RI President John Kenny: On 23 February, Rotary’s 105th anniversary, a Kick Polio Out of Africa campaign was launched with the symbolic kicking of a football.  This ball was signed by Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, a polio survivor.

The journey began in Cape Town, South Africa, one of the host cities for the 2010 World Cup.  The ball travelled through 22 polio-affected countries en route to our convention here in Montreal.  On the RI website, a virtual football was signed by Rotarians to support this effort.

 Rotary International Montreal Convention 2010 Award Presentation

 RI President John Kenny: On 23 February, Rotary’s 105th anniversary, a Kick Polio Out of Africa campaign was launched with the symbolic kicking of a football.  This ball was signed by Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, a polio survivor.

The journey began in Cape Town, South Africa, one of the host cities for the 2010 World Cup.  The ball travelled through 22 polio-affected countries en route to our convention here in Montreal.  On the RI website, a virtual football was signed by Rotarians to support this effort.

It is appropriate that our next guest, a Rotarian who was an integral part of this journey and presented the ball to President Laurent Gbagbo of Cote d’Ivoire, bring it to the stage for my signature.  She is currently the national outreach advisor at the UN Operation in Cote d’Ivoire, chair of the Cote d’Ivoire PolioPlus Committee, and member of the Africa Regional PolioPlus Committee.  Here to make a presentation to Rotary International, on behalf of the minister of health in Cote d’Ivoire, please welcome from District 9100, Rotary Club of Abidjan-Bietry, Cote d’Ivoire, Marie-Irene Richmond-Ahoua.

Marie-Irene Richmond-Ahoua
Outreach Advisor, UN Operation in Cote d’Ivoire
Chair, Cote d’Ivoire PolioPlus Committee
Member, Africa Regional PolioPlus Committee
Rotary Club of Abidjan-Bietry, Cote d’Ivoire

In a few minutes, I will have the privilege to present an award that the government of Cote d’Ivoire, my country, awarded to Rotary International to recognize the distinguished services provided by our prestigious organization as part of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative.

I cannot tell you how proud I feel this morning standing in front of you.  I am grateful to God for giving me this extraordinary opportunity and I would like to thank my friend Bob Scott, chairman of the International PolioPlus Committee and of the 101st Rotary International Convention committee, for this glorious occasion as we are experiencing the friendship and fellowship that are unique to our Rotary meetings.

Dear Rotarians and distinguished guests, Ladies and Gentlemen, this morning I am not going to talk about the epidemiological situation in my country because Dr. Bruce Aylward, a brilliant expert on polio from WHO, will do it much better than I would.

However, I would like to share with you a few words on my main responsibilities as chair of the Cote d’Ivoire National PolioPlus Committee, which is comprised of 15 dedicated members representing various clubs.

With the support of this dynamic team, my role is to

  • Assist the Rotary Foundation of Rotary International in reaching the goals of polio eradication in Cote d’Ivoire as per the guidelines and goals established by the Trustees
  • Officially represent Rotary International to the government of Cote d’Ivoire within the scope of this initiative
  • Advocate the objectives of our ambitious PolioPlus program to personalities, celebrities, religious and traditional leaders, media personalities, opinion leaders, as well as the private sector.  This is how in 2005, when the war in our country was at its peak, we decided to meet the various fighting parties (government and rebel forces) in order to ensure the safety of the immunization teams in the area under their respective control and the access of health agents to the children in order to administer the oral polio vaccine- we were successful.

Moreover, we had the privilege to promote our action to the head of state, President Laurent Gbagbo, who contributed more than $69 000 to the Foundation.  As a token of Cote d’Ivoire’s gratitude toward Rotary International’s work for mankind, President Gbagbo, following the signing ceremony of the Kick Polio Out of Africa ball, has promised to provide a clubhouse for the Rotarians of Cote d’Ivoire as their national headquarters.  In addition, he and his wife have personally and on multiple occasions taken part in the official launching of the National Immunization Days.  This is why the Rotary International president and trustee chairman presented Laurent Gbagbo with the Polio Eradication Champion Award on 24 July 2007 in Abidjan, with Past Rotary International President Luis Vicente Giay in attendance.

  • Develop a strategy for social mobilization funded with grants and coordinate those plans with other partners.  I wish to express our deepest gratitude to the Trustees of The Rotary Foundation for the funds awarded for polio eradication in our country.  I also want to thank the commitment and dedication of the PolioPlus team in Evanston under the direction of Carol Pandak for their valuable help.  My thanks also go to Past District Governor Ambroise Tchimbalanga-Kasongo, chairman of the regional PolioPlus committee for Africa.  From the bottom of my heart, I would like to recognize the financial contributions of all the districts that supported financially the immunization campaigns carried out in Cote d’Ivoire through the PolioPlus Partners program.
  • Ensure [an] excellent working relationship between the national PolioPlus committee and the International PolioPlus Committee.  It is a matter of principle for us to communicate and publicize our accomplishments in the media and to the public.  This helps recruit new members.
  • Participate in the meetings of the Interagency Coordinating Committee and other meetings of the [WHO] Expanded Programme on Immunization
  • Report to the Rotary Foundation and the International PolioPlus Committee the activities carried out, as well as the status of any PolioPlus projects funded with a Foundation grant
  • Inform Rotarians and encourage their effective participation in immunization activities carried out in their region with the support of Rotaractors and their families.  Several clubs routinely provide vehicles and fuel to the disposal of supervisors.

Dear Rotarians, faith, enthusiasm, humility, and dignity characterize the way we, my team, the Rotarians of my country, and I contribute to a world without polio in our country, which is scarred by social and political conflict since 2002- work that  comes with its share of dangers and challenges.  We never hesitate to travel day and night to besieged areas.  Our motivation was fuelled by our will to access all children wherever they are and immunize them against polio.

We are convinced that the Global Polio Eradication Initiative contributes to reduce poverty in Africa and provides an opportunity for those children and their families to lead healthy and productive lives.  We, African Rotarians, know too well that there are other urgent problems that need attention, but we are determined to end polio once and for all because if we do not achieve our goal of polio eradication in the next three years, there is a real risk to see the disease come back even stronger.

This is why, as we have been facing a new outbreak in the wild poliovirus in western Africa since early 2009, it was deemed necessary to organize a quick and vigorous response and qualify NIDs [National Immunization Days].  Polio eradication is not optional, it is an obligation.  Polio eradication is possible considering the significant progress made in the past two decades, and we Rotarians, as we are gathered her on this day, 21 June 2010, must renew our commitment to meet this moral and historical obligation.  We must commit to overcome the remaining obstacles and free Africa, Southeast Asia, and the world from this crippling disease, which ruins the lives of children before they even begin.  As an African woman and mother, I will not tolerate it.

Dear Rotary friends, ladies and gentlemen, on behalf of the children of Cote d’Ivoire in particular, I would like to thank those who believed in Rotary’s action and vision from the very beginning, those who dreamed of a world free of this terrible and crippling disease, those who shared this dream with Rotary.

To each one of them, I would like to say that conflicts and difficult conditions in Africa are just obstacles or challenges that we will overcome in order to keep the promises made to the children of the world and give them the gift of a world forever free of the poliovirus.

My dear Rotary friends and distinguished guests, I am going to tell you a secret.  On 22 December 2009, as I was coming home from several meetings regarding polio eradication organized by WHO and the regional PolioPlus committee for Africa in Harare, Zimbabwe, I took a fall at the airport in Nairobi and broke my left kneecap.  I had to undergo surgery and could not go back to work for more than two months.  I spent New Year’s Eve at the hospital and for four months was only able to walk with a walker, then two crutches, finally with one crutch.  Now I am finally able to walk without support.

I strongly believe that it was God’s intention to show me what it is like to be handicapped, to depend on others and all the ensuing frustrations.  I am now more than ever determined to add my humble contribution to the worldwide eradication of polio so that no child has to suffer from that terrible disease anymore.

Dear Rotarians, The Future of Rotary is in Your Hands and it is our responsibility to build our communities and bridge the continents in order to end polio.

Now, I have the honour and privilege to present you with the award granted by the government of Cote d’Ivoire to Rotary International in recognition of its continuous efforts to free this country of polio and its efforts to reach all children of the world and protect them against this terrible disease.

Moreover, I would like to inform you that yours truly and 10 members of the national PolioPlus committee of Cote d’Ivoire received the National Order Medal from President Laurent Gbagbo on 7 August 2007 during the festivities celebrating the independence of Cote d’Ivoire with 10 000 personalities and guests in attendance.  On that occasion and at our request, a member of an immunization team who became disabled following an accident that occurred during the 2006 NIDs was also granted this award.

This award is dedicated to all Rotarians worldwide, to each of you, and it is a source of motivation to get rid of polio once and for all.