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Meeting The President To Talk About Polio
The “advocacy group” of Rotarians, about one third of the total group visiting Ethiopia was granted a private meeting with Mulatu Teshome, the President of the country in the Presidential Palace. The President expressed gratitude for Rotary’s work and expressed genuine concern for his people and the world if polio is not eradicated soon.
Ethiopian President Mulatu Teshome
We’ve been staying at the Hilton, which is less than a kilometer from the Palace. We planned to leave well in advance of our 3:30 appointment in order to negotiate traffic and clear security. It’s a good thing we did.
Best laid plans in the developing world seem to run crosswise into reality more often than in more developed countries. Ultimately, we left with little time to spare. Thankfully, we experienced no traffic delays and the men in the group were quickly screened by security and ushered into the palace. The women were provided with a private screening process, separate from the men, that reportedly was much more thorough.
Eventually, we were all reunited in a waiting room in the palace, which is apparently in much the same condition it was in—magnificent—when the Emperor Haile Selassie’s rule ended in 1974. Subsequent rulers have attempted to maintain the building.
After a brief wait, we were escorted into a large meeting room that could easily have accommodated about 30 people (there were only twelve of us). After we each personally greeted the President, we took seats that felt uncomfortably separated in the spacious room.
Media and staffers with cameras danced about the room filming and shooting still photos of everything that happened for the first five minutes, then, without warning, they all disappeared.
We were served water, tea and coffee along with cookies.
Trip leader Ezra Teshome, no relation to the President, introduced our mission and thanked the president for seeing us. Ezra recounted the history of his mission, noting that this is the 19th Rotary trip he’s led to Ethiopia. Ezra went on to explain that not only has the group performed immunizations on every trip, but the group has also conducted a number of other projects from drilling wells to building homes.
The President expressed gratitude for Ezra’s work and for Rotary more broadly. Evidencing a good understanding of the issues around polio, he expressed concern that his people would always be vulnerable until and unless polio is eradicated globally.
Most members of our group took the opportunity to personally express thanks to the President for seeing us and for supporting polio eradication efforts in Ethiopia—which was declared polio free in 2008.
At the end of the meeting, Ezra presented the President with a globe, intended to remind the President of the need to eradicate polio globally.
The staff photographers returned to memorialize the moment and then a group photo was taken. We left hoping to receive copies!