March 09, 2009


Rotary students tackle polio

High schoolers brainstorm ideas to eradicate disease at TC3 conference

FarkasJoe McIntyre/staff photographer
Polio survivor Chris Farkas speaks to high school students Saturday at a Rotary conference organized to devise ways of eliminating polio.

Staff Reporter

Students from nine local high schools planned ways to support Rotary International’s efforts to eradicate polio Saturday during the first ever Rotary 7170 District Interact Conference.
It was held at Tompkins Cortland Community College.
Interact, which stands for International Action, is a student club at many high schools that is part of Rotary International. Students from the Interact clubs at Cortland High School and Homer High School were among about 80 students who attended the event.
The students split into groups to brainstorm for ideas to help Rotary eradicate polio, a disease that has been eradicated in the United States but is still a major problem in four countries: Pakistan, Afghanistan, India and Nigeria. In 2008, 1,600 cases of polio were reported in these four countries, said William Cadwallader, Rotary district coordinator and retired Cortland area veterinarian. He told students that if people from those countries travel, the disease could return to this part of the world, unless it is eradicated.
The students planned events and ideas that would help raise money and spread awareness about this global problem in Central New York. Students came up with ideas such as hosting a “battle of the bands” competition, selling bracelets and T-shirts, and hosting an “embarrass the teacher day.” They then voted on their favorite idea, which was a 24-hour polio weekend that would include several of these smaller ideas.
During the event, a representative from Cortland High School’s Interact Club handed a $300 check to Cadwallader to use toward Rotary International’s polio eradication effort. This was half of the money they raised for a pancake breakfast that was held the following day.
Perry Berkowitz, former superintendent of Vestal Central Schools, told the students that because the polio vaccine used in the affected countries only costs about 50 cents per dose, they had just potentially saved about 600 lives.
Cadwallader spoke to the students about Rotary’s efforts. Rotary began working to eradicate polio in 1985 with the goal to eradicate it by the year 2000, Cadwallader said. At that time, polio was a major problem in 130 countries and 350,000 people were infected with it, he said. The last case of polio in the Western Hemisphere was in Peru in 1994.
“It’s so important that we continue our goal to make this world free of polio, and it can be done,” he said.
Chris Farkas, a local polio survivor, encouraged the students to continue their involvement in the polio eradication effort and have fun in the process.
Farkas uses a wheelchair because of the muscle deterioration caused by his polio but said he still thoroughly enjoys his life.
“If you do nothing else in life do something fun. And do something in your community,” Farkas said.
Christine Gregory, advisor for Interact at Cortland High School, said Interact, in only its second year, is the largest student group at Cortland High School with 100 members.
Rotary International’s current campaign is to match Bill and Melinda Gates’ donation of $100 million by raising another $100 million by 2012, Cadwallader said. The Gates’ recently donated another $230 to the campaign, which Rotary International plans to eventually match by 50 percent.


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