On a Saturday evening, Oct. 28, a sellout crowd gave a rousing standing ovation at the premiere of the new movie, “Dare to Dream, How Rotary Became the Heart and Soul of Polio Eradication.” The film tells the story of how Rotary International (RI) became a primary force in the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, a partnership that now includes the World Health Organization (WHO), Centers for Disease Control, UNICEF and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
The premiere was hosted by Howard Community College (HCC) in the Monteaboro Recital Hall of the Horowitz Visual and Performing Arts Center, and was emceed by Ken Solow, former district governor for Rotary District 7620 and the executive producer and writer of the film.
The evening began with a special presentation to HCC President Kate Heatherington (accepted by Development Director Missy Mattey) from Rotary District Governor Greg Wims in recognition of HCC’s ongoing service to Rotary District 7620. After the presentation, the audience sat back and viewed the 56-minute, full-length production.
A ‘Dream’ in the Making
Two years in the making, “Dare to Dream” is owned by Rotary District 7620’s Project Trust Fund, a nonprofit entity used by Rotary clubs to support their local community. The film was funded by more than 70 contributors, including Rotary districts, Rotary clubs, local businesses and individual Rotarians and non-Rotarians.
The purpose of the production is to entertain, inspire and educate viewers about how a few leaders with a strong vision and great determination can change the world. The film’s story takes place during the period from 1978 to 1988. It is a prequel to the WHO declaring polio eradication to be a global health goal in 1988.
Solow said that one of the biggest challenges the production had to meet was to try to tell a complicated story that included Rotary history, Rotary politics and public health controversy in a one-hour documentary. Rotary leaders overcame a 50-year tradition of not being engaged with global service projects. In addition, the decision to eradicate polio came at a time when public health officials were strongly opposed to focusing on a single health problem, like eradicating a specific disease, and wanted to focus on improving primary health care for all.
Ken Solow and Ilana Bittner, the film’s director and editor, called special guest Dr. John Sever to the stage at the end of the evening to honor him for his continuing service to the cause of polio eradication. Sever was presented with a reproduction of his letter to Sir Clem Renouf, RI president from 1978–79, dated April 1979, recommending that if Rotary was to undertake a campaign to eradicate a disease, he would recommend polio.
Sever is widely recognized for his initial work in suggesting that Rotary get involved with polio eradication, as well as for being a central figure in Rotary’s advocacy efforts to get governments engaged with funding polio eradication. He continues to be an active participant in the eradication effort, taking meetings around the world on behalf of Rotary.
The distribution plans for the documentary are ongoing. Solow was scheduled to meet with Rotary International’s public relations staff in Evanston, Ill., at the end of November (too late to cover in this article) to discuss how to distribute the film throughout the Rotary world. Currently the plan is to provide every Rotary club in the world a free download of a 20-minute excerpt of the movie and use it to encourage clubs and other interested viewers to pay a nominal fee to download the full feature. The net proceeds would then be used to fund the Polio Plus campaign.
Polio is now endemic in only three countries in the world: Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan. There are fewer than 20 cases of wild poliovirus so far in 2017, a reduction of 99.9% in cases since Rotary declared polio eradication to be a goal in 1985.
Three years after the last case is reported, the WHO will officially declare the disease to be eradicated. Until that time, countries will have to continue vaccinating children to protect them from polio, a childhood disease that cripples children.
To learn more about Rotary International and the polio eradication effort, or to make a contribution to polio eradication, visit Rotary.org.