An important pre-note to this post. The example I will share with you here is one of the latest of many from the Pakistan Rotary Polio Plus 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.
The Pakistan Rotary Polio Resource Centre – Site Town, Karachi
The scene is dense ramshackle shelters, no sanitation infrastructure, no access to clean water, food scares or only available to those who can afford it, lack of schools, clinics, medicine, doctors and no real sense of paid employment – not that everyone is sitting around doing nothing, 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 any for their labour.
This is the reality of Site Town, Karachi and that I drove through and 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 adequately with access and opportunity. 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 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 community is Rotary. Aziz appears to be a successful business man and seems to be very busy 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 model:
- It is from the community for the community– this is not a white man telling the people what to do, it has come from the people of Karachi in consultation with education professionals, community leaders, local government and 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 or the refusal rates for vaccine are high. However their mandate isn’t to force the community to take vaccines but to show they are there to support in all ways and 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 to as many as possible and then they have 25 other hubs in four districts that provide polio vaccines on a regular and ongoing basis to 100,000 children rather than just on 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 remotest 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 being so close to its demise but the strategies are shifting 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.
Civil unrest is also a problem in these places with many different migrant populations settling in close by places and living in very close quarters but instead of sending in the military we can send in Rotary to listen, learn and work with the people.
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 unbelievable humble and gratifying for any little access or opportunity they are afforded.
I usually don’t plug donations much 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:
This is the link to give to the Rotary International PolioPlus Fund http://www.rotary.org/en/Contribute/Funds/PolioPlusFund/Pages/ridefault.aspx
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 – your $50 will become $150 and in 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.