Although India is certified Polio free since year 2011, still there is a fear of its coming back. Hence, every year as a precautionary measure India organizes a National Immunization Day (NID) to deliver Oral Poliovirus Vaccine drops to every child under 5 years of age. This year the NID was on January 19th. 2020 in India. Invitations were sent to many Rotary Clubs in the world to come to India and have Rotarians from allover the world volunteer and participate in immunizing children by dropping those two precious drops of polio vaccines. It is a tremendously rewarding feeling to realize that you administered those two drops of vaccine and saved a child from being a victim of polio! The joy of that experience can only be felt as there is no proper words to describe that heartfelt feeling!

It was my longtime dream to participate in NID and personally deliver the polio vaccine drops and save at least a child suffering lifelong from polio. The opportunity landed this year. Past Rotary International Director, Brad Howard of California lead a program that invited Rotarians from USA to join together and participate in India’s NID on January 19th and 20th. I was so excited to get this message and immediately applied for my dream come true program. There were 49 fellow Rotarians from different Clubs of USA, Canada and Barbados joined together and went to India to experience this unique opportunity. Majority of Rotarians in our group was from USA. 
Everyone arrived in New Delhi, India by January 11th. The program ended on January 20th. The hotel stay, food and lodging were all very impressive and were extremely professionally arranged by PRID Brad Howard through his travel agency. Prior to actually participating NID on 19th and 20th of January which was all hosted by New Delhi Rotary Clubs in India we visited hospitals in Delhi and Jaipur where current polio victims are given treatments and provided artificial legs to get them back on their feet. It was an amazing experience to witness how many prior polio victims are now moving with their normal lives. Many local Rotary Clubs and invited us to join their Club meetings and exchange Club Banners. A special visit to Taj-Mahal, one of the world’s wonders in Agra was also a part of this program. We also visited a school near Delhi where underprivileged children who live under extremely adverse conditions are given education. All of us made a donation for the school-teachers and students to fulfill the need of the school.

A day before the NID, on January 18th. All Rotarians from various countries along with our group walked around the area near Delhi to announce the National Immunization Day to make people be aware of the importance of this immunization. We all were given a jacket, a hat and a scarf saying “KEEP INDIA POLIO FREE”. Next day, the first day of NID, we first gathered at a school campus where local Rotary Clubs welcomed each one of us from USA with traditional marigold flower garlands and our leaders were  honored with traditional royal Indian turbans and garlands. It was a great welcome ceremony before we started the real task. We were then divided in to a group of 3-4 each (a total of 13 groups) and a person from WHO who had the vaccine and list of children to be immunized, were assigned to go to a very poverty burdened (slum area) town named NUH,  about 1.5 hrs. drive away from New Delhi. Each one of us was in the same uniform with our jackets and hats.  Each group had an assigned place where children under 5 were brought by their parents and we had the privilege of administering the two drops of polio vaccine into the mouth of each child and then mark their pinky (little finger) as an identification that that child was vaccinated. Each one of us in our group took turn to drop the vaccine and capture that precious moment! All children vaccinated,  were check marked in the list that the WHO person had in his possession. After the day was over there were still many children remained who were not brought to the location for immunization. Next day on the 20th of January,  we had a half a day immunization program. This day we were assigned to go to each home in that area and knock on the door of each home,  requesting parents to allow us to vaccinate their children. The WHO person was with us with the list of children who remained to be vaccinated. But these parents were very resistant to have their children get those drops of vaccine!. We faced many mothers screaming at us, asking us to leave their neighborhood because they had a wrong impression about this vaccine and they don’t like their children be seen by foreigners and did not want their pictures be taken. It was a tough and rough day but we understood and respected their wishes. Although upon explaining the benefit of vaccination some parents allowed us to immunize their kids,  but not all of them agreed. They are very poor, uneducated and very staunch in their beliefs. It is hard to imagine the challenging conditions these people live in this slum area. Rotary Clubs in Delhi are helping to better their lives and give them dignity in many ways especially, building sophisticated bathrooms for these families. We felt good that we were able to convince some parents and save some children from getting polio.
In those two days of National Immunization Day about 2.5million children in all over India were immunized by volunteer Rotarians from many different countries including ours from USA. It not only gave us the moment to treasure our dream come true wishes but also offered an opportunity to make so many friends and strengthen the Rotary fellowship with many other fellow Rotarians from so many countries, proving thereby, Rotary Connects the World! It was so precious!

It was one unforgettable experience! I suggest every fellow Rotarians who have not participated in NID,  please consider doing this in any country you get an opportunity to go to and frame that picture of dropping those two lifesaving drops! It will be a great story for you to talk to your grand kids in future days to come!

We were also very fortunate that on 19th of January as we were getting out of our hotel lobby to go for participating in NID, we saw His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama in the lobby. It was so divine when he came and shook his Godly hand with mine! I will never forget that auspicious touch! 

Please see pictures associated with NID, in New Delhi, India 2020.

Satya Mitra
Boston Rotary Club 7