Rotarians from District 5370 experience the battle to eradicate polio first-hand during national immunization days

Screen Shot 2019-12-20 at 8.35.34 AMWhen assistant governor Sally Schilds (RC of Dawson Creek Sunrise) encountered young men begging in the market near where she and other volunteers had spent a day administering polio vaccine, two drops at a time, into the mouths of children, it brought home the importance of what she was doing.

Sally, her husband, 2015-16 PDG Tim (RC of Dawson Creek), their daughter, Brenna, and a friend of their daughter were part of a national immunization day in an Indian village near Agra, the site of the Taj Mahal, in January 2018.

“We were going through the market, and as we were going to our bus, we saw all of these young men lined up, sitting by the bus,” Sally says. 

“My [daughter’s] friend turned to me and said, ‘I don’t understand why they are always sitting on the ground.’ I said, ‘It’s because they had polio. They are victims of polio. That’s why we were giving those drops to those babies and those children, so they don’t end up like this.’

“She was absolutely shocked and teary-eyed because she hadn’t made that connection,” Sally says. “For her to see why we are doing it also hit me like a ton of bricks. I said, ‘That’s why we are here, to help these children not have to worry about it.’

“’I had seen the pictures and I know the facts, but to actually see it, and live through that realization by this young woman was very touching for both of us.”

National immunization days (NIDs) are supported by Rotary International, through tax deductible donations by Rotarians to the Polio Eradication campaign, and by its partners in the campaign to eradicate polio, such as the World Health Organization and UNICEF.

Rotary volunteers are responsible for their own travel and accommodation while participating in NIDs. 

Like many Rotarians who have been involved in Polio Plus, it was always the (goa)l to go and do a national immunization day,” Sally says.

The idea become a possibility when they received a letter from friends in India. “The reason we have friends in India, why we’ve met these people from India, is through youth exchange. Our very first youth exchange ‘daughter’ is living in Delhi,” Sally says.

Initially, only Sally and Tim were planning to volunteer, but then she asked her daughter if she would be interested in making India the destination of the graduation trip her parents had promised her after she completed university.

“ ‘That’s exactly what I want to do,’ she responded,” Sally says. It would be an opportunity for a family reunion with Brenna’s “big sister.

Screen Shot 2019-12-20 at 8.34.57 AMFor another assistant governor, Marilyn Mucha (RC of Edmonton Whyte Avenue), participation began in 2011 with a telephone call from a Rotarian from Drayton Valley.

“I got a call from Mary Drader saying, ‘[2019-10 PDG] Terry doesn’t want to go, but I would like to go. Can we go together?’ I said absolutely. We did the research and went on a pre-arranged trip that was organized by a past district governor from California, who is a travel agent,” Marylin says.

For Marilyn, it was an opportunity to experience first-hand how Rotary serves people in another part of the world. “We’re separated from the work that we do internationally. Rotarians don’t get to feel the impact of what we do and see how we’ve touched the lives of people when we’re donating money,” Marilyn says.

“This provided me an opportunity to be on the ground, to be connected with children and the people of a country that needed so desperately to get this vaccine, and of course, to work towards our overall goal of eradicating polio.”

The same travel agency that arranged Marilyn and Mary’s visit is organizing another polio eradication trip, which will begin with participants arriving in Delhi on January 11. Like the one in which Marilyn and Mary participated, this trip will visit tourist sites for a few days, before participation in immunization activities near Delhi. 

“The travel arrangements were already taken care of for you. You’re also going to be connected with local Rotarians. The Rotarians there embraced us and had receptions for us,” Marilyn says.

“Of course, they wanted to show us their projects, some of which were tied to the polio, such as providing braces and corrective surgeries for polio victims.”

Click here for additional information about this trip.

While in India the polio vaccine has in the past been administered with two drops into the mouths of children, the nation is switching to injectables in its effort to ensure the country remains polio-free. This means that 2020 may the last time to be involved as these Rotarians from District 5370 were.

“The typical national immunization day protocol [begins with] a briefing with the World Health Organization and the Rotary co-ordinators,” Marilyn says.

Screen Shot 2019-12-20 at 8.34.36 AMThe first day for both hers and Sally’s immunization campaign was devoted to informing the local residents about what would be happening. 

“We discovered we were going to be used mainly to spread the important message of polio immunizations,” Sally says. “One day, we took to the streets in a great big parade and walked through this poor village area. There were whistles and bells and music.”

Marilyn says, “because so many people in the area are illiterate, you have to demonstrate what it is that you’re going to be doing, with something really loud and colourful. We participated in that parade. It was huge. We all had our [Polio Plus] shirts on. There was a marching band and a banner that showed a child getting two drops.”

Click here to view a slide show of a parade in Ghaziabad, a city near New Delhi.

“The next day, we participated in what we called ‘booth duty.’ There were multiple booths set up in neighbourhoods and cities around the country,” Marilyn says. “We were participating in actual immunization, which was doing one of two things: we were either administering the drops or marking the left pinky with indelible purple ink [to show that children had been immunized].”

Parents brought their children to the immunization booth using every mode of transportation imaginable. “They came by foot, on bikes, on scooters, in cars—it was almost like a drive-through,” Marilyn says. 

“They came by the booth and we would immunize them and away they went. It was very fast, very efficient.”

Personnel from the World Health Organization were present at each location. “They were the ones in change of the vaccine and they were tracking how many people were immunized,” Marilyn says.

That day, the immunization activity was interrupted by an unexpected visitor.

Screen Shot 2019-12-20 at 8.35.12 AM“In India, cows are sacred. You can’t disturb them. So if they sit in the middle of the road, you drive around it,” Marilyn says. “A bull decided he was going to go through our tent, which was very dramatic to say the least. We all cleared away and let him pass through. Then we continued with what we were doing.”

Tim and Sally were paired with two Dutch women on the day they were to immunize children. “We met very, very early in the morning and we were all given our gear—the hats, the vests, the toys,” Sally says. “Then we were all put in the little tuk-tuks with our interpreter and taken away to a small, little brick schoolhouse. 

“I would like to say it was an abandoned schoolhouse, but unfortunately it was not. All around us was extreme poverty, absolutely extreme poverty,” she says.

They were joined at the school by a nurse practitioner. “She did a baby clinic and gave the polio vaccine by needle to the babies and the rest of us were there with our interpreter to do the drops.”

Some children were familiar with the process, having received the drop several times before. “In India, in some vaccination areas, they have to have the drops about 12 times for it to be strong enough,” Sally says. “Some of the little kids who came stood there like birds and opened their mouths and we gave them the drops and then we gave them a little toy—a ball or whistle.”


The rear window of DG Tracey Vavrek’s Toyota Highlander, which is nicknamed Amelia Kind Heart, features a photo of Sally Schilds administering polio vaccine drops during a national immunization day in India

For other children, the experience wasn’t like what’s illustrated on the posters promoting polio eradication—all those little babies, with their mouths open wide, looking up adoringly at the volunteers.

“As you can imagine, lot of children were really afraid of us,” says Sally. “The Dutch women were these tall, blonde women. Then you’ve got Tim with his burly moustache and you’ve got me with my white hair and glasses. They were excited to see us, but also terrified. I would say it was half and half—children looking up at us adorably and being very proud to get their drops, and others who were absolutely terrified to get their drops.”

After that day at the school, Sally and Tim’s polio immunization experience was over, but for Marilyn, there was one more day. “This day was for me the most impactful because this is when we went out to the slums. These were people who did not come to the booth for whatever reason.”

The people living in this area tended to be transient and living in what Marilyn describes as filthy conditions. Nevertheless, “the children seemed happy, but they were playing in the mud, with snakes and everything else roaming around.”

She was impressed by the local organization, which worked with the World Health Organization. “They had schematics of the settlement and were able to tell who lived in which tent and if they had been immunized. We went to each of those dwellings and immunized the children and it was documented.”

The visit to slum involved more than immunizations. “We were told we would be visiting a project and we brought clothes and school supplies, like pencils and pens. We delivered those to that particular slum,” Marilyn says.

Having been part of national immunization day has changed what Marylin does when she travels to other countries. Before the Indian immunization trip, she would always buy jewelry for herself to remember where she had been.

“When I saw the conditions that these people were living in, I then and there stopped my tradition of buying a piece of jewelry from my travel destination,” she says. “I rationalized this by asking myself, ‘How many people could I immunize for that same amount of money?’ I realized that material things and baubles are really of so little value at the end of the day, when the money can be used in a different way.”

Of her national immunization day experience, Sally says, “there’s a sense of accomplishment, but it is more than that. It’s making us feel that we are really part of humanity. We really have done something. It seems simple, just two little drops, but you feel like you are part of the team. It can be quite overwhelming.

“I would encourage anyone who gets the opportunity to take it and go on a national immunization day. If you don’t have that opportunity, still be part of the team and donate to Polio Plus.” 

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Inspired to action: District awards celebrate what clubs and Rotarians accomplished in 2018-2019


2018-2019 DG Ingrid Neitsch and Rotarian-of-the-year recipient Spencer Mueller (RC of Edmonton West)

So much was accomplished by clubs in our District during 2018-2019 that the committee that reviewed submissions felt it had to increase the number of awards in most award categories.

“Because there was such a difference in certain categories, we decided to recognize more than one project in these categories,” says Donna Nichol (RC of Edmonton Northeast), who as the Administrative Services chair assembled a board committee to decide which clubs would receive awards.

“It wasn’t a case of picking a winner,” Donna says of the committee’s deliberations. “Rather it was a case of recognizing outstanding work in certain areas.”

During the Changeover event held on June 27, 2018-2019 DG Ingrid Neitsch (RC of Edmonton West) presented awards to 11 clubs and several individuals who demonstrated their commitment to “Be the Inspiration.”

She also announced that the District was the recipient of a North American award for its youth programs.

Community, international and youth service awards

Multiple Gilbert Patterson Awards were presented in three service categories—community, international and youth.

Gilbert Paterson was a Lethbridge educator who served as governor for District 536 in 1959-60, long before the District was divided and District 5370 was created. 

The Rotary Clubs of Edmonton Southeast and Fort St. John received awards for their community service projects.

For several years, Edmonton Southeast has partnered with the Millbourne Laundromat to host a community Thanksgiving luncheon for disadvantaged persons from Edmonton’s Mill Woods area. This annual event now feeds more than 1,000 each year. 

The Mother’s Day Run, which the Fort St. John club initiated in 2012, has raised more than $78,500 in donations for the Women’s Resource Society. The Society provides crisis planning, housing support, an outreach store, and healing and advocacy support to empower women and girls with tools to improve the quality of their lives.

Both international service awards went to projects that were described in Rotary District 5370 News articles during 2018-2019.

Screen Shot 2019-03-14 at 1.10.56 PMFor more than 20 years, a team of Rotarians from Edmonton West and others have visited remote Guatemalan communities to conduct eye examinations, provide glasses and medication for eye infections.

The Rotary Club of Edmonton Riverview acquires and refurbishes ambulances retired from service by Alberta Health Services, which are  destined for communities in Belize, Mexico, Uganda and Ghana. During 2018-2019, two of these vehicles were part of the Highway to Mexico convoy organized by Rotary clubs in Grande Prairie.

Youth services awards were presented to the Rotary Clubs of Edmonton South and Edmonton Northeast.

The flute making program at Abbott School, supported by Edmonton Northeast, is a way to help children improve their concentration, patience, self-confidence and co-ordination. The club pays for the materials and Rotarians assist the students as they decorate their instruments.

Rotarians from Edmonton South supported the Alberta Future Leaders program for Indigenous youth in Driftpile First Nation in Northwest Alberta. The AFL program engages youth through sports, art, recreation, leadership and cultural activities.

Peacebuilder award went to Dawson Creek Sunrise

Ingrid, who launched the successful initiative to have our District become a Rotary Peacebuilder District in 2018-2019, presented a Peacebuilder award to the Rotary Club of Dawson Creek Sunrise, which was “involved in the development and promotion of peace building activities with high school students in their community,” Ingrid said.

Club president Michelle Rolls and District Youth Chair Tamara Larson accompanied a group of 17 students to the Canadian Museum of Human Rights to participate in a week-long national pilot program.

Three clubs were recognized for their efforts related to public relations and marketing.

The Rotary Club of St. Albert produced brochures, posters and videos to publicize, “what Rotary is all about and what we do in the community.” The club feels their public relations and marketing has had tangible results, including membership growth and increased community involvement in fundraising and other activities.

The Rotary Club of Edmonton Whyte Avenue produced a brochure and used social media to share success stories, promote events and increase the visibility of Rotary. The club also produced a number of videos to create awareness of activities and promote events.

During 2018-2019, the Rotary Club of Edmonton Glenora undertook a comprehensive strategic planning initiative to study how they were living out the club’s vision and the mission of their club. They asked themselves what was distinctive about the club and what could they do to remain relevant. This process led to refreshing the club’s vision, mission statement and value proposition.

Rotary Club of Edmonton received Governors Award

T1819EN_RGBOne submission stood out as being deserving of the Governor’s Award. In 2013, the Rotary Club of Edmonton embarked on a major multi-year Humanitarian International Project in partnership with Literacy Without Borders and the Rotary Club of Belize. The South Belize City Literacy Development Program focused on transforming the educational and school-community infrastructure in an impoverished area known as South Belize City.

Ingrid also announced that our District had received an award from the North American Youth Exchange Network. The NAYEN awards recognizes, “districts that participate enthusiastically, conduct activities that are best practices and strive to build strong programs in the Rotary Youth Exchange Program.”

Youth Service Chair Tamara Larson (RC of Edmonton Whyte Avenue) accepted the award on the District’s behalf.

Awards recognizing individual service

A number of special awards were presented to individual Rotarians.

Two longtime Rotarians from District 5370 were among 16 recipients worldwide of the Polio Plus Pioneer Awards, which recognizes Rotarians who made a significant non-financial contribution to Polio Plus prior to 1992.

Albert Miller and Walter Sczebel, honorary members of the Rotary Clubs of Westlock and Morinville respectively, were recognized for having increased the awareness of Rotary’s commitment to eradicating polio by organizing a journey by wagon train from Westlock to the 1988 District 536 Conference in Calgary. Both were members of the Westlock club at the time.

The two covered wagons, which were accompanied by outriders, cooks, support personal, and an iron lung on a flatbed, stopped at community halls and schools to raise awareness of the polio eradication program.

Along the way, the convoy raised more than a million dollars for Polio Plus.

Four Rotarians, who Ingrid described as “working tirelessly behind the scenes to ensure that the District runs smoothly,” each were presented with a Paul Harris Fellowship:

  • For the last six years, Carl Clayton (RC of Edmonton Northeast) has served as District Board Secretary, which involves keeping accurate minutes and chairing business meeting at the District’s Special General Assemblies.
  • For several years, Rob Dunseith (RC of Edmonton West) has “provided free service on legal matters, resulting in savings of thousands of dollars,” Ingrid said.
  • John Nichol (RC of Edmonton Northeast) was instrumental in helping with the move of the District office from the Boys and Girls Club to The Orange Hub.
  • Donna Nichol, as the District’s Administration Director, was responsible in planning the office move.

Award recognized success of club co-presidency

Woman of Inspiration awards were presented to two Rotarians who served as co-presidents of their clubs. While other clubs may have had co-presidents in the past, Jillene Lakevold and Alyssa Haunholter (RC of Edmonton Glenora) took “the co-presidency to a whole new level,” Ingrid said.

“They have led their club into Strategic Planning that has confirmed the mission of their club and provided a clear path moving forward, all while raising young children and pursuing their careers!”

Ingrid recognized two Past District Governors, “who have not gone into retirement from Rotary” with Outstanding Service to the District Awards.

Since being District Governors in 2010-2011 and 2014-2015 respectively, both Jackie Hobal (RC of Edmonton West) and Linda Robertson (RC of Edmonton Northeast) “have been mentors to many of our leaders and continued to be active supporters of our District programs and events, serving on the Board and on several committees,” Ingrid said.

“In addition to their exemplary service to our District, both have served as Zone Co-ordinators, working with Rotarians from 16 or 17 other Districts across our country.”

Wayne Kauffman (RC of Edmonton Riverview), who stepped down at the end of June after four years as chair of the District’s Rotary Foundation committee, was presented with a Rotary Foundation District Service Award.

“Most Foundation chairs serve a three-year term, but I persuaded Wayne to serve an extra year,” Ingrid said. “He has provided exemplary service and leadership as chair, ensuring that our District meets and exceeds RI requirements for Foundation work.”

The final award of year was presented to Spencer Mueller (RC of Edmonton West) as the 2018-2019 Rotarian-of-the-Year.

“The individual that I have chosen to receive this special award is someone who has committed the last three years to serving and working in important roles in our District, culminating in a special event this year,” Ingrid said. “He has served as Club President, Club Foundation Chair, Assistant Governor and District Conference Chair.”

The deadline for submissions for 2019-2020 club awards is May 15, 2020.

Rotary clubs receive District awards for “Making a Difference” during 2017-18


2017-18 District Governor presents the Governor’s Award to Dave Cook, president of the Rotary Club of Grande Prairie-Swan City

Last year, clubs across our Rotary District really took the 2017-18 Rotary International theme—Making a Difference—to heart. Some of those worthwhile projects were celebrated with District awards, which were presented during the Changeover event in June.

“We know that there are many clubs with outstanding projects and programs, but unfortunately they did not submit descriptions of what they are doing, so we didn’t know about them. They might have been eligible for these awards,” says District Administration Chair Donna Nicoll.

In her role, Donna (RC of Edmonton Northeast) is responsible for gathering submissions from the clubs and assembling a committee to choose the award winners. Last year’s committee included Donna, 2017-18 District Governor Frank Reitz (RC of Fort McMurray), a past District Governor, and two members of the District board.

The award winners included projects that provided needy children with warm clothes, encouraged tree planting in Grande Prairie, delivered fire trucks to Mexico, and promoted Rotary to the community.

In addition, then-District Governor Frank bestowed the title of Rotarian of the Year on Tamara Larson (RC of Edmonton Whyte Avenue), to recognize her contributions as the District’s Youth Services Chair.

“While all members of the District board showed commitment to Rotary, Tamara’s passion for youth services really stood out,” says Frank. “She built on the work of those who went before her to make our youth services programs even stronger than she found them. 

“Tamara’s ongoing relationship with students and their parents ensures their safety and best interests remain the prime focus in the delivery of Rotary’s youth programs,” Frank says. “She works with Rotary clubs to ensure support and safety is in place to make sure the experience of students, host families and clubs are positive for all concerned.”


2017-18 DG Frank with Rotarian of the Year Tamara Larson

A big part of Tamara’s mandate was to bring youth services practices into compliance with Rotary International requirements.

“Over the last couple of years, these changes needed to be implemented. Tamara took this on and persisted, despite some resistance to the changes,” says Frank. “I don’t know if anyone else would have had the same determination.”

Tamara and Past District Governor Laura Morie (RC of Westlock) will be co-ordinating the Rotoract component of the Zones 24 and 32 Conference in Montreal September 20-22.

Best reflection of the annual RI theme

The Governor’s Award was presented to the Rotary Club of Grande Prairie-Swan City. This annual award is given to the club whose activities best reflect the RI yearly theme, which in 2017-18 was Making a Difference. 

Last year, the 119 Swan City Rotarians made a difference in all Rotary’s avenues of service, motivating more than 1,200 Rotarians and non-Rotarians to provide nearly 10,000 hours of volunteer service to continue their support of existing projects and programs.

The club also donated more than $CA 450,000 to programs, provided in-kind support worth nearly $900,000 and gave nearly $US 20,000 (more than $CA 25,000) to The Rotary Foundation.

Here are some of the ways these Rotarians made a difference in 2017-18:

  • Supported a facility to house young girls in Ethiopia so that they can continue their studies, graduate from high school and go on to post-secondary education.
  • Assisted several Cambodian villages with initiatives to provide clean water, sanitary latrines, medical supplies, teachers and educational materials.
  • Partnered with the Salvation Army for a food bank drive, which collected 41 tons of food in just one day
  • Served dinners once a week to 40-100 people (including both Indigenous and non-Indigenous families) at the Friendship Centre
  • Collected 2,000 toys (worth about $45,000) for the Big Toy Box program, which were distributed through 16 different organizations to children who might not have otherwise received Christmas gifts 
  • served tea and dessert to seniors during Seniors Week 

Gilbert Paterson Awards for three avenues of service

The Swan City club also received Gilbert Paterson Awards for two projects that were included in their Governors Award submission.

The Gilbert Paterson Awards are presented to clubs whose projects, activities or events best reflect one of three avenues of service: community, international and youth. 

The Youth Award, which was new for 2017-18, was presented to the Rotary Club of Edmonton West.

Gilbert Paterson, for whom the awards are named, was a Lethbridge educator, who served as governor for District 5360 in 1959-60, long before the District was divided and District 5370 was created. 

The Community Services Award recognized the Rotary Club of Grande Prairie-Swan City for its longtime partnership with the Landscape Alberta Nursery Trades Association, the province of Alberta, the city of Grande Prairie and local forestry product companies, to promote the importance of forests and the environment, and encourage celebration of Arbour Day.

Over the years, this program has resulted in the planting of 12 groves of trees, all of which are native to the Grande Prairie area. In addition, Rotarians and foresters visit Grade 1 classrooms to teach children about trees and the environment. During these visits, each student is given a tree and is shown how to plant it.

Beginning with just one used school bus in 2002, the Highway to Mexico program, for which the Swan City club received the International Service Award, has delivered more than $18 million worth of buses, fire trucks, ambulances, and medical and firefighting equipment to Mazatlan and the Mexican state of Sinalao. 

Over the years, the Swan City club has developed partnerships with other Rotary clubs, both in Canada and in Mexico. Several cities, towns and municipalities between Red Deer and Fort McMurray have donated surplus vehicles. After the donated vehicles are restored, Rotarians drive them the 5,000 kilometres to Mexico.

The Rotary Club of Edmonton West became the first winner of the Gilbert Paterson Youth Award for its Santa Clothes program. One hundred children identified as “in need” by Boys and Girls Clubs and Big Brothers Big Sisters were able to go on a shopping spree at the Old Navy store in West Edmonton Mall for warm winter coats and other clothing.

Each child received a $400 gift card, half of which was donated by Old Navy and the balance by the Edmonton West club and other sponsors. While at the mall, the children had lunch and visited some of the more popular attractions before being bused home.

Dawson Creek Sunrise wins PR and Marketing Award

Dawson CreekThe Rotary Club of Dawson Creek Sunrise received the District Public Relations and Marketing Award for its extensive marketing campaign. The award is given to the “club or group of clubs producing the best publicity brochure or marketing event/tool during the year.” 

The campaign was three-pronged, including weekly advertising in the local newspaper, developing a club brochure and a very active Facebook page, which averages about 1,000 views per week providing information about club activities and partner events.

The club brochure is shared at all public events and displayed by Rotarians in their businesses.

 Donna plans to distribute information about the 2018-19 awards to club presidents in November and request submissions by May. This year’s awards will be announced at the District changeover event at the end of June 2019.

“We know clubs are doing wonderful things,” Donna says. “We hope they will write these projects up and submit them for consideration.”

District conference Main