When her close childhood friend Suzie mysteriously disappeared from her life, “I kept asking my mother if I could play with Suzie and where she went. One day, my mother — with tears in her eyes — told me that Suzie had a disease called polio and we wouldn’t ever play again.”
Trustee Chair Brenda Cressey was explaining at the Hamburg Convention her personal association with the scourge of polio, and said that she hadn’t thought about Suzie for many years until asked to join Rotary in 1989, and learning its commitment to end polio around the world. “Suddenly, my heart was five years old and I was playing hopscotch with Suzie. And I knew immediately that I needed to join Rotary to help ensure that no little girl or boy would ever be stricken with polio again.”
Ending polio would remain Rotary’s first priority, Cressey reiterated as she shared TRF highlights for the past year. The implementation of a new grant model had brought in “astounding results — three times as many global grants under the new model! Even more impressive, we brought new rigour to our grant assessments — making sure that they meet local needs, are sustainable, and create lasting improvements. Let’s keep up this incredible momentum,” she said.
Urging Rotarians to contribute generously to the Foundation, she said this year the world had been struck with terrible fires, cyclones, floods, and droughts; “the Trustees listened to you and established the Rotary Disaster Response Fund. This is a new grant to help you respond quickly, effectively and efficiently.”
This year (2018–19), TRF has raised $331.9 million, Cressey said and urged Rotarians to “consider making a year-end contribution to TRF; your gift to the Annual Fund changes lives today, and your gift to the Endowment Fund ensures our future.” RI and TRF have a goal of $2.025 billion, “and once it is fully funded, the investment earnings will provide about $100 million annually to Rotarians for life-changing service projects.”
Cressey next shared her personal experience of the immense joy and relief that TRF projects bring to the beneficiaries. Several years ago, she joined a Rotary mission trip to Panama, where over 100 Rotarians, Rotaractors, etc were working on several service projects, one being that of providing wheelchairs to the physically-challenged. There she saw a teenage boy entering the room carrying on his back what seemed a heavy backpack. But it wasn’t a backpack; it was his grandfather who had no legs. He placed the old man on a chair; a Rotarian gently moved him onto his brand-new red wheelchair. “You could see immediately that it was Christmas morning for this elderly man. He lifted his arms and praised the Lord with tears streaming down his face. Then, he flashed us all a big, toothless smile and continued to thank us. No one in the room had a dry eye.” While the grandfather suddenly started making big circles in the centre of the room, at the back of the room the teenager had tears streaming down his face.
“I realised that we had not transformed only the elderly man’s life, we had changed the life of everyone around him, including the boy who had spent many hours carrying his grandfather wherever he needed to go.” He could now go to school and also see his grandfather’s dignity and independence, she added.
“That one experience made me realise the power and impact of every donation made to TRF; your gifts give people hope. They give people dignity and they give people a chance to improve their communities.”
Polio of course remained a commitment and this year the Gates Foundation had made another commitment for $100 million, if the Rotarians raised $50 million to secure that 2-to-1 match for ending polio. This August, Nigeria was on track to be declared polio-free; Pakistan and Afghanistan remained a challenge but the incredible PolioPlus infrastructure and resources Rotary had put around the world had been used to stem an Ebola outbreak and was now being used to help curb measles outbreaks. “Our polio campaign has been an amazing gift to the world. Now, let’s finish the job,” she concluded.