India, Polio, and Itzhak Perlman

Dayle Quigley

Okay, it’s true that nothing in the above title fits into my goal of experiencing music in small town Wisconsin venues but life is never as neat as we would like. It has also been longer than I would have wanted since I lasted blogged but you will soon understand why.

Itzhak Perlman

The premier violinist of modern times, Perlman contracted polio at age four and overcame physical challenges to achieve international acclaim in classical music. He is the recipient of 15 Grammy Awards and a Lifetime Achievement Award for excellence.

Sometimes when life calls you need to answer even when it is inconvenient and messy, even when it is unplanned and unexpected. Sometimes, you just have to say yes. Back in October I heard that Itzhak Perlman was playing a benefit concert in Chicago with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra for Polio Plus. Rotarians around the globe have been working for close to two decades to eradicate polio and as Mr. Perlman would tell you, we are this close. I have never seen Mr. Perlman play in person and as a violinist, I was not going to miss this opportunity. I reserved my tickets for the March 7th concert in October. It was so far in advance, I couldn’t remember in January where I had put the tickets (turned out they were in the will call office.) And then in late December I got an invitation to go to India to participate in the National Polio Immunization Day campaign. Twice a year in India, they vaccinate every child under the age of 5 years old against polio. They set up stations for in every city and town across the nation for the first day and then spend the next 2 to 4 days going house to house, tent to tent, making sure that every child is found. During this time, they vaccinate over 200 million children. The sheer enormity of it is overwhelming. And so when the invitation came, I considered it an aligning of the stars and I said yes. Go to India, vaccinate children against Polio and then return to the States just in time to hear Itzhak Perlman, a polio survivor, perform. It doesn’t get much more cosmic than that.

So, I got my VISA, rearranged my schedule and flew literally half way around the world. I went to India with 35 rotarians from across the United States and helped cover Ghaziabad a town of 16 million people outside of Delhi. The first day 446,000 children were vaccinated in our town utilizing 2800 vaccination centers and 943,00 vaccinated by home visits. That’s over 1.3 million children vaccinated in just Ghaziabad. Here are the statistics for the week of 27 February 2011. 709,000 immunization stations, 2.5 million vaccinators, 209 million homes visited, and 169 million children under the age of 5 vaccinated. It is hard to fathom the number of people necessary just to organize this endeavor let alone carry it out.Some people would ask if it is worth it. Can it possibly be successful? But just look at the numbers ….In Nigeria and India in 2008 there were 1357 cases, in 2010 just 63 cases, and to date in 2011 just 1 case. We are this close.

Staff Benda Bilili

A Congolese soukous band largely composed of polio survivors, Staff Benda Bilili describes the impact of the disease in the group’s signature song, “Polio.” The band received a 2009 WOMEX (World Music Expo) Artist Award for World Music.

You might ask what this has to do with art, what this has to do with Wisconsin. Ask these questions of Itzhak Perlman and James DePreist. Both are outstanding artists and both, although very successful in life, would rather I believe go through life standing up. The last indigenous case of polio in the United States was in 1979 but it is only one non-stop airplane trip away. Any child not currently immunized in the United States is at risk of being a statistic, at risk for multiple corrective surgeries, at risk for permanent disability. We are this close.

I will tell you that the End Polio Now concert with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, conducted by James DePreist, and featuring Itzhak Perlman was a raging success as was the reception afterwards. The hall was packed and the performers at the top of their game. I’m glad I said yes. Yes, to going to India to help our counterparts in their daunting task. And yes, to the benefit concert where I was encouraged to see people who are willing to fight to help people who live 4000 miles away. You see, we are this close…but as a friend of mine points out, close only counts when you’re dancing. We have the ability by working together to end a devastating disease. To wipe it from the face of the earth. What a legacy we can leave our children and grandchildren and our great-grandchildren, but only if we work not as a single community, or state, or nation but only if we work as one world.

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One Response to India, Polio, and Itzhak Perlman

  1. Scott says:

    Dear Ms Quigley,
    Since I have been reading you as blogger, none of your previous blogs have opened up to us readers as to what type of person you are more than this one. I can tell from your writing that you are a person that has a very big heart and cares very much about what happens to people in this world. Your blog was very informative without being overwhelmed with the numbers you provided. Thank you for taking the time to travel across the world (well half way)and devoting your time to making the end of Polio closer to an end (fingers just moved a bit closer).
    SMA

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