Rotaract brings polio awareness to Swat

Members of Swarthmore’s Rotaract were stationed at the entrance to Sharples on Monday as part of a campus-wide initiative to raise awareness and funds for polio eradication. (Justin Toran-Burrell/The Phoenix)

Last Monday, Swarthmore’s Rotaract group brought the issue of polio awareness to Swarthmore. The “purple pinky project,” was a fundraising and awareness raising day of tabling at Swarthmore about the ongoing issue of polio worldwide.

Members of Swarthmore’s Rotaract were stationed at the entrance to Sharples on Monday as part of a campus-wide initiative toraise awareness and funds for polio eradication.

In just two meals, Rotaract was able to collect $156 in one dollar donations at Sharples. In exchange for a dollar, the donator could have his or her pinky finger painted purple with nail polish. This is based off of actual practices during international vaccination days in countries such as India, where medical workers will mark the pinkies of vaccinated children with iodine in order to prevent double vaccinations. “This purple pinky becomes a symbol of being free from polio,” Eleanor Pratt ’14, co-president of Rotaract, said.

Rotaract is a campus group with both national and international affiliations, whose activities largely consist of carrying out service projects on weekends. “This isn’t something we would typically do, but we wanted to try something different,” Pratt said.

The sum of money raised surprised Pratt. “We didn’t think that we’d raise very much money because it’s just a dollar a person and we know people don’t bring money with them to lunch. But we really wanted to raise awareness,” Pratt said.

However, Pratt was surprised by the number of students that approached Rotaract’s table who were unaware that polio was still an issue in global health. “We should know, and we should care about it because it can spread,” she said.

Currently, the places where the risk of contracting polio is highest are India and, to a lesser extent, West and Central Africa. Numbers of cases has been drastically shrinking since the campaign for eradication began in the 1980’s. The number of reported cases have dropped from 350,000 in 1988 to fewer than 2000 in 2008, according to rotary6150.org. However, the stated goal of Rotary International remains the complete eradication of the disease worldwide.

Rotaract’s other projects that members participate in are generally service-oriented. In the “Books Through Bars” project they participated in earlier this year, for example, members of the group sorted books to send to prisoners. In the past, they have also been involved with Cradles to Crayons, which provides clothing, books, school supplies and other necessary goods to children living in homeless and low income situations, as well as volunteering at local food banks and at the local Ronald McDonald House.

The group decided to focus on polio awareness in addition to their other projects because of their affiliation to the International Rotary, an organization that unites thousands of Rotary clubs in high schools, colleges and communities around the world. “The global eradication of polio has historically been one of Rotary International’s main projects,” Jen Hu ‘14, co-president of Rotaract along with Pratt, said.

The group also has connections with the Rotary group within the Borough of Swarthmore, which held their own purple pinky project outside the Co-op grocery store on Monday. The Borough’s group also holds other fundraisers to fight polio, including a silent auction that will take place this coming weekend.

Lisa Lee, Director of Alumni Relations, also acts as liaison between the bourough’s group and the college’s club. Lee mentioned to the student group that National Polio Day may be a good opportunity for the group to do awareness raising on campus, and was pleased with the students’ organizing of the fundraiser. “I think it’s important that they’re involved in the things that are really important to Rotary International, and I think they think that too,” Lee said.

This particular event was done without any sort of coordination with the event in the Borough. “[The Borough’s Rotary group] interacts with them in informal ways … in terms of this particular project, they carried it out pretty much on their own,” Lee said.

The school’s Rotaract group will give all donated money to the Rotary group in the Borough, which will, in turn, be making a donation to Rotary International after their annual silent auction this weekend.

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