Andrea Aviles and Monica Morales in the short term simply want to do what they can to help eradicate the wretched polio disease.
Polio (poliomyelitis) reached epidemic status in the United States in the 1940s and 1950s but the U.S. was declared polio-free in 1979. Polio is an infectious disease caused by the poliovirus. In about 0.5 percent of cases there is muscle weakness resulting in an inability to move. This can occur over a few hours to a few days. The weakness most often involves the legs but may less commonly involve the muscles of the head, neck and diaphragm. Many but not all people fully recover. In those with muscle weakness about 2-5 percent of children and 15-30 percent of adults die. Another 25 percent of people have minor symptoms such as fever and a sore throat and up to 5 percent have headache, neck stiffness and pains in the arms and legs.
The two Sonoma State University students last week embarked on a weeklong trip to India to fight the disease. Aviles and Morales are representing the SSU Rotoract Club, which is an offshoot of Rotary International. For Aviles, this will be her seventh working trip with Rotoract, while it is the first for Morales.
“I was actually first interested because of the international service,” Aviles said. “We went to the Bahamas and there were a lot of service projects going on.”
One of the projects involved helping the women of the Bahamas use sewing machines as a resource to creating profits and becoming more self-sustainable. She also helped a school become more sustainable as well as taking part in the many cultural presentations of different countries Rotoract represents. Rotoract, like Rotary, is an international service group and Aviles said she met students from Iran, China, Germany and Peru.
“That project was an eye-opener to me and showed me what it means to be a Rotoractor and help the world,” Aviles said.
Morales, a sophomore, has been involved in Rotoract for just a half semester but said she already feels like she’s part of something bigger than herself.
“I would say the biggest reward for me so far is just being able to be with Rotary clubs and feel like a community and feel like so much support around you when you actually go out and do the projects,” she said. “It’s also being able to meet people from other backgrounds I would never have been able to meet. And if I can help just one person, that’s good.”
Aviles and Morales are both Hispanic and harbored some doubts about leaving the country because of the United States’ increased enforcement of immigration laws. But if there are concerns, they both hide them well.
“Some of my friends started saying things like, ‘what if you can’t come back into the country? I’ll just leave it in God’s hands and whatever happens just happens,” Morales said.
Aviles said, “My dad was a little worried, but I think my mom’s just mainly concerned about me experiencing culture shock.”
Aviles is a Political Science major and is working on a minor in German. Morales’ major is biochemistry, with a minor in early childhood studies. Morales said she’s the first person on either side of her family to go to college.