Serving others is something that is a common theme in the Bible, in the church, and with the more than 30,000 Rotary clubs across the globe.
I think a lot of us get fired up about it when we are reminded that serving others is what we are called to do, but at some point along the way it always seems that our own needs and wants get in the way of that again.
As without monetary wealth as I am, I am still in a position to give to others – be it my time, my ear, my prayers – and that is due in no small part because of the nation I call home. We can badmouth all we want, but the fact remains that America is not such a bad place to be.
That was underscored a couple weeks ago by a speaker at the Rotary District 6670 conference in Cincinnati. She has traveled the world providing life-saving vaccinations in places that most Americans will never step foot in. It’s very likely that most of us can only imagine the kind of poverty she has seen, and I think we would still fall short of the reality these people call everyday life.
She spoke about another person doing similar work who was faced with the question of why go to Africa when there are so many right here in our own country that need help? Her answer: When she is in Africa the children ask her for food. In the poorest neighborhoods of America the children ask her for an iPod. Poverty in America is not the same thing as the beast of poverty in underdeveloped places.
Local Rotary clubs serve, in large part, their own communities. But Rotary as a whole also serves the global community. As many non-Rotarians may know, Rotary made it its mission more than 30 years ago to eradicate polio from the planet. Back then when this seemingly insurmountable task was taken on there were an average of 350,000 new cases each year and 125 countries were actively familiar with the crippling disease. Today, 123 of those nations are polio free, and the two that remain, Afghanistan and Pakistan, are under the care and watch of dedicated workers making sure that every child gets inoculated.
The speaker noted that careful watch and attention is kept on areas in turmoil as the virus will sneak back into a population when the avenues of health care are disrupted.
This speaker, Ann Lee Hussey, is herself a polio survivor. As she showed photos on two screens in the ballroom at the conference of those who have been stricken with polio — some with shoes on their hands because their crippled legs have been rendered useless, all of them visibly impaired by the devastating illness — she told the gathered Rotarians that she was lucky enough to have polio in the United States. The man who introduced her said the same thing of himself, though now he suffers from post-polio syndrome. He said he’s had a good half a century of a normal life and that had to do with his being fortunate enough to live in a country with appropriate medical care.
Established nearly 30 years ago, the Global Polio Eradication Initiative includes not just Rotary International, but UNICEF, the World Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
My kids don’t know what polio is. You know why? Because of the work that has been done by the above organizations to get rid of it. I knew what it was growing up because my grandparents knew a few people throughout their childhood that had been affected by it. But I never did know anyone personally that had polio, and it is certainly not an illness I was ever in danger of contracting.
But again, we live in America. We’ve got it much better here than a lot of us think. That is because of a lot of things, but it is all due in large part to those who have committed themselves to serving others, to being a voice for the voiceless, to putting their lives on the line so that we all have better lives.
My examples here extend to medical care, and to polio specifically, but think about women’s rights, civil rights, and all the souls that ever put themselves in harm’s way somewhere else in the world in the name of freedom and liberty to preserve the rights we know here in the United States, the very ones most of us have been born into.
It is always good to be reminded of our ability to serve one another, whether that is by helping our own neighbor, serving those in abject poverty in another country, or defending freedom itself.
The world as a whole, and my very secure little corner of it, is all the better because of these selfless souls. Just think about that for a minute – we have what we have here in America because others have continuously made sure of it. I only hope that I can think enough of what others have given to me through their selflessness and let my actions reflect it.
Reach Angela Shepherd at 937-393-3456, ext. 1681, or on Twitter @wordyshepherd.