At Rotary Ireland’s January District Council in Dublin, members of Polio Survivors Ireland were invited to share their stories as Rotary campaigns for One Last Push to try to eradicate polio worldwide.
This centrepiece of their council meeting event was a moving reminder of the polio outbreaks of 1956/1957, the last major outbreaks in Ireland, when thousands of young children were affected, mainly in the cities of Belfast, Dublin and Cork.
In a partial reprise of an event held in December 2017 to commemorate the Belfast outbreak, television presenter Pamela Ballantine spoke with six survivors, including three of our own members, bringing their harrowing but also inspirational stories to life.
Like many of our members, they were infected by the polio virus as infants, typically between 8 and 18 months old. They each spent long periods in hospital, often in isolation units and often having little or no contact with their families. The survivors spoke of weekly visits from strangers waving through panes of glass who were, in fact, their parents and siblings.
Rotary reports, ‘These polio survivors did not bemoan their misfortune, or complain about their long and difficult period of treatment and rehabilitation. They spoke instead of the lifelong friendships they had built along the way, of their refusal to allow polio and disability to define them, and of their journey towards full and happy lives. Their stories were truly inspirational, and a timely reminder of why Rotary’s efforts to eliminate the scourge of polio are so worthwhile.’
Donations by attendees raised €1,000 for End Polio Now, which will be matched two for one by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, meeting the cost of 6,000 immunisations – another small step towards achieving the goal of a polio free world for the children of the world.
Polio Survivors Ireland salutes this objective and is delighted to have been invited to highlight the difficulties faced by polio survivors to Rotarians.
Our thanks to Maureen McGovern, Johnny O’Sullivan and Bridget Quigley O’Brien who spoke of their experiences to Pamela Valentine, along with colleagues from the Northern Ireland Polio Fellowship.
Many thanks to Garth Arnold, District Governor, for his kind invitation to be part of this event and to Rotary Ireland’s Dave Murray, Collette O’Neill and Phillip Beggs.