What does it take to get you to act on behalf of another?
Sympathy? Empathy? Outrage? Hope?
What message could you receive that would make you stop and pay attention? What could happen that would liberate you from the carefully crafted comfort zone of your everyday life? Beyond the easy stuff—Facebook likes, donation drop-offs, petition signatures—what would make you take a leap into something hard? Something inconvenient? Uncomfortable?
We Americans center our life endeavors on achieving comfort. We are successful, we feel, when we have achieved a happy life of comfort, not necessarily ease, but comfort. And not just physical comfort, but mental and emotional, as well. We want, most of all, to feel good about ourselves. We want to be good people, who do the right thing.
This is not a criticism from which I exclude myself. I readily admit that central to my life goals is the desire to create a sanctuary of a home for my family, and a culture of belonging and support and yes, comfort for them.
And so, with this admission, I am wondering, to what extreme would you go to save a life? What if it were a life of someone you don’t know? What if those people looked nothing like you? Would their lives be worth doing something hard for?
When I hear about all that Bill and Melinda Gates are doing for global health and education (two pressing issues that are important to me), I am in awe and impressed. But a little tiny secret voice inside ( a voice I am not proud of) says, “They have billions. They can afford it.” And on some level, I let myself off of the hook.
But when I learn of people like Ezra Teshome, I can no longer so easily give myself a pass. Ezra is an insurance salesman from Seattle. He’s had a bunch of kids to raise and a business to run. And yet, in the midst of his pursuit of the American Dream, he is doing something hard for the children of Ethiopia.
For the past 17 years, Ezra Teshome has taken his Rotarian colleagues to Ethiopia in order to join with the country’s fight against polio. Last year, Ezra accompanied a diverse group of 70 Rotarians representing several states and Canada. As the group has continued to grow, so has their mission. As Ezra says, “we started out committed to end polio in Ethiopia. But now that there has been no new polio cases in the last four years, we have been able to address other needs, like clean water, books for schools and ambulances.” They provide low-cost shelter and micro-banking. All of this in addition to providing vaccines for the areas surrounding Ethiopia in order to guard every child in the region against the importation of polio from neighboring countries like Somalia, Sudan & Kenya.
Ezra has hosted over 28 trips to Ethiopia. And for each trip, he is the guy who does the planning, coordinating and the fundraising on both ends. “I have a small group of dedicated people who help, and some Rotarians who make the trip many times”. (See their website HERE.) When they arrive in Ethiopia, Ezra’s group, in partnership with local government and Ethiopia’s own rotary clubs, get down to serious work. They’ve helped vaccinate over 200 children per day.As such, Ezra and the Rotarians have been major players in the fight to eradicate polio—a fight that is very nearly won worldwide. To date, polio is 99.9% eradicated, and is present in only three remaining countries. This is incredible because as recent as the 1980’s, polio paralyzed more than 1,000 children each day. In 2011, India, once considered the most difficult country in which to make progress, was declared polio free. This kind of progress is not taken for granted by people like Ezra Teshome. Rotary International pledged to raise 200 million dollars toward the fight against polio. And the vaccines that they deliver are funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation ( I really do LOVE the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation!).
Why does Ezra choose to do the hard work to save Ethiopian lives? Partly because he moved here from Ethiopia when he was seventeen. And so, he says, “I could be one of those kids. And I am thankful to God that I am able to go back.” And he continues to go because he says, “going and seeing makes you a believer. Once you go and see, you say, yes, I can make a difference.” One of the Rotarians who has accompanied Ezra on several trips said,
You cannot imagine the immense joy that comes from taking part. But in fact they don’t need us. The reason that it is important that we participate is threefold- firstly, if we don’t go, the rest of the world may forget that we are not done- polio eradication is not complete until it is all gone- secondly, the people on the ground, the Ethiopians and others who are working to keep their country polio free, need to know that they are not forgotten and – thirdly, you find out how much more we can do to assist the people in countries like Ethiopia as they work to provide clean water, education and an opportunity for their people.
Are the lives of children worldwide worth stepping out and doing something not-so-easy? Might the possibility of erasing polio off-the-face-of-the-Earth be enough to get you to act?
There are some really easy steps we can take to get vaccines to the children who need them.Twenty dollars provide all the life-saving vaccine protection a child needs for a lifetime. $20 is how much many of us spend each week on coffee. Could I give up my nightly Haagen-Daz Swiss Almond Chocolate ice cream habit to save a life? Easy.
And then there are not so easy, but vitally important, actions we can take– like visiting, calling or emailing our Congressmen to ask their continued support of US funding for global vaccines. You can visit your representatives in Washington or their local offices. Not so easy. Or you can make those calls and emails at your kitchen tables. Easy?
Well, I ask you to consider it.
And as you traverse across your office to your desk in search of stationary and envelope, think about Ezra traversing across the globe, in order to meet the mothers who are traversing miles from their homes in order to get vaccines for their precious children. Not hard.
When you are struggling for the right words to say to your legislator, think of Ezra’s words—“It’s worth it.” Think of the mother’s words—“thank you.” And as you lick the envelope and hand it off to your mail carrier, imagine Ezra handing a baby back to his or her mother after administering a polio vaccine. He has handed over a life that he has forever changed in that instant. Easy.
Ezra has given the hundreds of kids for whom he has personally vaccinated a shot at life. And by choosing to act, in some ways easily and in others, a little bit hard, so can you.
The impact of vaccines on the lives of children around the world is incredible. Welcome your members to the 113th Congress and ask them to make sure that global health and vaccines are a priority in the new Congress. Take action (visit, letter, email) and make an impact!
This story comes from the Rotary International and is part of Shot@Life’s ’28 Days of Impact’ Campaign- a follow up to Blogust to raise awareness for global vaccines and the work being done by Shot@Life and their partners to help give children around the world a shot at a healthy life. Each day in February, you can read another impactful story on global childhood vaccines.
Tomorrow, don’t miss Shannon Carroll’s post (we Carrolls stick together!) at WhiskyinMySippyCup.com!
Go to Shot@Life to learn more.