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Canadian polio activist is an advocate for change

Ramesh Ferris stands shoulder-to-shoulder with world leaders, and has met Queen Elizabeth II, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the Dalai Lama, Malala Yousafzai, Bill and Melinda Gates, prime ministers Stephen Harper and Justin Trudeau, among others.

He has partnered with Rotary International, WHO, UNICEF, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to help eradicate polio. He has been inducted into the Canadian Disability Hall of Fame, is the recipient of the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Award and the Yukon Commissioner’s Award for Volunteer Public Service.

“My mission is to bring into focus a forgotten disease,” he says. “To help eradicate the second disease in human history – the first being small pox, which was eradicated in 1979.”

Ferris has worked in Afghanistan and Pakistan in partnership with local health officials, to provide polio vaccine.

He rode a hand bike across Canada from Victoria, BC, to Cape Spear, Newfoundland & Labrador – 7140 km – raising $300,000 for polio eradication, education, and rehabilitation. 

The life journey that has taken the 39-year-old around the world several times over began in Coimbatore, India. He contracted polio when he was just six months old, the disease leaving his legs paralysed for life. His birth mother placed him in an orphanage at the age of one-and-a half from where the Anglican Bishop of Yukon and his family adopted him in 1982, marking the first International Adoptee in the Territory.

He was one of five adopted children in the family.

“I was blessed to live a normal life and be given the opportunities I was. Of course there were challenges growing up – I was brown and I was disabled. I was bullied and taunted, but my parents taught me to stay positive and respond with respect.”

Ferris is married to Dagmar, whom he describes as an amazing woman. An immigrant from the Czech Republic, she had to start fresh in Canada when her Master’s wasn’t recognized and teaches high school now.

His motivation to keep going, he says, comes from the realization that he is living every day with the effects of a disease that is completely preventable. “I know the effort required for me to take a bath, how long it takes me to put on shoes. I don’t want to see human beings crawling. Or kids have their crutches kicked out, be called a cripple. Let’s just prevent that. I will continue to be a voice as long as I can. I want to become a beacon of hope.” 

Posted: Sep 5, 2019

May 2020

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