Millions of people in India suffer from vision loss or blindness. A cataract, a clouding of the lens in the eye, is the most common cause of visual impairment in the country. Although surgery can correct the condition, a lack of access to care has prevented many patients from getting the help they need.
Thanks to the continued work of Lions Clubs International since the mid-20th century, hundreds of thousands of people in India have had their eyesight, and their lives, restored.
Past International President Ashok Mehta, who served from 2005 to 2006, helped with Lions’ early efforts to assist people with visual impairments in India, as medical care in remote areas was scarce. Clubs set up temporary eye camps, typically operating from Christmas Day on December 25 through India’s Republic Day on January 26. Partner organizations, doctors and volunteers rotated shifts, performing hundreds of cataract surgeries. “At one camp, we were operating on in the neighborhood of 10,000 patients,” said Mehta, a resident of Mumbai, India, and a Lion since 1963. “There were 20 operation tables.”
The logistics of running the makeshift camps posed challenges. At that time, each patient and a caregiver had to remain at the camp for up to a week to recover after surgery. Food and accommodations had to be provided. But the biggest task Lions faced was educating patients that the procedure could fix their condition. Some patients—as many as 20 percent by Mehta’s estimate—left camp the night before their surgeries because they were fearful of the operation or not convinced that modern medical treatment could help.
For those patients who stayed, the day their surgical bandages came off was unforgettable. “I was thrilled to see on the last day, when vision is granted to individuals who never thought that they would get their vision,” Mehta said. Patients sometimes bowed down in gratitude, laughing or weeping with joy at being able to see again.
With the establishment of Campaign SightFirst I in the early 1990s to raise funds to reduce preventable blindness, Lions clubs were able to take their efforts to new heights. Lions identified India, then home to 25 percent of the world’s blind population, as a prime target for SightFirst grants and programs. Mehta served on the Campaign SightFirst International Committee. Between October 1991 and March 1992, Lions conducted more than 1,000 temporary eye camps throughout the country, restoring sight to as many as 1,000 people a day through cataract surgeries.
Seeing firsthand the eye camps in India was an eye-opening experience for Jim Ervin, who served as international president from 1999 to 2000 and was an international director during the campaign. Some patients waited for days for their chance to receive care. “You could see people lined up more than a mile, sitting beside an old dusty road in a ditch, waiting for their turn,” Ervin said. And although the recovery time for cataract procedures had improved over the decades, the process still wasn’t simple. After surgery, patients would be moved to the concrete floor of a recovery room, fed by a volunteer Lion and the next day fitted for glasses.
“What an amazing thing, but what a great need,” Ervin said. “I just couldn’t believe what I was seeing.” From 1991 to 1994, Lions funded more than 344,000 cataract surgeries.
In India, Lions are still marching on, fulfilling Helen Keller’s challenge to be Knights of the Blind. Through SightFirst and other initiatives, Lions are building eye hospitals, offering medical training, educating people about eye health, performing eye screenings and making cataract surgeries possible to those in need. And these efforts will continue—until preventable blindness is a distant memory.
Steve Rodenbeck embodies the spirit of Special Olympics on and off the playing field. His leadership in his community, on the field, and in his workplace represents the power that Special Olympics athletes have to impact those around them.
A Special Olympics New Jersey Athlete for nearly 20 years, Steve has been involved in Special Olympics New Jersey’s flag football program since the inception of the sport in 2007. A proud member of Team New Jersey’s flag football team during the 2010 USA Games in Nebraska, USA, Steve lead his teammates to a bronze medal. Steve was also a member Team NJ during the 2014 USA Games, competing in unified volleyball. He and his teammates used that opportunity to advance to the 2015 World Games in Los Angeles as members of SO USA. They proudly represented the USA and NJ, taking fourth place. Steve also competes in floor hockey, basketball, and tennis.
Steve graduated from Fairleigh Dickinson University with a 3.7 GPA, achieving a Phi Omega Epsilon Award for distinguished academic performance, in 2007. He works as a conference center coordinator and was recently recognized by his employer with an award given to employees for caught “doing right.”
In the community, Steve is an active member in a number of volunteer organizations. Volunteering as a Global Messenger for Special Olympics, he goes out on behalf of the organization to speak on a number of initiatives within the community. He is currently serving as Chairperson for the Athlete Congress, the governing body representing Special Olympics New Jersey athletes’ interest. Steve also is active with the Garden State Champions Lions Club, where he serves as President.
In this interview, Steve speaks about the importance of being a Lion.
What made you want to become a Lion?
I wanted to make a difference in the community and other people’s lives.
How as being a Lion made you a better athlete leader and community leader?
Being a Lion has taught me the value of teamwork within a group. Working on numerous service projects with the group has enabled me to assist members. It’s all about making a difference in the community and other people’s lives.
What type of new skills has being a Lion taught you?
Leadership, teamwork, and communication is the key.
How would you increase volunteering with Lions in your community?
By working and communicating with other Lions Clubs in the area. This way, we can have our members plus members of the other Lions clubs working as one unit. Remember, there is no “I” in team.
How do you envision athlete leaders learning more about leadership opportunities with Lions to help their communities? What could our clubs do to help that?
Athlete Leaders could take Leadership Seminar courses to expand their leadership skills. This way, this will teach them the value of hard work and dedication while leading a team effort. Also, the more that we are involved with service projects and fundraisers, the more that we will feel that we have made a positive impact in our community.
How do you see local Lions helping with awareness for your SO program?
The more that we as a Lions club get others Lions clubs to attended and participate in Special Olympics New Jersey events it would be a simple way for them to see and embrace our Special Olympics community.
What is your one message to other Clubs regarding athlete engagement?
Help support our great cause by volunteering in our many events. We have year-round sports training and competition September through June. Athletes love to meet new volunteers. Also, our Garden State Lions Club is always looking forward towards working as a unit and with other clubs as well.
Trachoma is the second leading cause of blindness in Uganda and the Karamoja region has the country’s highest infection rate. During World Sight Day celebrations last week, the Lions of Uganda and other partners, including the Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust and The Carter Center, showed their support for eliminating trachoma from Uganda by 2020.
Watch this video from NTV Uganda to learn more about the situation in Karamoja and to see how Lions are working to address it.
Did you know that about 285 million people are visually impaired worldwide? Did you also know that as much as 80% of that is preventable? Of those 285 million, 90% of the world’s visually impaired people live in developing countries.
These numbers are quite staggering. With Lions at its side, Lions Clubs International Foundation (LCIF) is a leader in providing support for preventing avoidable blindness and restoring sight for people around the world. LCIF sight programs range from developing and improving eye care systems to providing sight-restoring surgeries and treatments to distributing medications to those most at-risk for eye diseases.
With a focus on building comprehensive and sustainable eye care systems, SightFirst provides funding for projects that deliver eye care services, build or strengthen eye care facilities, train professionals and build awareness about eye health in underserved communities.
You can support Lions’ work to save sight by making a personal gift to LCIF’s sight programs.
From September 18 to October 1, 2016, the Lions Centennial Bus visited 20 states, Washington, D.C., and two Canadian provinces, promoting the Lions Centennial celebration. During the tour, IP Bob Corlew inducted new members, chartered clubs and participated in Lions projects.
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