An important pre-note to this post: the example I will share with you here is just the latest of many projects from the Rotary Pakistan PolioPlus Committee which has been gathering momentum over the last few years, working closely with the Government of Pakistan and its partners (WHO & UNICEF) to end polio in the country.
Let me describe the scene for you: dense ramshackle shelters, no sanitation infrastructure, no access to clean water, a scarcity of food (or only available to those who can afford it), and a distinct lack of schools, clinics, medicine, doctors and, seemingly, paid employment. It’s not that everyone is sitting around doing nothing – quite the reverse in fact. Everyone is productive, but the way their dirty kamis (common long shirt to the knees) hang off their wiry bodies, you know they are not being paid much, or anything, for their labour. This is the reality of Site Town, Karachi, where I spent a few hours. This is one of the most disadvantaged areas of Karachi which heaves with 22 million people, and who knows what proportion of those live with adequate access and opportunities.
I was driven from another part of Karachi, the Defence area, where the houses make Australian houses look small. But there is a man and a community organisation that is doing their best to share their wealth, experience and expertise with others in their huge city.
In the middle of Site Town I visited the Site Town Rotary Polio Resource Centre. This is a shining beacon for that community and others in the area. It is primarily a school, and the only one in the area, but built into the practises of this school are toilets, clean water, a food program and, most impressively, a vaccine housing and distribution centre.
The man I referred to earlier is Aziz Memon and the organisation, Rotary. Aziz seems to be a very busy and successful business man, but he has brought together the right people and right resources to make the Resource Centre a reality. Those around Aziz are just as impressive in their commitment and expertise.
Over the years I have been able to see a lot of aid and development projects and let me just list some of the great features of this particular model:
It is from the community for the community - this is not a white man telling the local people what to do - it has come from the people of Karachi in consultation with education professionals, community leaders and local government, with the support of those they service.
Much more than a single purpose - it was set up as a polio vaccine distribution centre to service some of the hardest-to-reach children in an area where the population moves a lot and the refusal rate for vaccination is high. However their mandate isn’t to force the community to take vaccines, but rather to show they are there to support in all ways. People can choose to come to them for vaccines, or accept vaccines when they do a house visit, knowing that they are also providing education, clean water, food, etc to their child.
Very impressive outreach - while the school has limited capacity, their outreach is impressive. Clean water and toilets is accessible to all, the food program does as best it can to provide food to as many as possible. They also have 25 other hubs in four districts that provide polio vaccines on a regular and ongoing basis to 100,000 children in addition to the 4-5 annual national immunisation days.
A sustainable funding model - thanks to some local Rotary Clubs, Government and other reliable sources of income, the centre has the funds to not only build this centre but continue its service.
The model is scalable - thanks to all the features I mentioned above, this is a model that could be adopted by other disadvantage communities throughout Karachi and around the country. The most polio-affected areas in Pakistan are obviously the poorest or most remote, but a community resource centre is something that could be integrated anywhere.
The purpose is polio but really it is poverty - eradicating polio is a global mandate we must achieve. Now that numbers are reduced to record lows we are able to incorporate broader services in health, education, sanitation, food security etc. Not that these things weren’t happening before, but now that almost every last child has been exposed to polio vaccine, the foundation is set for the leap forward addressing the bigger topics and issues of health and extreme poverty.
I am brimming with excitement once again writing down these points as I was when I visited in person a week ago.
As a part of my visit I was able to hand over a few posters of support from people outside of Karachi and Pakistan. The core team at the resource centre who saw this were amazed that famous cricketers, actresses, the people of Canada (with the ‘Purple Pinkie’ photos) and others who have attended concerts, sign petitions, written stories or cared in some way for the people working on the ground in Pakistan. The poster now proudly sits on their wall and will be showed to the children that we are all global citizens and can support each other and the things that work for them from their needs.
A massive thank you to Waheed and the team at the Resource Centre for having me visit; Mr Aziz Memon and his team for his vision, drive and support to establish the centre and facilitate my visit; and Rotary - the incredible group who took on the beast of polio but do so much more than that and this includes the Rotary Clubs of Canada, Pakistan and all over the world committed to making a polio-free world.
The biggest appreciation I have are for those who are there day to day living, working and surviving in these areas with such resilience and resourcefulness without expectations but instead with unbelievable humility and gratitude for any little access or opportunity they are afforded.
I usually don’t plug donations, as I prefer people to donate their time to campaigns, writing to government and other advocacy. But seeing the effectiveness of this program and knowing that all donations to the Rotary PolioPlus Fund are so effective, I have to promote this:
And for all those Canadians out there, hear this! If you give to the Rotary PolioPlus Fund in Canada your donation will be tripled, being matched by Canadian International Development Agency from the Canadian Government and then again by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. In other words, your $50 will become $150 and, for a project like the Resource Centre, that is a lot of food for their program, filters to clean their water, vaccines to end polio and so much more – follow the link above and choose Canada for your donation.