Grand Junction, Colorado, 1958. The once-vibrant downtown of a small American city. Sidewalks were cracked. Parking was impossible. The streets flooded after every rainfall.
Though home to only 20,000 people, Grand Junction was a hub for commerce and medical care for as many as 200,000 Coloradans. Situated in the clear air and high desert of Colorado, Grand Junction was notable because of the beautiful mountains and wilderness visible even from downtown. However, urban blight had crept into the quaint town.
Then came Operation Foresight, with the Lions leading the charge.
A committee of seven—more than half of whom were Lions or were married to a Lion—meticulously laid out a plan to modernize and beautify 27 blocks of downtown Grand Junction. Improvements to traffic lights, water and sewer systems, streets, and sidewalks were the foundation. Four years later, traffic accidents dropped to one-sixth of what they were before Operation Foresight was launched. Coats of paint spruced up fire hydrants and buildings, and a barren four-block stretch of Main Street was turned into a new shopping area, a pedestrian-friendly, picturesque center of commerce.
Lions have a history of cleaning up their communities in ways large and small. In 1937, the Lions of Kona, Hawaii, teamed with the Boy Scouts and the local fire department to safely dispose of 92 truckloads of waste that had accumulated on the outskirts of town. Four clubs in St. Mary’s County, Maryland, teamed up in 1964 to pick up litter along a five-mile stretch of highway. In 1985, the days of thick telephone directories, the Lions clubs of Portland, Oregon, organized annual programs to collect old phone books and recycle them instead of simply throwing them out.
Lions around the world work to clean up beaches, too: The Karachi Professionals Lions Club of Pakistan led 1,000 schoolchildren in cleaning a local beach in 1994. Additionally, the Lions of Petaling Jaya Metro in Malaysia, cleaned up roadside drains in 1995 in order to keep the homes of local residents from flooding. And Lions across southern India once planted hundreds of thousands of trees in a single day.
Community cleanup means more than beautifying. It’s also about repair, closure and new beginnings. After a devastating tornado struck Joplin, Missouri, in 2011, causing nearly US$3 billion in damages and laying waste to entire communities, the Lions were there, partnering with the First Response Team of America to clear damaged homes and recover anything they could.
Sandy Taylor of the Joplin Lions Club put it perfectly: “That’s just what Lions do. We serve.”
Lions Clubs International Foundation (LCIF) offers a variety of funding options to support various stages for disaster relief operations, including Disaster Preparedness, Emergency, Community Recovery and Major Catastrophe Grants.
For districts impacted by a natural disaster that has affected at least 100 people, including tornadoes, hurricanes, floods and tsunamis, Emergency Grants provide up to US$10,000. Lions district governors may apply for disaster relief funds to help meet immediate needs such as food, water, clothing and medical supplies. LCIF typically awards more than US$2 million in Emergency Grant funding each year.
In January 2017, LCIF awarded 7 emergency grants totaling US$65,000. These grants are addressing immediate needs in:
Turkey, District 118-U
US$10,000 for flood relief
Thailand, District 310-B
US$5,000 for flood relief
Argentina, District O-2
US$10,000 for flood relief
Argentina, District O-1
US$10,000 for mudslide relief
Mississippi, USA, District 30-S
US$10,000 for tornado relief
Chile, District T-3
US$10,000 for wildfire relief
Georgia, USA, District 18-O
US$10,000 for tornado relief
Please consider making a donation to LCIF’s disaster fund today.
China played an important role in the early days of the Lions Clubs International, as the organization was just starting to expand.
China was the third nation to host a Lions club, after the United States and Canada. In October 1926, a group of business and community leaders in the port city of Tianjin (formerly Tientsin) received their club charter. Reflecting the city’s cosmopolitan character and its importance as an international trading center, the membership was evenly divided between leading Chinese citizens and foreign nationals—Americans, British, French, Germans, Italians and Hungarians, among others.
A few months later, a second Lions club was founded less than 300 miles away in Qingdao (formerly Tsingtao). Lions clubs ceased operations in China in 1949, following a change in government.
Lions’ sight mission was the key that reopened doors in China. In the early 1990s, Lions leaders including Wing-Kun Tam, a Lion from Hong Kong who would serve as international president in 2011-2012, initiated talks with Chinese government officials about helping to restore sight to millions of Chinese through cataract surgeries. An estimated 20 percent of people in the world who are blind from cataracts live in China, and every year there are 400,000 new cases.
Lions soon found a loyal friend and champion in Deng Pufeng, chairman of the China Disabled Persons’ Federation and the son of China’s leader at the time , Deng Xiaoping. Deng Pufeng energetically took up the Lions’ proposal and helped guide it through numerous government ministries.
A few years later, in 1999, Lions launched SightFirst China Action in partnership with the China Disabled Person’s Federation and China’s Ministry of Health. With US$35.7 million in Lions Clubs International Foundation SightFirst Action grants, the effort has supported more than 5 million cataract surgeries, helped train more than 50,000 doctors, nurses and health care workers, and upgraded more than 300 eye hospitals and clinics.
SightFirst is working with its partners in China to increase low-vision services, including pilot centers in Liaoning and Guangdong provinces, to assess if blinding trachoma is a public health problem in China. SightFirst in China is also working to develop a regional training program model in Liaoning Province that better links eye care services in urban areas to those in rural areas.
With these spectacular results, the formation of new Lions clubs in China was not long in coming. In 2002, with the full support and endorsement of the Chinese government, Lions Clubs International issued charters to new clubs in Guangdong and Shenzhen with about 60 members each. Lions have grown rapidly in China. By 2015, there were 26,000 members in 758 clubs, ranking China among Lions’ fastest growing regions worldwide.
Perhaps you have heard that Lions Clubs International (LCI) approved a new service initiative in June. This is a very exciting time to be a Lion! Lions Clubs International Foundation (LCIF) is eager to support future Lions’ service initiatives just as it has for nearly 50 years.
Lions, Leos and LCIF will continue working to save sight, fight hunger and protect our environment, just as we always have. But emerging global needs also require our attention. We are developing new ways to expand our capacity to serve in unique areas, including childhood cancer and diabetes, to ensure that we meet the needs of our changing world.
We have accomplished so much together, saving lives and offering hope to those who need us most. But our work is not done. I know that we will continue to have a positive impact all over the world and I am delighted to stand beside you as we head into a new and exciting era of service. Remember, LCIF stands with Lions and is here to help you make a difference.
Dr. Jitsuhiro Yamada
Chairperson, Lions Clubs International Foundation
Read the rest of the January newsletter here.
EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is a guest post by Lion Annemarie Hill from Special Olympics.
I came across a quote that stopped me in my tracks; it was gathered by researchers studying immunization trends amongst children with disabilities in Nepal’s Makwanpur Region in 2010. A mother confided to the researcher, “God wouldn’t make my child have an intellectual disability and then give him polio.”
I’m not sure how I would have responded. It wasn’t a question as such. Yet there was something about the way she said it that demanded a response.
I believe that response came on 17 December 2016. In the Léopold Sédar Senghor Stadium in Dakar, Senegal, thousands witnessed the most marginalized members of our society, those with intellectual disabilities, play a prominent role in the Afrivac Foundation’s inaugural historic Gala Football Match. The match was held to help raise the importance of universal access to vaccinations, a cause closely linked to the efforts of Lions Clubs International Foundation (LCIF) to close the immunization gap. Young Special Olympics athletes tightly gripped the hands of football legends, including former French national players Nicolas Anelka, Ousmane Dabo and Hervé Renard while they paraded into the stadium. Proud Lions and Leos watched as the parade of unity served as a reminder that all children, including those with intellectual disabilities, must be included in universal childhood immunization efforts if they, too, are to be given a chance to become fit, healthy sports stars.
Individuals with intellectual disabilities are at equal and oftentimes greater risk of contracting the diseases that vaccinations aim to stave off. Yet rates of immunization amongst individuals with disabilities are most often lower than that of the general population in many developed and developing nations, despite the fact that immunization rates have improved dramatically around the world.
Immunization and disability are inextricably linked and may be seen to be both a cause and consequence of the other. A child may develop an intellectual disability as a result of a disease that may have been avoided by a vaccination – or another preventative health intervention – and a child with an intellectual disability may be deprived access to immunizations because of his or her disability. This is sometimes because of the naivety of the child’s mother and sometimes due to a variety of environmental factors including adverse policies, negative attitudes, a lack of accessible services, inadequate resources, and a dangerous combination of stigma, ignorance, and prejudice.
Special Olympics and LCIF are working hard to change this. In ways big and small, and as a key partner of Gavi, LCIF has led the way in ensuring that Special Olympics athletes and all individuals with intellectual disabilities have the same access to immunizations and vaccines so that a healthy and fulfilling life can be shared by all.
Known primarily as a global organization that provides sports opportunities for children and adults with intellectual disabilities, Special Olympics also represents the world’s largest public health screening program for individuals with intellectual disabilities. With the support of LCIF, Special Olympics holds forums to provide valuable health education to families including promoting immunizations, working with partners to improve access to health resources, and advocating to governments worldwide to provide services and opportunities for all citizens in their countries. To achieve this, Special Olympics uses sports as a tool to unite, educate, include, advocate and, through partnerships like the one with LCIF, to vaccinate too.
Ensuring universal access to immunizations is a team sport. Leading partners like LCIF have positioned both the Special Olympics movement and Special Olympics athletes to win both on and off the field. Special Olympics is committed to working with governments and partner organizations including LCIF to ensure that the most vulnerable among us be included in the immunization game plan and emerge as players rather than spectators.
On 17 December, Special Olympics athletes were just that – players. Through a partnership with Speak Up Africa and Africa United, an innovative pan-African initiative led by the Confederation of African Football (CAF) and the African Union, Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, World Bank Group, CDC Foundation and celebrities, individuals with intellectual disabilities performed as drum majorettes to the cheers of the crowd. In a display of inclusive sport, two Special Olympics Unified football teams each comprising equal numbers of youth with and without intellectual disabilities played together in a curtain-raiser game to the final. Supportive Leos served as ball boys and cheered on the athletes. Energetic adolescents showed off their skills and reminded us that immunization campaigns should not be limited to children, but rather extended across the lifespan to include protecting adolescents and adults against life-threatening diseases such as influenza, meningitis, and cancer.
When the game drew to a close, the 25,000-strong crowd flooded through the stadium gates equipped with greater knowledge on the importance of immunizations, and a commitment to maintaining their health and that of their children. The message that vaccines are an effective, low-risk, and inexpensive means of preventing many serious diseases in all children and adults was heard loud and clear across Dakar. Now it is our collective responsibility – through partnerships between Special Olympics, Africa Unite, Lions Clubs International Foundation and many more – to ensure that that message reaches families in all corners of this world, including Nepal.
Special Olympics International
Lions Clubs International Foundation has been partnering with Special Olympics International since 2001. To learn more about Special Olympics and the work they do around the world, visit their website.
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