When Hilary Crowley first began travelling to India in 1994 to teach physiotherapy to local practitioners, the majority of cases she saw were children with polio.
In January, she will make her 20th sojourn to the south Indian state of Karnataka and the growth Crowley has seen is uplifting.
"In the last eight years there's been no new cases of polio in these villages where I go and then we expanded to work with children with any kind of disability," said Crowley, president of Samuha Overseas Development Association (S.O.D.A.), a local charity supporting Indian development organization Samuha. "And so the last three years now we've been working with anybody with a disability of any age."
Registered in 2002, the charity assists Samuha's work to help families living in poverty in overcoming the difficulties of life with disability by physical therapy and vocational training to generate income. S.O.D.A. also provides training sessions to the local disability workers.
India as a whole is almost two years in to the three years necessary of being free from polio before its status is officially recognized by the World Health Organization. But Crowley said the eight years of relief from the disease in the region she frequents is thanks to Samuha's work bolstered by the World Health Organization's and International Rotary's campaign to eradicate polio worldwide.
"We put a lot of effort into making sure all the children got their vaccination. Earlier, like when I first went there in '94, if the vaccine's not kept colder than four degrees Celsius it's no use," explained Crowley, who earlier this year was awarded the Canadian Physiotherapy Association's top honour, the Enid Graham Memorial award. "They had no electricity in the villages, so it always got warmer and they were still using it. And the children would go and get immunized and still got polio. So then they believed that the vaccine was actually giving them the polio and so then it was a huge amount of PR to overcome that."
On Nov. 10, 11, and 12, the local charity is hosting its 17th annual fundraising dinner at Dana Mandi restaurant. Diners can choose to attend one of the three nights and are asked to reserve their seats in advance by calling Sue at 250-563-7548 or emailing soda....@gmail.com. Tickets are by donation, above the price of the meal, and tax reciepts will be issued for donations over $20.
During the event, Crowley will present a slide show of the previous year's activities in India and there will also be a Indian crafts for sale.
Crowley said 2011 was the year S.O.D.A. was able to send the most amount of money - $37,000 - to Samuha, paying for the building housing south India's only spinal cord injury unit and equipment in addition to the annual $20,000 donation for Samuha's regular programming.
Accompanying Crowley on her upcoming voyage will be four University of B.C. physiotherapy students, bringing the total of students from either UBC or Queen's University in Kingston, Ont., who have completed six-week practicums in the Indian villages to 24 since 2002.
Nearly all funds raised go to the charitable program, said Crowley.
"The students and I, we pay our own airfare there. Samuha gives us our food and accommodation while we're there," she said. "There's no administrative overhead costs."