Mark Nicholson was astonished to witness the difference Rotary International is making in the world.
Especially after he and his wife, Diane, visited India.
“It was very profound to see how there are some people in India (who) live on very meager means,” said Nicholson, a Litchfield resident. “… It reminds you of all of the things you have to be thankful for when you see people who are getting along fine, but with a lot less than we’re fortunate to have.”
Nicholson is a semi-retired certified public accountant. He’s been involved with Litchfield Rotary for about 40 years. Rotary is an international service organization that provies humanitarian services aimed at building peace and goodwill in the world.
When a Rotary-sponsored trip to India presented itself, Nicholson couldn’t pass up.
“Well it was arranged by a travel agency out of Oakland, (California) and he’s a very involved Rotarian, and he’s had these trips to India before,” Nicholson said. “They’re to educate us about the Polio Plus program, and what other programs the Rotarians in India are doing.”
Dianne Mitchell, manager of Bursch Travel and member of Litchfield Rotary, said that Nicholson is a good Rotarian, as he’s the chair of the membership committee for the Rotary.
“He was there since the beginning of it,” Mitchell said. “(He’s) very committed to the community and the Rotary — one of the original members.”
The Rotary’s Polio Plus program started in 1988 with the goal to vaccinate children and eradicate polio. According to a 2019 statement by the World Health Organization, cases of wild poliovirus have declined by more than 99 percent since 1988.
“More than 18 million people can walk today, who would otherwise have been paralyzed,” WHO stated in a 2019 study showing a downward trend of poliomyelitis in regions such as southeast Asia, India, the Americas and others. “An estimated 1.5 million childhood deaths have been prevented, through the systematic administration of vitamin A during polio immunization activities.”
The Nicholsons helped vaccinate some children during their visit to India. A big part of traveling there was to remind the Indian Rotarians that they’re not alone, Nicholson said.
“It was very heartwarming, and I guess we were treated like royalty even though we are just regular people,” he said, explaining that the trip helped U.S. Rotarians “to learn more about what’s going on there, as well as to support those that are in India and doing a good job with the projects that they have ongoing.”
Rotary International also helps fund Jaipur Foot, which is an artificial limb factory in India that provides prosthetics, wheelchairs, hand-pedaled tricycles and crutches to amputees, along with hearing aids and more.
“It was really important that we saw these different projects,” Nicholson said. “(The) artificial limb factory in Jaipur was really amazing. … They (give) artificial limbs to people who have lost a limb in an accident, and it is absolutely free of charge to them. And they have their artificial limb in one to three days after they get there — it’s pretty amazing.”
Another establishment that receives financial support from Rotary International is St. Stephen’s Hospital in Delhi, India.
“Even though there have not been any new polio cases for over eight years,” Nicholson said, “there are still people who are previous polio cases that still can use some surgery, and they provide surgery to those people as well as people with other afflictions for free, also as a non-profit organization — very heart-warming.”
A total of 70 Rotary Club members and spouses from many parts of the U.S. and abroad participated in the trip to India.
“I was the only Rotarian member from Minnesota,” Nicholson said. “There were a dozen people from Canada that were Rotarians. So it was people from a large area that signed up for the trip.”
The benefit of being a Rotary member is knowing that some good has been done for the community and the world, he said.
The Litchfield Rotary hosts a fall bouquet sale in early October and Spring Fling, which is a banquet involving food and silent auction, as ways to fund the organization’s local projects, as well as support the international efforts. During Watercade, the Rotary sells burgers and brats at a food stand, too.
Since 2014, Litchfield Rotary has built furniture for Meeker County children who don’t have a place to sleep.
“They might be sleeping on the floor, on the couch, with one or more of their siblings in the same bed,” Nicholson said. “And we find out from social services that there’s a child or children in this home that could use a bed or beds. It’s about 225 beds that we’ve provided.”
Meanwhile, Rotary International’s latest project is to provide well and water systems in Kenya, he said.
“Having clean water for some of these disadvantaged communities has been a very common theme of a lot of international projects,” Nicholson concluded. “But there’s been lots of other things going on, too.”