EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is a guest post by David Evangelista, Vice President of Global Development and Government Relations at Special Olympics International.
Something remarkable is taking place in the island nation of Jamaica.
Behind the images of tropical tourist destinations, and beyond the cultural icons that represent the nation on the global stage- a most innovative approach to social inclusion is taking root.
A group of youth gathers together outside of Kingston to clean up the local beaches and parks. The team leaders direct the group in taking on various tasks to complete the mission at hand. From the outside, the view looks like a standard youth-led service project to help protect and preserve the environment. However, and as is often the case with true innovation, there is much more below the surface than meets the eye.
What transpired on the beaches outside of Kingston drives to the heart of a development priority facing the entire globe – forging sustained social inclusion to empower children and adults with intellectual disabilities. It is an unlikely setting to see one of the most promising practices in human and social development.
Through a growing partnership shared between Special Olympics and Lions Clubs International, the Leos of Jamaica, together with Special Olympics Jamaica athletes, are challenging the way society views individuals with intellectual disabilities. What is their methodology?
Service. And fun.
The Leos of Jamaica have actively engaged and included Special Olympics athletes into local service projects to expand their reach. But much more is taking place. As part of the “Invite an Athlete” initiative, the Leos of Jamaica are helping break down the barriers of discrimination and stigma, and are replacing them with open doors of acceptance, empowerment, and unity.
The Leos of Jamaica have gained a deep understanding of a key innovation that stands to truly uplift a population long left in the shadows. Through their leadership and vision, the Leos have helped transform Special Olympics athletes from objects of service- to agents of service. What was once a population targeted for simple charity has, through Leo engagement, become a population whose willingness to serve is equally valued on a local and national stage.
Special Olympics and Lions Clubs International continue to work to show that individuals with intellectual disabilities have core talents and abilities that they long to offer to their communities. Both on and off the playing field, Special Olympics athletes and Leos continue to team up to create social inclusion- one clean beach, one basketball game at a time.
Something truly remarkable is happening in Jamaica.
Lions Clubs International Foundation has been partnering with Special Olympics International since 2001 through the Opening Eyes program to provide free vision screenings at select Special Olympics sporting events worldwide. Athletes also receive diagnoses for vision-related problems, corrective and protective eye wear, and are taught how to take better care of their eyes. The partnership expanded in 2013 to reach even more people.
The Porbandar Lions Club of India organized a “Relieving the Hunger” project to benefit the underserved children in their community through the distribution of nutritious food and snacks. Follow them on Facebook to see their current projects and events.
Youth, vision, environmental and hunger projects such as this one help to reach our goal of serving 100 million people in celebration of our Centennial. We encourage Lions all across the globe to take part in the Centennial Service Challenge, which has been extended to June 2018. Don’t forget to report your activities to MyLCI and post pictures and videos on your club’s social media sites. Use the hashtag #LIONS100 so that clubs around the world can see the impact you are making in your community!
What is your club doing to feed children in need?
During a recent SightFirst Advisory Comittee (SAC) meeting, two grants were approved for vision projects in the South Pacific, totaling US$527,745.
Fiji, District 202-K: A grant of US$237,945 was awarded to the New Zealand Lions, District 202-K, to improve and expand eye care services at Lions Diabetes Eye Clinic in Lautoka. Lions will also establish diabetic retinopathy screening services at the sub-divisional hospitals in four urban and rural areas in Fiji. It is estimated that 25,000 people will benefit from this project of five years.
Papua New Guinea, District 201-Q2: A grant of US$289,800 was awarded to the Lions of Australia, District 201-Q2, to establish a National Resource Center (NRC) for eye health in Papua New Guinea. The NRC will serve as a base of operations for a future ophthamology residency program and other training initiatives for eye care personnel. It will also function as a central distribution center for low-cost spectacles, surgical consumables and low vision devices.
Lions and Lions Clubs International Foundation (LCIF) are committed to saving sight around the world.
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Erna Giesbrecht, a 54-year-old schoolteacher from Citrus Heights, California, USA, struggled with a severe hearing impairment since birth. When she was seven years old, her older brother, who had the same birth defect, was killed in a train/truck collision when he didn’t hear a train coming. At age 21, Giesbrecht was dismissed from nursing school because of her disability. As a fifth-grade teacher, Giesbrecht lived as frugally as possible to afford her hearing aid. She also had little choice but to wear the aid well past its recommended normal lifespan of five years.
Giesbrecht’s luck changed when the father of one of her students told her about the Lions Affordable Hearing Aid Project (AHAP). Lions Affordable Hearing Aid Project makes hearing aids accessible to people who cannot afford them without assistance. Nearly 7 million Americans who need hearing aids—23 percent of all Americans with hearing loss—cannot afford them. The average price for one hearing aid in the U.S. is $2,500 and most individuals need two aids. The majority of insurance companies do not cover hearing aids so the expenses have to be covered by the individuals or their families. Through partnerships and the great work of Lions, Lions Clubs International Foundation has made such a basic need as hearing possible for thousands of people.
“I have worn hearing aids since I was seven, and I have never heard better,” Giesbrecht said. She’s finally able to fully take charge of her classroom. “I can actually hear whispering for the first time in my life. My fifth-graders can’t ‘get away’ with as much nonsense since I can hear them better,” she said with a smile.
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