To promote peace and understanding, why not start with some of the world’s younger citizens?
This was the mindset of Lions from the Kobe East Lions Club in Japan and Multiple District 4 in California and Nevada when they began considering hosting an international youth exchange program during summer vacations. Students could stay with local Lions and their families, learn about a new culture, make new friends and explore a different part of the world.
In 1960, nine students from Japan headed to California, while 13 young Californians left for an adventure across the Pacific in Japan. It didn’t take long for the broader Lions organization to catch wind of the successful enterprise. Lions Clubs International formally adopted the Lions Youth Exchange Program in 1961, later renamed Lions Youth Camps and Exchange program, taking the Lions mission to foster peace and understanding to a new level.
The program’s first official participant was 16-year-old Lorenzo Calabrese, sponsored by the Lions Club in Bari, Italy. Lion Sam Verdi and his family in Detroit, Michigan, USA, hosted Calabrese. By the end of the year, 130 other exchanges had taken place worldwide.
While students usually traveled alone to their host homes, so many students wanted to join the program in the late 1960s that Lions occasionally chartered planes to help facilitate travel. At one point, 300 students from Finland, Sweden and France gathered on a Lions charter plane to New York, where they were met by Lions and sent on to locations across the United States.
Lions in some countries took a different route to promoting cultural exchanges. They hosted youth camps to help young people exchange ideas and unite in shared experiences. At a 1965 camp in Montgomery, Alabama, USA, 40 participants from India, Finland, Denmark, Canada, the United States, Japan and Sweden became such good friends that they hoped to meet 10 years later at the 1975 Lions Clubs International Convention, which turned out to be Dallas, Texas, USA.
As of 2015, Lions operated youth camps in 39 countries, from Estonia to Israel, Tunisia to Mexico, Sri Lanka to Norway. While the Lions Youth Camps and Exchange program has allowed Lions to help many participants develop a global mindset, the program’s impact goes far beyond cultural understanding.
After Stephanie Theyssen, a shy, reserved young woman from Belgium, attended a Lions camp in Hawaii in 2011, she returned home with the intention to practice “ohana,” the Hawaiian word for cooperating and treating everyone as an extended member of the family. “This youth camp changed my life in many different ways,” said Theyssen. “[It] gave me balance: spiritual, cultural, independence, confidence.”
More than 1,000 students on average participate in the program each year. From expanding horizons to altering worldviews, when young people engage with other nationalities and cultures through Lions Clubs International, their lives are forever changed for good.
Explore the exciting history of Lions Clubs International with our exclusive Touchstone Stories series.
Lions Clubs International volunteers are stepping up to answer the urgent call for vaccine promotion through social mobilization efforts in India. Measles and rubella are easily preventable with vaccines, but many children remain unvaccinated due to questions, concerns, and misinformation surrounding immunization programs. Over the next two years, local Lions Clubs volunteers will participate in local vaccination programs by canvassing the country to immunize a target of over 408 million children and educate parents on the benefits, safety, and availability of the measles-rubella vaccine.
As strong community leaders with a world-wide presence, the Lions Clubs International Foundation (LCIF) is an invaluable partner in ensuring demand for and education around life-saving immunizations. Established in 2013, Gavi and LCIF have blended financial support with in-country advocacy, communication, and social mobilization activities to prevent measles and rubella. LCIF has committed to US$30 million for the vaccine’s procurement through a contribution that will be matched by the Gavi Matching Fund, totaling US$60 million. By the end of 2017, LCIF’s commitment to Gavi has the potential to reach 87.7 million children with measles and measles-rubella vaccines, avert 61,000 future deaths, and procure 97.8 million doses.
Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance.
In 2006, Lions Clubs International Foundation (LCIF) awarded a US$150,000 major catastrophe grant to provide relief after an earthquake devastated Yogyakarta, Indonesia. Weeks later, another earthquake and tsunami struck the nearby southern coast of West Java. With funds from the grant, the Lions of District 307-B created the Lions Village in Bagolo, West Java. The village is home to 60 families who lost their homes to the earthquake and tsunami.
In the 10 years since the disaster, Lions have continued to support the village by making donations to local fishermen and building and equipping a library. They have even donated musical instruments to children and built a playground. To commemorate the anniversary of the tsunami in Pangandaran, local Lions donated colorful paints and repainted all 60 of the village houses.
Grateful villagers welcomed the Lions with traditional lengser dancing, ceremony and a feast, and explained how thankful they are that the Lions continue to look after them long after the earthquake and tsunami.
In 1925, as an ambassador for the newly formed American Foundation for the Blind, Helen Keller addressed the Lions Clubs International Convention in Cedar Point, Ohio.
“Try to imagine how you would feel if you were suddenly stricken blind today,” Keller asked Lions members packed into the convention hall. “Picture yourself stumbling and groping at noonday as in the night; your work, your independence gone.”
Keller knew exactly what this was like. Blind and deaf since the age of 19 months, she had once lived in virtual isolation, unable to effectively communicate. Then, a teacher from the Perkins School for the Blind named Anne Sullivan came to live and work with Keller and taught her to connect with the world through sign language. Keller eventually learned to read and write, earned a bachelor’s degree and learned how to speak.
Most Lions at the time were familiar with her well-publicized story. Some Lions in the audience had already been involved with service projects to the blind. But witnessing Keller share her heart and soul for the plight of the blind brought the reality of being visually impaired crashing home for everyone present. The Lions and their guests were captivated.
Keller saved her most stirring words for the end of her speech, hoping that the Lions would partner with the American Foundation for the Blind and lend their support as an organization to those who had lost their sight.
“Will you not help me hasten the day when there shall be no preventable blindness; no little deaf, blind child untaught; no blind man or woman unaided? I appeal to you Lion, you who have your sight, your hearing, you who are strong and brave and kind. Will you not constitute yourselves knights of the blind in this crusade against darkness?”
She had no idea just how far the association would take her challenge.
Before the convention was over, the association unreservedly dedicated itself to making Keller’s dream a reality. Lions would become Keller’s Knights of the Blind.
Since 1925, hundreds of millions of lives have been changed through the vision-related work of Lions around the world, and today the association is as dedicated as ever to hastening the day when no one should suffer unnecessarily from vision problems. Through eye centers and hospitals, medicines and surgeries, eye glasses and eye banks, Lions are working to end preventable blindness and aid the visually impaired.
Keller’s challenge and her dream live on.
Explore the exciting history of Lions Clubs International with our exclusive Touchstone Stories.
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 February 2017, LCIF awarded 4 emergency grants totaling US$40,000. These grants are addressing immediate needs in:
Peru, District H-1
US$10,000 for flood relief
Brazil, District LB-4
US$10,000 for flood relief
Zambia, District 413
US$10,000 for flood relief
Massachusetts, USA, District 33-Y
US$10,000 for tornado relief
Please consider making a donation to LCIF’s disaster fund today.
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