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A heartfelt journey: Colville woman back from Ethiopia

December 19, 2013

Colville Rotarian Michelle Lee visits with children in an Ethiopian village last month.

It’s hard to find other travelers with more stamps in their passport than Michelle Lee.
As a member of the Colville Rotary Club, Lee has traveled extensively throughout Asia, Europe and Africa in efforts to raise awareness about polio and proper vaccination andclean water projects. Her latest journey to Ethiopia was no different.
“Last year, there were 200 cases of polio in the horn of Africa,” said Lee in a presentation to fellow Rotarians last Wednesday. “Though the campaign to end polio has been successful, we have to stay diligent and get to outbreaks as soon as possible. “
Ethiopia is an African country located in the Horn of Africa, with a population of 91,729,000 people. It is bordered by Eritrea to the north and northeast, Djibouti and Somalia to the east, Sudan and South Sudan to the west, and Kenya to the south. The life expectancy for females is 62 and 59 for males.
Lee, and a group of 32 other Rotarians and volunteers, visited Rotary District 5030 in Ethiopia to meet with local Rotary clubs, UNICEF, the Polio Eradication Committee and End Polio Now.

One bottle can immunize up to 20 children

The group participated in the country's National Immuniza¬tion Day campaign, working in southern Ethiopia vaccinating children in a door-to-door effort near the cities of Hawasa and Yirgalem. The Rotarians, clad in bright yellow vests, were part of the emergency response necessary to combat the recent polio outbreak. For years, the region has been polio free, but in mid-2013, new cases of the wild polio virus turned up in Somalia, Kenya, Uganda and Ethiopia.
According to Lee, one bottle of polio vaccine (which is administered orally) can immunize up to 20 children and costs about $15 per bottle.
“One of our group members said, “What kind of trust must it take to allow a white person to come into your home and vacci¬nate your child for disease?” We don’t speak the same language, but they trust that we are doing this to help them, to keep their children healthy and free of this crippling, deadly disease,” says Lee. “That takes a lot of trust. If someone knocked on our doors here in America and said, ‘I’m here to vaccinate your child’; it wouldn’t happen.”
Other projects that the group discussed with community leaders involved clean water and how the various Rotary clubs could partner with one another and other organizations to provide sanitary water conditions to villages.
Lee pointed out that the average American individual uses 100 gallons of water per day, 27 percent of which is used in the bathroom. The average Ethiopian family uses 10 gallons of water per day, which takes about four hours to collect.
“It’s sobering, when you think about it,” says Lee. “It’s definitely a commodity that we take for granted here.”
To learn more about Rotary and its charitable projects around the world, visit www.rotary.org.

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