The Rotary Foundation
Jim Ferguson
Jim Ferguson: "From India with love"

'Fighting polio door-to-door'

April 5, 2011

Jim Ferguson is a "sustaining member" of the Bluefield Rotary Club. And as a sustaining member he gives regularly and faithfully to the Rotary Foundation, a not-for-profit corporation which supports humanitarian service programs with an endowment of over $1 billion.

"We're this close," Ferguson told the Putnam club today gesturing with thumb and forefinger, "to a complete eradication of poliomyelitis!"

For more than twenty years, Rotary has led the crusade to wipe out the crippling disease. "Today there are only four countries where polio still exists," he said.

Ferguson, a Paul Harris Fellow and Rotarian-of-the-Year (2009), wanted to do more.

He knew the largest population of people with preventable blindness lived in India. Of 37 million in the world, most of them suffering from cataracts and refractive errors, 15 million live in the Asian subcontinent. Blindness could be prevented in most of the cases with a surgical procedure costing $20. The Bluefield Club raised $1,640 to fund 82 eye surgeries in the Rotary Hospital in Calcutta.

With the "End Polio Now" program, Jim signed up with a team of twenty-four volunteers from "all over the United States" to take part in India's "National Immunization Day."

They were in Calcutta, up at 3:00 o'clock on a Sunday morning for a seven-hour trip to a small Muslim village in the Mershittabad district between the River Ganges and Nepal.

The team went door-to-door offering immunizations to people who had been missed in the earlier sweeps.

In India over 450,000 people live below the international poverty line of $1.50 per day. He asked about the cow dung smeared on the walls of houses. It keeps the mosquitos away, he was told.

During his mission trip, Ferguson visited Agra, Jaipur, Delhi, and Calcutta. At the Naryana Eye Clinic in the Rotary Hospital in Calcutta, he saw first hand some of the people whose sight had been restored and saved through the support of the club in Bluefield, West Virginia.

He saw the results at Rotary Hospital of the "Saving Little Hearts" program supported by a Foundation grant of $118,000 for 100 open heart operations for children. Thirty-four have already been completed. He visited the Missionaries of Charity, a mission organized in 1950 by Mother Teresa.

Security was a major concern. "We passed through seven check points inside the hotel where we were staying," he said.

Why make the diffiicult mission journey? There were four reasons, Ferguson said. He wanted to participate personally in the National Immunization Day to fight polio. He wanted to see other work supported by the Rotary Foundation. He wanted to learn about the culture; He wanted to bring peace, good will and understanding to the country. And he wanted to do these things on behalf of every member of his club in Bluefield.

"I left with love in my heart," he said. "And I returned from India with love.

"Namastey," he said, speaking the traditional HIndi greeting with palms of his hands together in a gesture of respect.

Back home in West Virginia, Jim Ferguson is continuing his support of work of the Rotary Foundation as a sustaining member of his club in Bluefield.

In the Putnam club, a $250 Foundation contribution is matched by the organization, and other credits are added for a Paul Harris Fellow award. Those who have already received the honor give $50 on their birthdays which in turn is matched. In ten years, a second PHF medal may be awarded. "Sustaining members" make an annual gift to the Foundation.

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