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Posted: January 19, 2019

Life-changing experience ahead for Cranbrook Rotarians

By Gerry Warner

Cranbrook Sunrise Rotary

Near the end of January, Cranbrook Noon Club Rotarian Heidi Romich will realize a lifelong dream flying to India to attend National Immunization Day (NID) activities for the eradication of polio and other diseases.

The former chair of the Cranbrook Noon Rotary Club’s PolioPlus Committee, Romich says she’s dreamt about such a trip for 19 years.

Heidi Romich

“This will absolutely be a life changing experience for me. I have had the great fortune to have traveled to many developing countries but to participate in a NID in India is beyond my wildest dreams,” she says.

Also going on the 11-day trip is Kambi Heywood, Community Service Director for the Cranbrook Sunrise Rotary Club and her mother Marlene Hubbard. Heywood is equally excited about going to India. “I’m just excited to be a part of the process. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for many years.”

Romich, says she hopes to see people in India dealing with the scourge of polio first hand. “By being there, I’ll let them know there are people all over the world that care about their health. Also, I look forward to bringing back stories and pictures of my experience to share with my club.”

At a Presidents’ Elect Training Seminar (PETS) meeting several years ago, Romich met an Indian man who contracted polio and told her many Indian parents were too scared of the disease to vaccinate their children until he spoke to them personally about polio’s horrific effects.

Kambi Heywood

At another PETS meeting, Romich saw pictures of children living in iron lungs and having no contact with their families. “Even sometimes when we are able to get into the villages, the villagers are so distrustful that it makes it difficult to immunize all the children. But I am an optimist and I know Rotary, the international community and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will not quit!”

Romich says she also looks forward to visiting a limb factory in Jaipur, which is a well-known Rotary project. She will also attend some local Rotary Club meetings and take a little time to be a tourist.

“We will explore Old Delhi, including the Red Fort and Jama Masjid. We will then go to Agra to see the Taj Mahal and en route we’ll see Sikandra, the tomb of Akbar the Great and the Gandhi Museum. “In all, it will be quite a cultural experience,” she said.

Heywood says polio has been eradicated in most of the world thanks to the efforts of Rotarians worldwide and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which together have poured millions into fighting the virus. But it’s important to remember that some pockets of the dread disease still remain. “In our culture we’re not exposed to the disease anymore but we shouldn’t forget other countries still struggling with the disease.”

Marlene Hubbard

The life-changing trip will affect her in many ways, says Romich. “I know being close with the families in the slums of Delhi, meeting the recipients of the limbs from the factory and meeting the micro finance members will forever change my life. When I returned from living in Borneo for the year, I had a very difficult time with our commercialism and consumerism in the west and I believe this trip will be on another level both emotionally, spiritually and physically.”

Heywood also has high hopes for the trip. “I’m especially excited to be going along with my mother. This is not our first international travel experience together. As a teenager I lived in Haiti with my family for 3.5 years, doing development work, which forever instilled in me a desire to do what I can internationally, and gain more insight about the world.  That was the reason why I joined Rotary in my early 20s.”

Lead image: A map from the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention showing the elimination of polio around the world from 1988 to 2014.

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