Rotary Log for February 21, 2019
Today we ventured into the land of Kipling.  Not a dense jungle boasting infinite shades of dew-dripped verdant flora and a mélange of colorful and sometimes terrifying fauna.  Instead we substitute a concrete jungle of tangled wires, chipped concrete pavilions and well-worn bituminous pathways. Pathways teaming with a unique form of bipedal creatures that apparently worship quadrupeds.  More importantly, we celebrated one of the greatest achievements of the world Rotary family in the form of yet another Rotaplast mission.
Before our story unfolds, we begin with the perfunctory preliminaries of our meeting. President Cleo presiding.  Al Lantinen chose America the Beautiful as our song and Peg Millar led us in the Four-Way Test.  John Rice gave the invocation.  Visiting guests included Elizabeth Moronta, Ed Miller, Peter and Olga Fotinos, Linda Underhill, Pam Bishop, Charles Ydoate and Chelsea Filton.  Welcome all! The 50/50 raffle was for $53 and won by Luis Melchor.  There was no match.
Moving on to the main event, President Cleo spoke to us about the back story that brought this Rotaplast trip to fruition. She next introduced the Rotaplast team.  The mere notion of doing such a project was the brainchild of Ted Alex. He has participated in many past trips to various foreign countries. 
Ted was inspired by his mentor and good friend, Jim Labrie, who himself suffered from a cleft palate.  It was Jim, as former district governor, who introduced Rotaplast to the east coast.  His motto was, “think locally, act globally.” 
Ted brought this inspiration to the table, but the challenges were significant.  At the time the discussions began, no individual Rotary Club had ever sponsored such an expensive undertaking.  All prior Rotaplast trips were funded at the district level.  Yet, when presented to the club’s board for a vote, the tally was unanimous.  And so, it began. 
Ted, Aileen, Dr. Gray and others met with local hospitals for support. They sought to create a partnership hoping, among other things, to share the considerable $100,000 cost burden.  This effort proved to be a dead end. 
Undaunted, then- President Ben Wheeler used his banking skillsets. He made some timely fund re-allocations, such as the club’s golf outing receipts, to partially fund the trip.  What could not be done was to draw from funds used for local charitable purposes.  A very generous donation of $25,000 from the Labrie family brought Ben and then President-elect Cleo closer to their goal. 
Throughout this time, Ted pushed to keep the momentum going—this was too important to stop now.  Then District Governor Dave Underhill found $5,000 in District funds.  With the receipt of dozens of additional donations from 35 club members, ranging from $100 to $5,000, the goal was met. The mission was a go.
A team of 13 medical and 14 non-medical volunteers from our club was assembled.  The team included Dr. Larry Gray, Dr. Bob Herold, radiologist Jim Rini, Ted Alex, Aileen Dugan, Leo Gagnon and James Petersen. Also making the trip, among others, were nurse Carmel Cassidy, Joanie Dickinson, Michael Labrie, Barbara Miller and Leonard Seagren.  Supplies were ordered and shipped, and the team flew via multiple stops to Sylet, Bangladesh.
This “East-Coast” team ultimately functioned as part of a larger team, merging with other groups in Sylet.  The entire mission was headed by Tom Fox to whom Ted reported as assistant mission director.  Ted handled all East-Coast team logistics.  The local rotary club provided more logistical support such as the procurement of food for the team. 
Rotaplast Founder Dr. Angelo Capozzi also attended.  An image of him, Fox and Jim Rini looks remarkably like the famous Tehran Conference photo of FDR, Churchill and Stalin.  Unlike that iconic pic, this image shows all three in leisurely slumber on chaise lounges before the surgeries began.  Isn’t global peace grand!  And relaxing.
The team traveled to the hospital via armed escort.  There was a real question whether the guns even worked.  Another travel picture showed a cow (quadruped) being transported in a small car over very bumpy roads.  Larry opined that this is how they tenderize meat in India—social media be damned.
To locate prospective patients, the word went out that a Rotaplast team was coming to town.  Posters were placed all over the city. Hundreds answered.  Children with everything from cleft lips, severe cleft palates and burns over extended parts of their bodies. One youngster with a chin fused to his chest came in hope of a cure.
Patients were classified and prioritized based upon criteria such as general health and severity of condition.  Those that did not make the cut would have to wait until the next mission.
Interpreters were a key component to the success of the mission.  Jim Rini mentioned that only the very educated knew English, so interpreters were critical.  Ted noted that Jim moved at least one wheelchair bound patient more than 10-feet, making the trip a complete success.  Way to go Jim!
Barbara Miller explained that the number of beds was very limited. Families would share a bed with the patient as well as the surrounding floor.  Make no mistake, this is the Third-World in living color.
Larry confessed his initial confusion about the “dot” on the forehead.  He figured he’d spend the first day removing them. Then he was told they were cosmetic and a symbol of good luck.  Undaunted, Jim Rini saw the opportunity to perform another procedure—"Let’s do it!” 
Dr. Herold and Jim assisted with the surgeries despite the humorous remarks made by all.  Apart from his herculean effort to move that one wheelchair, Jim read x-rays. Once a radiologist always a radiologist.  The operating theater was so tight that some surgeries were performed in adjoining beds without any wall in between.
Larry observed how remarkable it is that children undergoing these surgeries have almost no pain and heal quickly.  The best part about the whole undertaking was the look on parents’ faces when they saw their children post-surgery.  As said by Jim Rini, the operative word for all this was “trust.”  These smallish people of color place their hopes for their children’s better future on a bunch of big white strangers. Foreigners that don’t even speak their language.  There is a much larger lesson here. But this is just a Log story and not a political white paper so we will leave it at that.
James Petersen had a very important job.  He handled all the medical records and, most importantly, updated the team with Red Sox scores.  From the pictures of James sleeping just about everywhere, you would think it was a slow week at the inn.
Not to be undone, Leo seemed to have more selfies (and apparently wives) than the team had patients.  He is still waiting for those Visas to come through for all his harem members.  This is what happens when you take too many selfies—delusions of grandeur.  On a serious note was the story of the Indian attorney who has already waited 12 years to receive a US Visa.  We should never forget we are the lucky ones.
The team received one day off.  They faced two great challenges.  First, how to get across the street to shop.  That took about an hour.  The second, do we or don’t we eat the sandwiches lathered in mayo after having sat for hours in 120° heat.  Following much deliberation, the sandwiches were eaten—no illness reported.  They did get to ride on some freshly painted boats.  Apparently, their clothes looked like Bill Hurley’s hat after his faceplant into his paint bucket at the John Paul Jones House.  Sorry Bill, I couldn’t resist. 
On a serious note, more than 100 patients were served. Entire families realized the dream of a better future, thanks to the outstanding team efforts of good Samaritans.  Each child received a quilt and an opportunity to really smile.  The Rotarians who made the trip make us proud and truly are paradigms of charitable work.  Thank you for your selfless contributions to human beings in need of help. And thanks for the example you set for this club and for the world.
Respectfully submitted, Mark Lorusso     
Photos by Tube Loch