s. “Irregardless” — that most hated nonword, that vile redundancy, that pox upon the fair face of the English language — is more than 200 years old, has made multiple unironic appearances in the New York Times, and has even popped up in the oral arguments of several Supreme Court cases, where it went by without comment.

Our desire to shape English into something lovely is a centuries-old fear of English changing beyond our recognition. No one likes change, but that’s exactly what a living language does, constantly, even within our lifetimes. “Certainly our language now used varies far from that which was used and spoken when I was born,” lamented William Caxton in 1490, back when the English language looked and sounded more like tipsy Dutch, and we echo his general complaint. We holler at kids that, when we were your age, we didn’t abbreviate everything like lazy bums, conveniently forgetting our own youthful RSVPs and BYOBs. Every linguistic bugbear you (or, for that matter, William Caxton, the first English printer) blame on the youth of today is much older than you realize. “OMG,” an online abbreviation for the interjection “Oh my God,” dates back to 1917. It was first used in a letter from Admiral Lord Fisher to Winston Churchill. So much for texting ruining English.

Change isn’t degradation. Take “prepone.” It’s most often used in Indian English and it means “to move something (such as an appointment) to a time prior to the originally scheduled time.” It’s such a delightful, handy little word, but more than that, “prepone” is a fabulous example of how a living language works. “Prepone” first appeared in print with this meaning in the 1910s as a pet coinage of one letter-writer to the New York Times. It went absolutely nowhere until it was revived literally on the other side of the earth, where it became a fixture in Indian English. It’s used so much, in fact, that “prepone” is slowly beginning to seep its way back into the Englishes spoken in the Western Hemisphere. This fluidity, this exchange, this caution-to-the-wind willingness to try something new, is what makes or breaks a language.

Its wildness is also beguiling. Here is a language that has been decried as on the brink of destruction for almost as long as it has been in use; a language that has been slashed and hacked away at, yet continues to grow. That sort of dogged determination demands admiration.

And so, I record this unpredictable and glorious language as it is used — as it changes, as it evolves, as it adopts “BYOB” and “OMG.” Sometimes people hear what I do for work, and they raise an eyebrow and sneer, “Hasn’t the dictionary already been written?” I just smile. English is exuberant. It squirms in its seat as the teacher shushes it, eager to get outside, to yell, to play, to get messy. And I stand sentry in the hall, waiting for the bell to ring so I can head out to the playground and watch it grow.

The executive director of the Dictionary Society of North America, Kory Stamper is the author of Word by Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries.

• This story originally appeared in the September 2019 issue of The Rotarian magazine.

Book returns

Rereading an old favorite at different stages in life is a chance to discover new things in the text and in ourselves

Story by Steve Almond
Illustrations by Joey Guidone

Text Messages

Three writers, each a lover of language, explore expedient strategies for reading, the labyrinths of lexicography, and the subtle pleasures of rereading — and re-rereading — a favorite book.

Book smarts

If you want to get serious about reading, time is not your friend. Here are some suggestions for making each book count.

High definition

A longtime lexicographer reveals the rebarbative precision by which dictionaries are made and celebrates the unruly evolution of the English language.

Book returns

Rereading an old favorite at different stages in life is a chance to discover new things in the text and in ourselves.

I have a confession to make: I am an inveterate rereader. I’ve read Pride and Prejudice half a dozen times. The same can be said of Slaughterhouse-Five, The Catcher in the Rye, and the Lorrie Moore short story collection Birds of America. If I conducted a ruthless accounting of my reading habits, I would estimate that I spend half my time immersed in a book I already know.

This feels almost illicit. After all, I’m an author myself. I should be reading new work, all those worthy novels featured in the New York Times Book Review — many of them written by friends and colleagues. But a few months ago, I took a break from berating myself and decided, instead, to examine why I keep reading old favorites. I chose to focus on the book I’ve returned to more than any other: Stoner by John Williams. I own three copies of this quietly devastating novel, which I’ve stashed around my home, just to make sure it’s always close at hand.

What I came to realize, rather quickly, was that rereading represents two distinct pleasures. The first is the chance to retreat from the exhausting unknowns of my own life into an imaginary world that I already know by heart. When I read Stoner, I find myself transported from the chaos of my home outside Boston — with its many loud and cantankerous children — into the much quieter world of William Stoner, a dedicated scholar who spends most of his hours in his office, poring over medieval texts or student essays.

I know exactly what’s going to happen to Stoner: that he’s going to fall in love with a beautiful but damaged woman, that his marriage will implode, that he will be dragged into a bitter and senseless feud at work, that he will find refuge in his teaching, and that he will be rescued by a passionate love affair. I know his life is going to be a roller coaster. And I know the exact shape of that roller coaster, where every twist and turn is going to be, every high and low, every moment of joy and despair.

In a sense, when I read Stoner, I return to the same elemental state of being as my own five-year-old, who is thrilled to read the same storybook over and over, to savor the delicious dread and hope that come from knowing what happens next. The feeling is one of mastery. Our fairy tales may grow more complex and nuanced, but we never outgrow the thrill of them.

So there’s no question that I reread Stoner to indulge in a kind of private escapism. But when I thought more deeply about the experience of rereading the novel, what struck me was this: While the events of the book were predictable, my reaction to these events was not. Indeed, it’s fair to say that I’m reading a different novel each time.

When I discovered Stoner as a 28-year-old returning to graduate school to study writing, the novel was a parable about the redemptive power of literature. I identified with William Stoner because I, too, had discovered in books “the mystery of the mind and heart showing themselves in the minute, strange, and unexpected combinations of letters and words.” Like me, Stoner toiled to transmit his love of language to uninspired students. As an adjunct professor, I would return from a day of teaching three classes of freshman composition, at three universities, and reach for Stoner, simply to remind myself that I wasn’t the only pedagogue who felt inept and overmatched.

A few years later, my focus shifted again. I was, by then, embroiled in a number of bitter academic rows. And so Stoner became a book about conflict, and the struggle to defend ourselves without engineering, or escalating, feuds. During the early years of my marriage, I read Stoner to understand the ways in which marriage inevitably lays bare each partner, exposing the wounds of our past, in the struggle for trust and intimacy. As a new father, I focused on the wrenching account of Stoner as a parent, one who is loving and attentive, but ultimately negligent.

More recently, I’ve obsessed over the closing pages of the novel, which track William Stoner all the way through a terminal illness and to the moment of his dying. My attention has shifted in this bleak direction, no doubt, because I’ve spent the past five years coping with the death of my mother. Stoner, in other words, has become a kind of manual for living, one that has helped me understand the shifting course of my own life, even as it offers a fictional refuge from that life.

When I thought more deeply about the experience of rereading the novel, what struck me was this: While the events of the book were predictable, my reaction to these events was not.

I see the same pattern play out among the other readers in my family. The long and complex relationship my wife, Erin, has with Little Women began when she was 10 years old. It was the novel she read every year at Christmastime. As the only daughter growing up in a family dominated by aggressive male energy, she loved immersing herself in the world of the March family, with its many loyal sisters and its wise and loving mother. But reading the book today, what she finds most compelling are the subversive feminist aspects, like the way Jo March struggles to define herself as a working artist in a patriarchal society.

My older daughter, Josie, used to read the Harry Potter books because she wanted to believe in a world of magic and unseen possibility. She loved rooting for Harry Potter, because he was (like her) a kid with a strong moral core who sometimes felt out of place. She still enjoys that aspect of the series. But more recently, she has tuned in to the books as cautionary tales about the shifting loyalties, and roiling hormones, of adolescence.

Rereading novels differs from other forms of what I think of as nostalgia consumption. When I listen to “Stairway to Heaven” or some other classic rock song, for instance, I do so expressly because it remits me to the province of some distant era, where I can slow dance, or indulge in air guitar, with long-lost friends. The same is true, to a lesser extent, when I watch old movies or TV shows.

What happens with books is more like a collaboration. The reader has to use his or her imagination to construct an entire world; we become deeply identified with the characters.

The books we cherish most are those that activate the deepest parts of us — the parts that yearn for love, or fear loss, or struggle to escape the sorrows of our childhood. Rereading them helps us come to grips with the shifting contours of our inner life.

But what I’ve noticed, especially lately, is that I use books to help me understand the world around me, as well. Like many people who grew up in a world where personal computers or smartphones didn’t yet exist, I have been unsettled by the proliferation of devices in our lives. It was only in rereading Ray Bradbury’s dystopian novel Fahrenheit 451 that I realized why: because I fear we are becoming hypnotized by our screens, surrendering our capacity to slow down and engage in serious discourse.

I recently revisited William Golding’s novel Lord of the Flies. Actually, full disclosure: I read the book to my son, Jude, who loves psychological horror. I figured it would offer him a more literary version of the chills he seeks out in writers such as Stephen King. What I found was something more haunting: a dark fable that spoke directly to the volatile rage that prevails in the America of 2019. The British boys trapped on their lush island were, it turned out, engaged in the same battle we face as a nation: whether we can find a civilized way to cooperate and rescue our fate, or whether we’ll descend further into savagery.

This need to make sense of the world helps explain why I continually circle back to Kurt Vonnegut, an author many readers leave behind in high school. I reread his novels because they explicitly address the aspects of public morality I find most upsetting: economic inequality, the proliferation of war, the hazards of technology, and environmental degradation. It’s not that I expect Vonnegut’s books to solve these problems; it’s that reading them helps me cope with my own frustrations. I become less angry, more forgiving, better able to accept the consequences of human folly.

In saying all this, I don’t mean to play down the pleasures, or merits, of seeking out fresh literature. There is a unique and unparalleled joy in reading a new book, or a book that is new to you. But in our quest for novelty, too often we dismiss the wisdom of our instincts.

In the end, I look at it like this: Rotarians use The Four-Way Test to construct a moral code for business and personal relationships. I return to my literary touchstones for the same reason. I want to lead a meaningful life, a life of fairness and service. Yet I know that can happen only if I rid myself of my delusions.

That’s why I keep returning to the books I love most. Those books still have lessons to impart; they’re still helping me understand the story of my own life.

Steve Almond’s new book, William Stoner and the Battle for the Inner Life, was published in June.

• This story originally appeared in the September 2019 issue of The Rotarian magazine.

6 humanitarians honored for their work with refugees

Ilge Karancak-Splane

Club: Rotary Club of Monterey Cannery Row, California, USA

Project: Education and integration project in Turkey for Syrian refugee children

Description: After visiting several refugee tent camps in Turkey in 2017, Karancak-Splane organized Rotary clubs to provide medicine, hygiene products, blankets, shoes, and socks for families in the camps. Many of the children lacked access to education. Karancak-Splane and her Rotary club launched a global grant project to help educate children from the camps who were being transported to schools in the city. The project improves their education by providing equipment for a computer lab; workshops in art, music, and film; sports activities; and teacher training.

The plus in PolioPlus

We’re doing so much more than eradicating polio

By Vanessa Glavinskas
Photography by Andrew Esiebo

Musa Muhammed Ali, a farmer in Borno state, Nigeria, has had to deal with the many ways polio has affected his life. For instance, he used to have to pay for transportation when he needed to buy feed for his animals. But after receiving a hand-operated tricycle funded through Rotary’s PolioPlus grants, Ali (pictured above) can now spend that money on other necessities. His life was changed by the “plus” in PolioPlus.

When we talk about PolioPlus, we know we are eradicating polio, but do we realize how many added benefits the program brings? The “plus” is something else that is provided as a part of the polio eradication campaign. It might be a hand-operated tricycle or access to water. It might be additional medical treatment, bed nets, or soap. A 2010 study estimates that vitamin A drops given to children at the same time as the polio vaccine have prevented 1.25 million deaths by decreasing susceptibility to infectious diseases.

In these pages, we take you to Nigeria, which could soon be declared free of wild poliovirus, to show you some of the many ways the polio eradication campaign is improving lives.

Preventing disease

Polio vaccination campaigns are difficult to carry out in northern Nigeria, where the Boko Haram insurgency has displaced millions of people, leading to malnutrition and spikes in disease. When security allows, health workers diligently work to bring the polio vaccine and other health services to every child, including going tent to tent in camps for displaced people. The health workers pictured here are in Maiduguri, the capital of Borno, where the insurgency began 10 years ago.

The Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI), of which Rotary is a spearheading partner, funds 91 percent of all immunization staff in the World Health Organization’s Africa region. These staff members are key figures in the fight against polio — and other diseases: 85 percent give half their time to immunization, surveillance, and outbreak response for other initiatives. For example, health workers in Borno use the polio surveillance system, which detects new cases of polio and determines where and how they originated, to find people with symptoms of yellow fever. During a 2018 yellow fever outbreak, this was one of many strategies that resulted in the vaccination of 8 million people. And during an outbreak of Ebola in Nigeria in 2014, health workers prevented that disease from spreading beyond 19 reported cases by using methods developed for the polio eradication campaign to find anyone who might have come in contact with an infected person.

Children protected from polio still face other illnesses, and in Borno, malaria kills more people than all other diseases combined. Worldwide, a child dies of malaria every two minutes. To prevent its spread, insecticide-treated bed nets — such as the one Hurera Idris is pictured installing in her home — are often distributed for free during polio immunization events. In 2017, the World Health Organization, one of Rotary’s partners in the GPEI, organized a campaign to deliver antimalarial medicines to children in Borno using polio eradication staff and infrastructure. It was the first time that antimalarial medicines were delivered on a large scale alongside the polio vaccine, and the effort reached 1.2 million children.

Rotary and its partners also distribute soap and organize health camps to treat other conditions. “The pluses vary from one area to another. Depending on the environment and what is seen as a need, we try to bridge the gap,” says Tunji Funsho, chair of Rotary’s Nigeria PolioPlus Committee. “Part of the reason you get rejections when you immunize children is that we’ve been doing this for so long. In our part of the world, people look at things that are free and persistent with suspicion. When they know something else is coming, reluctant families will bring their children out to have them immunized.”

Rotarians’ contributions to PolioPlus help fund planning by technical experts, large-scale communication efforts to make people aware of the benefits of vaccinations, and support for volunteers who go door to door.

Volunteer community mobilizers are a critical part of vaccination campaigns in Nigeria’s hardest-to-reach communities. The volunteers are selected and trained by UNICEF, one of Rotary’s partners in the GPEI, and then deployed in the community or displaced persons camp where they live. They take advantage of the time they spend connecting with community members about polio to talk about other strategies to improve their families’ health. Fatima Umar, the volunteer pictured here, is educating Hadiza Zanna about health topics such as hygiene and maternal health, in addition to why polio vaccination is so important.

Nigerian Rotarians have been at the forefront of raising support for Rotary’s polio efforts. For example, Sir Emeka Offor, a member of the Rotary Club of Abuja Ministers Hill, and his foundation collaborated with Rotary and UNICEF to produce an audiobook called Yes to Health, No to Polio that health workers use.

Providing clean water

Addressing a critical long-term need such as access to clean water helps build relationships and trust with community members. Within camps for displaced people, vaccinators are sometimes met with frustration. “People say, ‘We don’t have water, and you’re giving us polio drops,’” Tunji Funsho explains. Rotary and its partners responded by funding 31 solar-powered boreholes to provide clean water in northern Nigeria, and the effort is ongoing. At left, women and children collect water from a borehole in the Madinatu settlement, where about 5,000 displaced people live.

Supplying clean water to vulnerable communities is a priority of the PolioPlus program not only in Nigeria, but also in Afghanistan and Pakistan — the only other remaining polio-endemic nations, or countries where transmission of the virus has never been interrupted. “Giving water is noble work also,” says Aziz Memon, chair of Rotary’s Pakistan PolioPlus Committee.

Access to safe drinking water is also an important aspect of the GPEI’s endgame strategy, which encourages efforts that “ensure populations reached for polio campaigns are also able to access much-needed basic services, such as clean water, sanitation, and nutrition.” The poliovirus spreads through human waste, so making sure people aren’t drinking or bathing in contaminated water is critical to eradicating the disease. Bunmi Lagunju, the PolioPlus project coordinator in Nigeria, says that installing the boreholes has also helped prevent the spread of cholera and other diseases in the displaced persons camps.

Communities with a reliable source of clean water enjoy a reduced rate of disease and a better quality of life. “When we came [to the camp], there was no borehole. We had to go to the nearby block factory to get water, and this was difficult because the factory only gave us limited amounts of water,” says Jumai Alhassan (pictured at bottom left bathing her baby). “We are thankful for people who provided us with the water.”

Creating jobs

Polio left Isiaku Musa Maaji disabled, with few ways to make a living. At age 24, he learned to build hand-operated tricycles designed to provide mobility for disabled adults and children, and later started his own business assembling them. His first break came, he says, when a local government placed a trial order. It was impressed with his product, and the orders continued. Rotary’s Nigeria PolioPlus Committee recently ordered 150 tricycles from Maaji to distribute to polio survivors and others with mobility problems. The relationship he has built with local Rotarians has motivated him to take part in door-to-door polio vaccination campaigns.

“It is not easy to be physically challenged,” he says. “I go out to educate other people on the importance of polio vaccine because I don’t want any other person to fall victim to polio.”

Aliyu Issah feels lucky; he’s able to support himself running a small convenience store. He knows other polio survivors who have attended skills training programs but lack the money to start a business and are forced to beg on the street. However, the GPEI provides a job that’s uniquely suited to polio survivors: educating others about the effects of the disease.

“Some of my friends who used to be street beggars now run their own small business with money they earn from working on the door-to-door immunization campaign,” Issah says.

Improving health care

In Maiduguri, Falmata Mustapha rides a hand-operated tricycle donated to her by Rotary’s Nigeria PolioPlus Committee. She is joined by several health workers for a door-to-door immunization campaign, bringing polio drops to areas without basic health care. UNICEF data show that polio survivors like Mustapha have a remarkable success rate persuading reluctant parents to vaccinate their children — on average, survivors convince seven of every 10 parents they talk to. In places where misinformation and rumors have left people hesitant to vaccinate, the survivors’ role in the final phase of the eradication effort is critical.

“Since working with the team, I have seen an increase in immunization compliance in the community,” Mustapha says. “I am well-regarded in the community because of my work, and I am happy about this.”

Eighteen million people around the world who would have died or been paralyzed are alive and walking because of the polio eradication campaign. Health workers and volunteers supported by PolioPlus grants have built an infrastructure for delivering health care and collecting data that, in many parts of the world, didn’t exist before. It’s already being used to improve overall health care and to fight other diseases, proving that the legacy of PolioPlus is more than eradicating a deadly disease from the planet — it’s also building a stronger health system that provides better access to lifesaving interventions for the world’s most vulnerable children.

• This story originally appeared in the October 2019 issue of The Rotarian magazine.

The polio eradication campaign needs your help to reach every child. Thanks to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, your contribution will be tripled.

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