By Gary McLelan
Special to the Mirror
On Feb. 25, Campbell River Rotarians held their Rotary Foundation Centennial Gala.
About 120 people attended and the atmosphere was one of great fellowship. Rotarians, family and friends attended from Nanaimo, the Comox Valley, Campbell River, Port McNeill and Port Hardy. The room was buzzing with everyone catching up with acquaintances.
Todd Peachey started the evening off with a “riveting” explanation of what the evening was about (100th Anniversary of the Rotary Foundation), what to expect (lots of action and entertainment), and a hint of some serious stuff that was coming our way. Todd then introduced the Master of Ceremonies, Bruce Williams of CTV Vancouver Island.
Bruce praised the work of Rotary and the Rotary Foundation and outlined that he has been very involved with Rotary over the years. Bruce was awarded a Paul Harris Fellowship in recognition of his volunteer work with many organizations, including the United Way and Jeneece Place.
In addition, Assistant Governor Robert Buckley gave a great “from the heart” speech about Rotary and the Foundation.
Following dinner, two deserving individuals were recognized with Paul Harris Fellowship awards. Todd Peachy introduced Chris Black, a local well known physiotherapist for her work with Cystic Fibrosis.
Her daughter, Kim, has this condition. Todd listed the many awards that Chris has received over the years, including the Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Award. Chris thanked Rotary for the Paul Harris Fellowship and went to great lengths in expressing her gratitude for all the great things Rotary has done both locally and internationally.
Pieter Koeleman introduced the second Paul Harris Fellow recipient, Brian Stamp. Brian is a retired local lawyer and he has done a huge amount of volunteer work in our community. In particular, Brian has contributed in a big way to making our local health care services better. Brian has been a key member of the former Hospital Board (now Health Authority) and, more recently, Brian has been the driving force behind the Campbell River Hospice Society. Brian made a speech following his award and spoke highly of the Campbell River Rotary Clubs and all the contributions Rotarians have made.
Highlight of the evening
To many, the highlight of the evening was the “knock you off your seat” presentation from polio survivor, Ramesh Ferris. Ramesh’s talk was preceded by an informative video covering the subjects of the history of the polio virus, the devastation to the human population that has resulted from the virus, and the efforts that have been made to eradicate this horrible disease.
Ramesh made his way into the room and onto the stage using a technique that is required of many polio victims in developing countries – he literally dragged himself across the floor and pulled himself onto the stage. He told his story from the heart – no notes – the audience heard of his young years in an impoverished village in India, his contraction of polio at age six months, his international adoption to Whitehorse, Yukon, and the many things that he has overcome given his significant physical disability.
It was one of the most amazing stories that anyone in the audience has heard and the impact of the story is beyond description – simply, amazing! Ramesh is a strong advocate for the eradication of polio in the world and has travelled to many countries to share his message. Ramesh has been recognized with many awards including the Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Award.
Ramesh Ferris is a polio survivor who was born in Coimbatore, India Dece. 9, 1979. His Birth Mother Lakshmi did not have access to the polio vaccine and because of this Ramesh contracted polio at the age of six months paralyzing his legs for life.
With no means to care for Ramesh, Lakshmi made the selfless act of turning over her only son at the age of one and a half years into the care of a Canadian Founded Orphanage called Families for Children – located just outside of Coimbatore, India.
Ramesh was approved to be adopted into the family of the Anglican Bishop of Yukon Ron Ferris and wife Jan who were residing in Whitehorse, Yukon. However, a couple of weeks prior to Ramesh’s arrival into Canada the Ferrises learned that the Department of Immigration was denying him into Canada as they were exercising section 19 of the Canadian Immigration Act stating that Ramesh was going to cause ‘excessive demand’ on health and social services due to him living with the effects of polio.
Bishop Ferris and Jan did not accept this answer and with the help of the media, Ramesh’s adoption story became a national sensation to the point where the federal government overturned its original decision and Ramesh was approved to enter Canada on a Ministerial Permit.
On Sept. 27, 1982, Ramesh Ferris became the First International Adoption in the Yukon Territory.
Shortly after his arrival into Canada at the age of four Ramesh underwent numerous surgeries at the Vancouver Children’s Hospital. It eventually allowed him to walk with the assistance of braces and walker for the first time. He then progressed to the use of crutches.
Ramesh is a Canadian Citizen and he has not let his obstacles in his life hinder his abilities to accomplish his dreams.
In 2008, Ramesh set out on probably one of the biggest ever polio awareness campaigns in modern time that Canada has ever seen from a polio survivor. April 12, 2008 he left mile zero of the Trans-Canada highway in Victoria and spent 174 days hand-cycling across Canada and taking the time to educate everyone, everywhere that polio has not been eradicated.
Since his 2008 Cross Canada Cycle to Walk Campaign, Ramesh has continued on his crusade to educate our global community on our responsibility to finish the job of eradicating polio and to assist in the rehabilitation efforts of polio survivors worldwide.