This feature originally appeared in the March issue of InStyle. For more features like this, subscribe to the magazine now.
Archie Panjabi will never forget the first time she walked to school in India. She was 10 and her family had relocated from London to Mumbai. In the streets, children crawled to get around, their bodies ravaged by polio. “I was in this crisp uniform, my lunchbox filled with goodies,” recalls the Emmy Award-winning actress. “And there were kids with barely any clothes on, begging for food. I didn’t know at the time what they were suffering from, but it affected me. I remember thinking, When I’m older I’m going to do something.”
She has kept her word. In 2011 Panjabi signed on as Rotary International ambassador, joining the End Polio Now campaign spearheaded by the Evanston, Illinois-based service group. The ambitious project, started in 1985, is now nearly complete: Ninety-nine percent of the world is polio-free, thanks in part to an easy-to-administer two-drop vaccine that costs less than a dollar (it only costs 60 cents!). “This would be the second human disease wiped off the planet, after smallpox,” Panjabi says. “No child should suffer from diseases that are completely preventable. Read more of what Panjabi told us about fighting polio in the Q&A below.
You were in India recently meeting with polio patients who were getting corrective surgery What did they talk about?
They told me how polio impacts their daily life—things we take for granted, like standing up. It was heartbreaking. But afterward I went to a clinic where young babies were being vaccinated, so there was a lot of satisfaction in seeing progress being made in that country. It literally takes two seconds to administer the vaccine.
Why are you so optimistic that polio can be eradicated?
Rotary and its partners know how to reach remote areas. Every village gets the vaccine, and if a child doesn’t turn up, they go looking for him or her.
Which other countries need attention?
Syria has been polio-free for 14 years, but as a result of the turmoil there, sanitation services have broken down and new cases were confirmed last year. If polio isn’t contained, it’s estimated that 10 million children worldwide can end up paralyzed.
What have you learned about yourself through helping this cause?
As a society we have more than we’ve ever had, yet we still want more. If we focus some of our time on those who are suffering, we’d all find something to nourish our souls. That’s what working with Rotary has done for me.
How You Can Get Involved:
1. Follow @EndPolioNow on Twitter for news and updated about polio-vulnerable countries.
2. For every dollar pledged at endpolio.org/donate, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation gives $2.
3. Show your support by adding your photo to the “This Close” campaign at thisclose.endpolionow.org and using your social network to spread the word.
Want to see more celebrities giving back? Visit our Cause Celeb page!