Kenai River Rotarian returns from India

Posted: Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Retired Skyview high school science teacher, Mark Larson, recently returned from an experience of a lifetime in India. Larson, a Kenai River Rotarian joined the Rotary Dream Team India 2010 led by Rotarian Elias Thomas of Maine, to participate in the National Immunization Days (NIDs) in India. "I always wanted to be part of Rotary and what they do locally and globally, but when I was teaching I couldn't make the noon meetings until the Kenai River Rotary Club, that meets in the evening, was chartered," Larson told the Dispatch. "I had been aware of Rotary's goal to eliminate Polio worldwide since 1985, and when I retired, I joined the Kenai River Club and that led to the opportunity to participate in Dream Team India," he said.

According to Larson, children under the age of five years were brought to distribution sites throughout the country, and in one day, as many as 150 million children were immunized. Rotary Dream Team India 2010 was comprised of about 35 Rotarians and non-Rotarians from Alaska, Canada, Russia, France, India, and other states of the U.S.A. "The comradery was wonderful and I now have friends all over the world. But on a deeper level, to hold a child in your hands in a remote village south Deli in a very poor area, and know that the drops of vaccine that you were placing in their mouths would prevent them from suffering or dying from a life with Polio was just amazing and still gives me goose bumps," said Larson. Since the mid-1980's when Rotary took up the challenge to totally eradicate polio from the face of the earth, more than two billion children have been immunized. Through the cooperation of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Rotary Foundation of Rotary International, some $555 million dollars will have been raised to be used solely for the eradication of polio. Furthermore according to RI, through the efforts of Rotarians like Mark Larson in cooperation with the World Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and UNICEF, polio has been eradicated from almost every country, with only Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nigeria, and parts of India remaining endemic.

In addition to the NID, the Rotary Dream Team served as common laborers in a construction project in the village of Teenchwala, India. "We helped build a dam for the local village where every year the monsoons come to this very dry area and the precipitation runs off rapidly through gullies and doesn't do much good for the land. So we built a check dam that holds the water long enough to seep into the ground, and build up the aquifers and perhaps be able to provide future irrigation that will allow them to have three crops a year rather than the single poor crop they have now," explained Larson. "It was hard work, but very satisfying working side by side with the local villagers, forming bucket lines to pass the sand, gravel, and cement. We sweat together and ate together and the appreciation of villagers for our help was overwhelming," he added. Larson has compiled a slide show of his India experience which he is willing to share with other local groups, schools, or organizations. For more information contact the Kenai River Rotary or Larson at 283-9293, or for further details of the work of the Rotary Dream Team visit their blog at

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