John HG Soe - Polio Survivor. Conference Speaker 2019

Rotary changed my life

At the age of four months, I was stricken with polio. My parents, due to their superstitions and lack of understanding, abandoned me to the nuns of a Catholic orphanage in Medan, Indonesia. It was a huge orphanage of 200 children, and I remember listening to the bells and sounds of prayers.

On school holidays, relatives would come and pick up many of the children, but not me. I was always left alone. I had never been cuddled or carried on someone’s lap. I had never known my parents, but only the gentle kindness of the nuns. I was starving for the warmth of family love.

But even as a child, I worked hard not to be surpassed by others. In those days, a wheelchair was a luxury. I crawled for short distances, but most of the time used a pair of steel calipers and wooden arm pit crutch to walk freely. Before I learned to walk, I was fitted with a full-length steel and leather brace. If you have seen the movie Forrest Gump, you can picture what the braces looked like.

In 1973, a bachelor Singapore businessman and past president of the Rotary Club of Singapore West, wanted to adopt a son, and talked to the nuns at the orphanage, who recommended me. A local surgeon examined my legs, and performed an operation free of charge that helped straighten them.

That kindness left a lasting impression on me. Thirty years later, I was visiting a prospective client to renovate his office when I noticed the Rotary pin on his lapel. When I told him Rotary had changed my life, he invited me to one of his club’s meetings.

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