Rotarian's mission work helps people in India

Submitted photo We carried rock and mortar to build the dam structure...all by hand. However, everything is well engineered, surveyed, plumbed, leveled, etc. as the dam is constructed.
Submitted photo Pete Miller giving polio vaccine drops to a young boy.

Rotarian Pete Miller recently returned from his fifth trip to India, where he has worked on a few projects to help the Indian people.

“We do projects that don’t change their culture,” said Miller. “We don’t try to change their culture or the way they live, or the way they do things. We do things that are going to enhance what they’re already doing. That’s what makes Rotary unique.”

The Fleetwood resident and Financial Advisor has been a member of Rotary for 15 years, and part of the Kutztown Rotary Club for 18 months. Now President elect, he will take the position of President starting in July.

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Miller explains the driving force to go to India.

“Initially, it was wanting to be in the polio project, but after being there a few times, the Indian people are wonderful,” said Miller. “My experiences have been all really positive, and there’s just so much that needs to be done in a country like that. They can’t do it all for themselves.”

He enjoys dedicating his time helping people who are in need.

“Making people’s lives a little better,” he said. “Enhancing the lives of other people who can’t do it for themselves. I think that’s the main thing we get from going over there.”

“And then there’s the polio work,” he said. “You give the polio immunization, now you’re preventing a kid from becoming paralyzed and being outcast from society.”

His experiences changed his perspective on things.

“I’ve been around Rotary all my life so I kind of always had it in me the idea of giving back to the community. The community is just a lot bigger than it used to be. It’s not just Fleetwood, Kutztown, Brandywine, or Oley, it’s a much bigger community.”

“It’s wonderful,” he said. “That’s just something I wanted to get involved with. I keep going back because I enjoy it.”

He became involved with the projects in India about five years ago, when he first was interested in getting involved with Rotary’s PolioPlus initiative to vaccinate children in India against polio, “Complete eradication.”

However, polio is difficult to detect which kids are affected. According to Miller, out of 180 to 200 kids who may be carrying the virus, only two of them will have the paralysis; another 18 to 20 will have symptoms, but not enough to make you aware that it is polio; and the rest of them show no symptoms, but they have the virus and can spread it.

To help save these children, Rotarians go house to house in villages in search of kids who need the vaccination, which are drops given orally.

A few months ago India was declared polio free. According to Miller, they thought India would be the last place to be free of the disease because of poverty and population. India must remain cautious though because polio is still a present problem in neighboring countries such Pakistan and Afghanistan.

“The problem is it’s only a plane ride away,” said Miller. “If you get rid of it in one country, it can come back.”

Rotary will continue polio immunizations for a few more years.

The second project Miller worked on in India was building dams in dry areas that only get heavy rain three and a half months of the year and none the rest of the year. The dam projects help harvest water, catch water and hold it in a small area so water can seep into the ground and raise the water table.

Miller said building the dams is all manual labor, and they usually haul very heavy rocks and mortar in big bowls.

“It’s hard work, but that’s enjoyable too, especially when you see the result later and you see the dam filled and the vegetation coming back around the area.”

Right now, there are five dams built that benefit three or four villages. The damns allow the people to grow two or three crops a year when they used to only be able to grow one.

“That’s a big deal because now their food supply is better and now they have something to trade with another village or market,” said Miller.

Preschool classrooms are Miller’s newest and last project, started by a local club in India called Delhi Megapolis. According to Miller, they wanted preschools open for native workers who come in from rural areas to look for work. Their children have nothing to do during the day, and are normally running around out in the streets, unsupervised.

The Delhi club formed the schools for about 30 children, ages 3 to 6, twice a day, during a morning and afternoon session. Each child is given a uniform, pair of shoes and a meal. The cost is only $50 a year for one child.

“It’s amazing what a little money will do in other parts of the world,” said Miller. “You make a big difference on someone’s life with a little money there and here you give somebody $100 for something and what are they going to do with that?”

Currently, the Delhi club is trying to raise funds to make a library for the school.

“In this country, we are clueless as to how the large majority of the rest of the world lives,” said Miller. “I sit there with my Nikon body and lens, and that’s more than most make in a year.”

“You start getting an idea of what the need is over there.”

His message to the community is vital.

“As far as the polio, it’s still a risk to our own kids and grandchildren,” he said. “As long as it exists anywhere in the world, it is still a health risk even though we haven’t had it here in decades. All it takes is for one kid who has it from another country and it can spread. So until we can eliminate completely, it’s a health risk still to us and people can’t have blinders on about what’s going on in other parts of the world cause it does truly affect us.”

Miller has also been to Venezuela to do these types of projects. However, he prefers to go to India.

He gain a feeling of satisfaction of doing the work, made a lot of friends from other countries. “It’s been more fulfilling going on the missions to India I think because we’re helping so many more people with what we do.”

He enjoys his work there, and plans to continue to go back.

“The people are wonderful and the work we do is so necessary,” he said. “I can’t imagine not going back.”