Polio survivors pack a message in their music

October 13, 2011 10:07:56 AM PDT
An extraordinary band from Democratic Republic of the Congo was unable to perform at the annual World Music Festival in Chicago last month because of visa problems.

But this will not prevent them from performing on screen with an amazing story of talented musicians who are polio survivors.

Benda Bilili is the name of the documentary that will be shown in the United States. The message is simple: Real handicaps are not in the body, but in the mind.

Benda Bilili is a 5-year project that traces the band's journey from the streets of war-torn Democratic Republic of the Congo to a breakthrough tour of Europe.

All members of Staff Benda Bilili are polio survivors They perform on homemade tricycles

These talent musicians sing about everyday life in Congo and also polio, a lifelong paralysis disability that is almost wiped out, thanks to the efforts from the Rotary.

Carol Pandak is the manager of Rotary's effort to end polio globally.

"I think the reason why we still have polio in some places in the world is that it's very difficult to reach all the children in the world," said Pandak. "They are living in very remote areas. There are areas where there is conflict, political instability, so you have to be very creative in order to reach that last 1 percent of children in order to end polio globally."

"Democratic Republic of the Congo doesn't have a high rate of polio, but they are subject to periodic outbreaks so that they get imported cases from countries like India or Nigeria," Pandak said. "So right now, the Democratic Republic of Congo is experiencing a polio outbreak; over 70 children have been paralyzed so far this year."

Pandak says the documentary sends two important messages.

"One, is that under very difficult circumstances, these musicians paralyzed by polio persevered with their love of music and have a tremendously positive outcome from that," said Pandak. "And they are on the world stage now and the world music arena.

"It also brought home the fact that where polio affects children today is in the countries that have the least amount of resources to support them."

Benda Bilili is being released this month by National Geographic around the United States.

"I think the documentary is being very well received, and I think the musicians are really capturing people hearts about one their level of disability and how they've overcome that," Pandak said.

To learn more about Benda Bilili and polio go to www.staffbendabilili.com and www.rotary.org.

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