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A life-changing trip for one, a life-saving trip for many

Local Rotarian travels to Ivory Coast to help administer polio vaccines.

COURTESY PHOTO: DONNA BOSAK - Hillsboro resident and Rotary member Donna Bosak administers drops of the polio vaccine do a young girl during her trip to the Ivory Coast late last year.Donna Bosak says she could talk forever about her nine-day trip to the Ivory Coast last November. While relaying the experience and flipping through photos, Bosak uses the word “life-changing” often.

The trip was “life-changing” for her, but potentially life-saving for the children she encountered.

Bosak, a Hillsboro resident, small business owner and Hillsboro Rotary member, traveled to the Ivory Coast late last year as part of a Rotary International trip to meet Rotarians from West Africa and hear about possible global projects she could propose to Hillsboro Rotary Club members.Donna Bosak

While there, Bosak and a couple dozen other Rotarians from the U.S. made the trek to a small village to help administer polio vaccines as part of Rotary’s ongoing international efforts to eradicate the disease.

Never mind that the U.S. State Department issued a warning to travelers headed for West Africa 10 days before her trip. Forget the fact that the Ebola epidemic had swept through West Africa the year prior or that the terrorist attacks on Paris and on Garissa University in northern Kenya happened while she was there — Bosak would happily do it all over again.

COURTESY PHOTO: DONNA BOSAK - Children in the village of Nighissaf, Ivory Coast, are all smiles for Donna Bosak's camera.She started her trip in Abidjan, the economic capital of Ivory Coast and a city of about 4 million. One of the first things Bosak noticed, she says, is there is very little homelessness. “People are very poor, but at the end of the day, they have somewhere to go.”

She was taken with the kindness of her fellow Rotarians from West Africa and all of the people she met.

“No one has much money, but what they do have is their smile — and they’re very happy to share it with you,” Bosak says.

The highlight, she says, was the day the group spent in Nighissaf, a village about two hours by dirt road from Abidjan. That day, Rotarians and staff and volunteers from the World Health Organization vaccinated about 100 children under the age of 5 against polio.

“When I gave the first vaccine to a little girl, at that moment I knew I had the power to protect these children against an easily preventable disease,” Bosak says.

The trip to Nighissaf was one Bosak won’t soon forget. Her group was greeted by villagers dressed in colorful clothing, singing and dancing. “The chief told us through an interpreter that, ‘immunization day is a day of celebration,’” Bosak said.

Indeed, they did celebrate — with music, dancing, a meal, a short canoe ride on the river, photos and many, many smiles on the faces of the villagers and the visitors alike.

Bosak still get chills telling her story. “To be a part of history ... eradicating a disease ... it was really personal for me.”

According to information from the World Health Organization, only two countries — Afghanistan and Pakistan — have never stopped transmission of the polio virus.COURTESY PHOTO: DONNA BOSAK - Villagers in bright clothing dressed for a day of celebration when Bosak and other Rotary volunteers arrived in Nighissaf, Ivory Coast to give polio vaccinations.

“Despite the progress achieved since 1988, as long as a single child remains infected with poliovirus, children in all countries are at risk of contracting the disease. The poliovirus can easily be imported into a polio-free country and can spread rapidly amongst unimmunized populations,” WHO’s website says.

For that reason, Bosak, Rotarians and WHO will continue their efforts for as long as it takes.

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