Making a Difference Each month the Rotary Club of West Chester contributes a column that explores the organizations and initiatives that are making a difference around the world and right here in our community.
Tanzania may seem a world away from West Chester. The differences in climate, culture, traditions, education and beliefs between the two places could hardly be greater. But, for one group of Rotarians, there is a strong connection between our idyllic suburban Pennsylvania town and the sub-Saharan African nation. Albinism is a genetic condition resulting in the lack of pigment in one’s skin and eyes. In the United States, it is relatively rare, occurring once in about every 14,000 births. In Tanzania and neighboring countries, however, it is much more common. In fact, the difference is an entire order of magnitude greater: albinism occurs once in every 1,400 births in the region. It is also much more deadly, not from the disease, but from the ancient beliefs, superstitions and the practice of voodoo. Albinos are believed to be cursed and are thus persecuted and even killed. Certain albino body parts are believed to carry magical powers and are considered very valuable. Children are often dismembered and sold to witch doctors. It is not uncommon for parents to cut off a hand of their own child and sell it for quite a bit of money. Here in West Chester, Rotarian Ernest Zlotolow engaged the international committee of the Rotary Club of West Chester and created the Children’s’ Orthopedic Rehabilitation Strategies (or CORS) initiative. This group combats the atrocities that are occurring half a world away by soliciting money from major donors to fund operations. One of the most powerful contributions that CORS makes is contingent on its relationship with Shriner’s Hospital in Philadelphia. Shriner’s doctors have completed several reconstructive surgeries and fitted countless victims with prosthetics who were flown here from Tanzania. Since it is cumbersome to bring people here, Shriners and CORS have also created an outreach program, training surgeons and prosthetic teams worldwide in the cutting-edge programs developed here in the Philadelphia area. Recently, a symposium was held in Havana Cuba, funded by CORS, where 100 surgeons were trained in the practices. Obviously, these only fix part of the problem. The greater issue is the underlying beliefs that have been in place for centuries. That is why CORS is working with organizations such as Amnesty International and Under the Same Sun to change perceptions of people with albinism and persecute those who hunt and/or profit from their deaths and dismemberment. There has been progress, but there is still quite a bit of work to be done. Changing cultural norms — even ones that we here in the states feel are obviously abhorrent — is often a long and challenging process Living in West Chester, it’s hard to believe that such atrocities still exist. But thanks in part to the hard work of a few Rotarians, CORS continues to fight for those folks. –Rotary@thewcpress.com Interested in making a difference? The Rotary Club of West Chester meets at West Chester Country Club every Thursday at noon.
OCTOBER 2019 THEWCPRESS.COM
Voice of the Borough