Making a case for the battle against polio

Neighbors

January 27, 1999|By Heather Tepe | Heather Tepe,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

OUR COMMUNITY is filled with quiet heroes -- people who perform acts of service for others, seeking no praise for themselves.

Some of the projects are small; others are more ambitious.

Two of our neighbors have decided to concentrate their efforts on fighting polio.

Polio is an infectious viral disease that causes paralysis and can lead to death. Its victims are mostly children younger than 3.

The last case of polio in the Western Hemisphere was reported in Peru in 1994, according to Rotary International. The disease is still prevalent in 116 countries -- most of them in Africa and Asia. Until polio is eradicated worldwide, even children in polio-free countries must continue to be immunized because infected travelers can spread the disease.

Peggy Greenman has taught music at Swansfield Elementary School for six years. She was inspired by her high school French teacher Joe Bodanza, a resident of Gardner, Mass., to reach out to children afflicted with polio.

Bodanza founded Child Medical Connection -- an organization that brings Vietnamese children disabled by polio to Shriners Hospitals in the Boston area for free treatment.

Bodanza raises funds to transport the children to the United States.

Greenman told her students about Child Medical Connection and encouraged them to become involved. She decided to sew felt cases for recorders and sell them to the students.

Music students begin instruction on the recorder -- a wind instrument -- in third grade and continue through fifth grade. The children purchase the cases for $2.

Greenman provides fabric paint for the children to decorate their cases. Then the youngsters sew on a drawstring to finish the project.

Proceeds go to Child Medical Connection.

Greenman estimates that she and her students have raised about $260.

Acting globally

Dr. Raj Saini is an orthodontist who has lived in Harper's Choice since 1970.

He was born in Kunt, a small village in India that has the largest number of cases of polio in the world.

Saini has been involved with community organizations since he moved to Columbia: Family Life Center, United Way, Foreign-born Information and Referral Network (FIRN) and Rotary International.

His work has an impact on polio through his involvement with Rotary International -- an organization of business and professional leaders committed to humanitarian service.

A past president of the Columbia Rotary Club and former governor of Rotary District 7620, Saini was chosen to be national coordinator of the organization's Polio Plus Project in 1986.

The project aims to rid the world of polio by 2005 -- the 100th anniversary of Rotary International.

"We felt that eradicating the world of polio was within our reach," Saini said, "because there is no need for trained personnel to vaccinate since the vaccine is administered orally."

Rotary International has joined hands with UNICEF and the World Health Organization to provide the materials and manpower to administer vaccinations around the world.

Last year, 120 million Indian children were vaccinated in two days.

"In educated areas, people flock to receive the vaccine," Saini said. "In uneducated areas, parts of India for example, it takes cruel experience to educate the need for the vaccine."

Saini has traveled through Maryland, Washington, Delaware, West Virginia and Pennsylvania to canvass Rotary clubs and other groups for donations.

He estimates that he put more than 40,000 miles on his car in pursuit of funds.

Frank Akiyama, an Oakland Mills resident and fellow Rotarian, describes his friend's commitment to the cause. "Raj became a crusader for this project. He epitomizes service above self."

Longfellow resident Jim McDiarmid -- a charter member of the Rotary Club of Columbia -- agrees.

"Raj Saini is not only one of the most community-oriented and devoted people I've ever met," McDiarmid said, "he's also a natural leader who can attract enthusiastic support from others. He worked seven days a week on this program for many years. He sets the example for other community leaders."

Saini was asked by Rotary International to raise $2 million for the Polio Plus Project; he brought in $5 million. To date, the total amount raised worldwide is more than $334 million, Saini said.

He noted that Rotary International expects to spend $500 million to eradicate polio.

Reflecting on his contribution to that effort, Saini said, "I have humble beginnings in India. I used to stand in line to receive free vaccinations in the early 1950s. It's very satisfying to give back."

He speaks hesitantly about his accomplishment.

"If it wasn't for my wife, Indira, I couldn't have done the things that I've done. I was away so much. Her sacrifices were tremendous."

Just what you would expect from a quiet hero.

Penguin race

The Florence Bain Senior Center will hold its Penguin Pace 5K (3.1 mile) Race at 8 a.m. Feb. 7.

The race, a fund-raiser for programs and activities for senior citizens in Howard County, is being run for the fourth time and is open to everyone. It is the brainchild of Arleen Dinneen, director of the senior center.

The registration fee is $18 if postmarked by Friday; $25 after that date.

Participants will receive a long-sleeved mock turtleneck with the Penguin Pace logo and a brunch catered by the Elkridge Furnace Inn.

Registration: 410-313-7468.

Memories wanted

Share your favorite Valentine's Day memories for a future west Columbia column.

We would like to hear about a favorite gift or romantic gesture that you will never forget, or your ideal Valentine's Day.

Call or fax me at 410-992-7511.

Pub Date: 1/27/99

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