To Africa: Terrace’s Art Erasmus talks about his recent trip to Ethiopia (with photos)

Terrace and area Rotarians travel to Ethiopia to immunize children against polio, build schools, and provide clean water

  • Dec. 20, 2012 7:00 a.m.

By Art Erasmus

In October 2012 my wife, Lesley, and I made our fourth trip to Ethiopia, Africa as Terrace Rotarians. Ethiopia is a landlocked country in east Africa with a population of 77 million people on a landmass the size of Ontario. This time we were accompanied by Rotarian Jo Ann Hildebrandt from Kitimat. Other Rotarians from the Lower Mainland and Washington State made a total group of about 40 travellers.

One purpose of the trip was to immunize children against polio, a crippling disease eliminated from the Americas about 50 years ago but is still endemic in three countries – Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria. In other developing countries, including Ethiopia and India, children are still immunized to ensure that this crippling disease does not reappear.

Polio is an old disease. However, by 1910, much of the world experienced a dramatic increase in polio cases. Epidemics became regular events, primarily in cities during the summer months. These epidemics – which left thousands of children and adults paralyzed – provided the impetus for a “Great Race” towards the development of a vaccine, which was developed in the 1950s.

These vaccines have reduced the global number of polio cases per year from over 350,000 in 1985 to fewer than 300 today. And since 1985, the coordinated vaccination efforts led by Rotary International, the World Health Organization, UNICEF and the US Centers for Disease Control should result in global eradication of the disease.

Typically National Immunization Days (NID’S) are organized by national health organizations with the help of volunteer organizations like Rotary and quality control is supervised by the World Health Organization (WHO). Each vaccination doesn’t take long or cost much, as one dose of vaccine consists of two drops and costs approximately 60 cents. Immunization is done mostly by volunteers, either by going house to house – especially in rural areas – or in clinics.  Up to 2,000,000 children have been immunized on a single NID.

We’ve also been working with Ethiopian Rotarians to provide education opportunities and clean water and sanitation to communities in need. On our first trip in 2003, we met elders of the village of Lege Tafo. There was a four room school with an enrolment of 320 students. There were another 300 students in the village who could not attend school as the school was too small. The school had no clean water and no toilets. Water was carried to the school and the homes in the village from a contaminated spring, which was also the water source for the livestock.

Through funds raised through a number of Rotary clubs in British Columbia plus a grant from the Rotary Foundation, we were able to build four additional classrooms and activate a well to provide clean water to the school and toilets for the students.

By 2012, Rotary funds were further leveraged with regional government efforts in Ethiopia to a point where there is a 20-room school adjacent to the original four-room school with an enrolment of close to 1,500 students. There is clean water on the school site, and there is a library and meeting hall for the community.

While the facilities for the community and the students as shown in the photos are primitive by Canadian standards, village leaders in Lege Tafo are grateful for the life opportunities their children will have as a result of being able to go to school.

One child told us: “If I owned a pen, I would be able to go to school.” Another one about eight-years-old said: “If I work hard at school and get an education, I will not be poor like my family is.”

Art Erasmus is board chair of Coast Mountains School District 82 and a proud Rotarian since 1984. He lives in Terrace with his wife, Lesley, who has been a Rotarian since 2000.