By Kirk Starratt
Beaming a toothless grin, a six-year-old boy proudly displays his purple pinkie finger and says, “I saved my first life today.”
This was a defining moment of last year’s Purple Pinkie campaign for committee chairwoman Nicole Robinson. This is the second year for the New Minas Sunrise Rotary Club initiative to help eradicate polio, with the campaign running until Nov. 30.
Robinson said they’re receiving great support from several New Minas businesses with cryptic messages on roadside signs referring to the Purple Pinkie campaign. With one of the key elements of the fundraiser being a focus on education and raising awareness, this helps spawn curiosity.
“I think it is one of the best campaigns for us to educate people about what Rotary does,” she said.
Robinson has enlisted the help of her Tourism Management students at the Nova Scotia Community College campus in Kentville. As part of their curriculum, they’re learning all about planning and organizing a fundraiser and the challenges involved. Haley Purcell from Bridgewater has found the experience to be a real eye-opener.
“To me, it’s so senseless people aren’t doing more when $1 is enough to save someone,” she said.
With each dose of vaccine costing approximately $1, every dollar donated could save a life. When Rotary began its eradication work, polio infected more than 350,000 children annually. In 2009, fewer than 1,700 cases were reported worldwide.
However, polio cases represented by this final one per cent are the most difficult and expensive to prevent. Challenges include geographic isolation, worker fatigue, armed conflict and cultural barriers.
Student Laura Kennie of New Minas said when you think of how easy it is to prevent polio you realize anyone can do it, even a Primary student. Jake Williams of Falmouth said lots of young people have never heard of polio and learning about it gives you a greater appreciation for your health.
The polio vaccine has been available for less than 60 years and there are still members of our community alive today who were afflicted as children. Many had to live in machines known as iron lungs to keep them breathing.
Robinson said kids in North America don’t understand polio, but they can relate to the Purple Pinkie campaign. They enjoy getting their fingers dyed and parents tell her it’s fun to take part in a fundraiser that doesn’t involve selling tickets. Revenue from the Pumpkin Mile race will once again be donated to the cause as well.
The dye is non-toxic and washes off after a day or two. If you prefer, you can get a fingernail dyed instead. When Rotary members are overseas immunizing against polio, they dye the pinkie finger of the recipient purple so volunteers know the individual has received the first dose and its time for the second.
The Tourism Management students were busy preparing Purple Pinkie packages for local schools in the Valley and South Shore Oct. 31.
Robinson has been awarded the Paul Harris Fellowship from Rotary International for supporting Rotary’s humanitarian efforts through the Purple Pinkie campaign.
By the numbers…
- Rotary International and its partners in the Global Polio Eradication Initiative have worked since 1988 to wipe polio from the face of the earth. A volunteer service organization of 1.2 million men and women, Rotary began immunizing children against polio in 1985 and became a spearheading partner in the global eradication initiative three years later.
- Rotary club members have volunteered their time and personal resources to reach more than two billion children in 122 countries with the oral polio vaccine. Cases have plummeted by more than 99 percent, as five million instances of child paralysis and 250,000 deaths have been prevented.
- Rotary International wants to raise $200 million to match a contribution of $355 million in challenge grants from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The resulting $555 million will be used to eradicate polio for good.