Halfway across the planet, 18 people strove to change the world one vaccine at a time.
Tom Veevers — the National Immunization Days team organizer for his Rotary district — and 17 others, including many Haddonfield residents, embarked on a journey to India to administer polio vaccines, while meeting some unexpected and notable figures along the way. This trip was Veevers’ sixth trip overall, primarily visiting parts of India and Nigeria.
Children lined up to have two drops of potentially life-saving serum placed in their mouth. For several days, the group administered oral vaccines to thousands. The group also performed door-to-door operations, where the teams would locate children who may not have been vaccinated. The vaccinated children are then identified with a mark on their finger, to indicate to health-care workers the child has been immunized.
Only three countries have not eradicated the disease — Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan. Rotary clubs around the world have been heavily involved in eradicating viruses.
Group member and Haddonfield resident Kathy Tassini thought that of every part of her trip, being able to administer vaccines was the most fulfilling. She recalled the heartbreak of watching a 30-year-old man with leg deformities caused by polio.
“To some extent I felt lucky … but I was in awe with the commitment of the parents, families and Rotarian workers had to protect the health of their children,” Tassini said. “It’s still a very visible problem over there.”
In addition to administering vaccines, the group also met some familiar faces. After traveling to Dharamshala, the site of the private residence of the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of the Tibetan people, the group was able to hear him talk about the need to teach compassion.
“Someone asked him once we eradicate polio around the world, what should Rotary’s next step be,” Veevers said. After pondering the question, the Dalai Lama replied he believes the world should focus on teaching compassion in schools from a young age and learning core values as these would make the world a better place.
Overall, group members walked away feeling humbled and thankful to have gotten the opportunity to make a difference and meet incredible people along the way. “What we really learned is how fortunate we are to live in the U.S.,” Haddonfield resident and group member Jim Tassini said. “We can turn on our tap water and have drinkable water, have streets that are in repair, and our standard of living.’’
“I always contributed money towards eradicating polio, and I said before I retire, I would really like to go administer the vaccine to the children myself,” Veevers said. “It is a great experience.”
To learn more about Rotary District 7640, visit their web site. For additional information, contact Tom Veevers at (856) 625–7639.