By Shapreka Clarke, President of Rotaract Club of Eleuthera in the Bahamas
After eighteen hours of flying from the Bahamas, I finally arrived in Port Harcourt, Nigeria, on 19 October, 2016, to participate in the 11th West Africa Project Fair. As I stepped foot on African soil for the first time, I did not know the adventure that was ahead of me, the lasting friendships I would make or how my life would forever be changed. That first moment getting off the plane, I remember being very excited and a little nervous.
Through the sponsorship of the Rotary Club of Rancho Cotati in California, I was able to embark on this journey with 34 fellow Rotarians and Rotaractors from the United States and the Bahamas. While in Port Harcourt, we participated in the project fair and community service projects which included visiting a community health clinic which provided free medications and a local school where we handed out back packs to students. We visited historic sites and tried lots and lots of local food.
The West Africa Project Fair, the primary purpose of our trip, gave our group an opportunity to discover the various projects Rotarians across Africa are undertaking. It also allowed us to form partnerships with projects we were interested in supporting. While at the fair, I presented with Rotaractors and Rotarians from the Bahamas, California, and Yenagoa, Nigeria, about our joint Telemedicine Project. Telemedicine allows doctors from California to connect with doctors in underserved areas to consult on diagnoses and treatment plans. Despite the distance, doctors have consistent access to mentors and educational opportunities through telemedicine. Our booth raised awareness about the project and encouraged clubs across Africa to participate while forming new partnerships with clubs in the United States.
One of the most memorable days of the trip was World Polio Day. Our group was joined by local Rotarians and Rotaractors as we started activities early in the morning with a 1 kilometer walk through the Port Harcourt community. This walk gave us an opportunity to see more of the community while also raising awareness about polio. Para soccer players also accompanied us on the walk and we attended a para Soccer game at the end of the day. Para soccer serves as a global employment mechanism for people with disabilities. Watching these men play soccer despite their disabilities was truly inspiring.
After the walk we visited polio immunization health centers across Port Harcourt where we administered polio immunization drops to children under five years of age. To be able to immunize a child and help Nigeria get one step closer to eradicating polio was an amazing experience that I will never forget.
This trip allowed me to better understand how important Rotary is in other parts of the world. I was given an opportunity to engage in field work in the local communities, create strong friendships with the West African Rotarians and Rotaractors, and participate in hands-on humanitarian and health related work. It was truly a life changing opportunity.
The 2017 West Africa Project Fair will be hosted in Accra, Ghana, 4-11 October 2017. For more information, visit www.rotarywestafricaprojectfair.org; contact email@example.com to register.