I had the opportunity to travel to the country of Pakistan in October. My Rotary District had set up a trip for us to go on to help immunize children for polio in this country. In 1985, Rotary International made the commitment to eradicate polio worldwide by immunizing every child in the world against this disease. At that time, more than 375,000 children a year were becoming more paralyzed by the disease every year. Since 1985, rotarians have traveled the world and now only two countries in the world still present with new cases of polio: Pakistan and Afghanistan.
We left from San Francisco and arrived in Lahore, Pakistan 25 hours later at 3:00 am. We were greeted by two dozen Rotarians from Pakistan who took us to their homes for the next 9 days.
During our time there, our district members worked with the local Pakistan Rotarians to vaccinate hundreds of children against this horrible disease. I will never forget the moment a young Pakistan child walked up to me, tilted her head back as she opened her mouth, and allowed me to instill just two drops of the vaccine on her tongue. In that moment, I felt the actions of thousands of past Rotarians over millions of miles since 1985 that had come before me. I was humbled to be a part of these efforts to help change the world just two drops at a time.
In between our vaccination stops, we met with the Governor of the Punjab Provence, met with hospital directors fighting the scourge of thalassemia, with Rotarians working on women’s rights, and more. We saw extreme poverty where kids were living next to open sewer lines and kids were living in the lap of luxury. The main thing we saw were the myriad of people trying to make a difference for the people in their country.
Prior to leaving on this trip, I had many people say I was crazy to travel to Pakistan. Many people were worried about my safety. I too had mild concerns but knew this was something I had to do. All we hear in the US is about terrorism emanating out of the Middle East and Pakistan particularly. What I discovered is that the normative Pakistani is no different than you or I. They love their children, want peace in the world, accept you for who you are, and have no desire to harm anyone. The few that agree with violence are hated by the normative Pakistani just as we hate those few in our country who use violence against our own people.
My preconceptions of this land were challenged and changed. I saw these people with opened eyes and am proud to have helped even some of their children be safe to enjoy a normal life free from polio. My trip had nothing to do with my profession but it had a lot to do with changing my heart for the better. I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.