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Henry County Rotarians
volunteer in Africa

 

By Monroe Roark
Times Correspondent 

  David Curry is above average in height even for a Henry County resident, but in Togo he is a giant.

  At least, that is what residents of the west African nation called him on his recent trip there on behalf of the Rotary Club of Henry County. People there are typically smaller compared to Americans, so at six-feet-four he stood out more than ever.

  If that isn’t enough, consider that he was one of the first white men some of the children there had ever seen.

Henry County Tax Commissioner, David Curry stands among residents of Togo, a small nation just west of Nigeria, where he and fellow Rotarian, Brad Fawcett, recently volunteered their time.                                                             Special photo

    On a trip sponsored by Rotary International, Curry and fellow Henry County Rotarian Brad Fawcett joined about 40 other people from all over the United States and Canada for the ninth annual West African Conference, the purpose of which was to meet Rotary clubs in that part of the world and see what their needs are in their communities.

  The visitors were also there to conduct polio vaccinations and assist with the construction of a school building. The students there now meet in an open-air structure with a thatched roof, and work is underway on a concrete building for them.

  A number of years ago, Rotary International partnered with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation with the goal of eradicating polio worldwide. As of 2010 the target area was narrowed down to four nations identified by the acrostic PAIN (Pakistan, Afghanistan, India and Nigeria). In the past 12 months India has been removed from that list as there has not been a polio case identified there in quite some time.

  In Togo, a small nation just west of Nigeria, the Rotarians administered oral vaccinations to every child from one day old up to five years of age. Some were likely repeat treatments, as it is impossible to keep track of who has been vaccinated in that part of the country.

  “Eventually all of the kids there will have been vaccinated and it [polio] will be eradicated,” said Curry.

  They stayed in a local hotel, and while they did not have to sleep outdoors, their accommodations were nothing like what would be found here. They slept on beds that consisted of single box springs with pieces of foam instead of mattresses.

  “They tried to take care of us the best way they could,” said Curry, who chuckled when asked about the cuisine. “I’m not sure what I ate. They said it was chicken, but it didn’t look like any chicken I had ever eaten.”

  He ate mostly native food, which included a lot of fish and some chicken. Of course, all of the visitors drank bottled water.

  A portion of Togo is on the Atlantic coast and is home to the largest deepwater port in the region. As such, the country is making strides to portray itself as a major port for economic benefit. Curry described the people of Togo as “humble,” saying that they appreciate any and all help from the developed world.

    “They understand that their situation is quite drastic,” he said of the standard of living there. “One man told me that when Americans visit, they almost never come back a second time.”

  In one village, a child came running up to him and jumped into his arms, squeezing his neck as if they were a father and son reunited after a long time apart.

  “They are that drawn to you,” said Curry. “When you walk through town, kids will rub your hands and just want to touch you.”

  In one location where vaccinations were being given, some of the small children cried even though no shots were involved. Curry learned that those children had never seen white people before, and as half of the country believes in voodoo, they probably thought their guests were ghosts that had materialized out of the bush.

  Curry’s nine-day trip ended on a down note. Two nights before his return he became ill, and the hotel manager quickly recognized his symptoms as malaria, which was confirmed through tests at a local clinic. He got medicine and was well enough to travel, but within a day after returning home he was in Piedmont Henry Hospital with chest pains that felt like a heart attack but were actually due to a viral infection. The hospital identified and treated the problem, and he is back at work while continuing to return to his normal level of energy.

  Aside from the health issues, Curry’s first trip to a Third World country had quite an impact.

  “They appreciated so much what we were trying to do for them,” he said. “I think everyone from here should go somewhere like that at least once. It definitely changes your perspective.”

 

 

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