Ramesh Ferris is a modern-day warrior on a mission to eradicate polio.
To honor Rotary’s 108th Anniversary and their efforts to eradicate polio
Born in 1979 in Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu, Ramesh Ferris learned early the lessons of adapting and surviving. At just six months old he contracted polio and it didn’t take long until the disease left his legs paralyzed for life. With no means to support his needs, Ramesh’s mother took him to Families for Children, a Canadian-founded orphanage. It was here that he came to be adopted and brought to Canada. It wasn’t until 2002 that he returned to Tamil Nadu to meet his biological mother and to visit the orphanage where he once lived. While there he learned of polio survivors like himself, except they were without the necessary medical attention and support. These survivors were forced to pad their knees with cut-up pieces of tire just to crawl on the ground. An impassioned activist was born. Since then he’s been working with at-risk youth as well as becoming an author and highly-regarded inspirational speaker. The man has even hand-cycled 4,400 miles across Canada to raise awareness about polio. He’s now a Rotary ambassador based out of the Whitehorse Rendezvous Club. We caught up with him to ask some questions about his story, his work and some practical ways that polio can be eradicated.
Ramesh, your story is as heroic as they’ve come. Polio paralyzed your legs and you’ve literally made the fight against this disease your life’s work. Tell our readers: do you ever feel down and broken? You inspire countless others, but what inspires you? What constant in your life has allowed you to keep pushing forward?
On feeling down and broken
My life hasn’t always been so positive. I’ve lived a life full of negative judgment by others because I walk with braces and crutches. In public school I had to overcome bullying and teasing by putting on a smile, staying strong, educating people and looking at the bigger picture of life.
Today what makes me sad is when people in our global community are so competitive. I really think if people in the private and public sectors focused on global causes in a unified attack we could accomplish a whole lot more. If we all worked together to fight, eradicate, and certify a polio-free world we could use the resources saved and put them into fighting the next cause – maybe a cure or preventative vaccine for another disease.
Polio is one of these diseases that is given high priority in underdeveloped countries and little to no attention by the general public in many developed countries. It’s pretty much a forgotten-about disease in Canada and the United States, as many people think we have already eradicated it. The reality is that a case of polio anywhere in our world is a threat to children everywhere in our world. Because we live in a global community with global travel, polio truly is just a plane ride away. A country is not polio free until the world is polio free.
In our fight against polio I’ve continued to be tremendously inspired by the hundreds of on-the-ground volunteers from Rotary and the health workers in the various places I’ve traveled to in Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. Their words are, “We’re going to get polio out of these countries” and through their actions they are doing everything possible to make it happen – even if it means putting their own lives at risk or leaving their own children and families to ensure drops of the polio vaccine are going into the mouths of the children in these countries.
I’m inspired by the amount of cooperation that is occurring from governments around the world, NGOs and the partners of the world’s largest public health initiative in history – the Global Polio Eradication Initiative.
In Canada, I think of cancer survivor Terry Fox who attempted to run across the country to find a cure for cancer and I think of Rick Hansen who wheeled around the circumference of the world to raise funds and awareness for people living with spinal cord injuries. I’m also inspired to hear the stories of polio survivors who are twice my age yet continuing to live life with courage, determination and hope!
On pushing forward
My supportive wife Dagmar. Whenever I have opportunities to share the message of polio eradication, education and rehabilitation she simply says “good for us.” This to me speaks to how I have a great teammate who supports me to travel the world to promote the cause I’m so passionate about.
My parents Ron and Jan Ferris have always believed in my ability to do anything I set my mind to by staying positive, determined, and focused. As the years go on I realize they are not only my mentors and my parents but they have become great friends.
When I go to Afghanistan, Pakistan and India I always see human beings crawling around on the ground. These human beings are polio survivors who were not able to receive drops of the polio vaccine so they are now living with the effects of polio – crawling around because they have had no access to corrective surgeries and rehabilitative supports. For me to see this image is appalling and is my driving force to not stop in my crusade of educating everyone everywhere in our global responsibility to end polio now.
In Part 2, Ramesh speaks about his writing process and offers some practical ways we can end polio. Stay Tuned.
Rotary is celebrating their 108th year. Join their World’s Biggest Commercial, Tweet them @EndPolioNow or @Rotary and visit EndPolio.org/Advocacy to help them get world leaders involved in polio eradication.