For three years Lions clubs worldwide set aside portions of the proceeds from pancake breakfasts and festival food booths, held golf tourneys, raffles and walks, and even staged comedy shows to benefit Campaign SightFirst II (CSF II). The hard work of the 15,000 participating clubs has paid off. Lions now have raised $200 million to save sight and restore vision.
The successful campaign will allow Lions to take their sight-saving service to new levels.
· More than $100 million will be used to support programs that control and eliminate the major causes of blindness, such as cataract, trachoma and river blindness.
· An additional $50 million will fund projects that combat emerging threats to sight, such as low vision, glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy.
· The remaining $50 million will be used to provide “Vision for All” by supporting research, enhancing outreach programs for vulnerable populations in developed countries and rehabilitation efforts.
Lions at the 2008 International Convention in Bangkok in June learned of the amount raised by CSF II. As the figure was disclosed on a 70-foot wide screen, thousands of Lions in the arena-sized convention center stood up to cheer, whistle and wildly applaud. But a few individuals were missing. To be more accurate, many millions of people were missing from this celebration.
These individuals are the 74 million people who will keep or have their vision restored thanks to Lions’ SightFirst program and CSF II. They live in 91 countries in cities and villages around the world where SightFirst services are delivered at hundreds of SightFirst hospitals, clinics and eye camps. Together, they make up those who would have been victims of blindness had it not been for Lions taking action.
Far from the stage and pageantry, patients have reason to rejoice and thank Lions for restoring their precious eyesight. Dukarui Otunno of Kenya received a SightFirst trachoma surgery that returned his sight. “Seeing again is like being reborn,” he says.
In India, Adabala Lakshmi Narasamha’s vision grew foggy and blurred by cataract, but most distressing, she could no longer see the smiling face of her grandchild. Through SightFirst, she received cataract surgery. “I’m very happy to get back my eyesight, I can see clearly, just like my early days. God bless the Lions for the noble work they are doing.”
The world’s blind population did not always have a Lions’ program to answer the call for help. SightFirst was launched by Lions in 1989. At that time, Lions leaders saw an enormous opportunity to mobilize the association’s 1.3 million members and raise more than $140 million to fight the growing global problem of preventable blindness.
Lions’ SightFirst program worked in partnership with Lions clubs and organizations around the world to improve eye care and make the dream of a life free of blindness come true for millions of people. SightFirst was directly responsible for saving and restoring sight to more than 27 million people through cataract surgeries, vision screenings, a worldwide childhood blindness initiative, trachoma control and river blindness prevention programs and much more. In addition, hundreds of millions of individuals received improved vision care.
On average, Lions could restore vision or save a person from blindness for only $6 through SightFirst. Lions had established themselves as world-renowned leaders in blindness prevention. But despite these successes, more work remained.
According to the World Health Organization, since the 1990s, data based on the 2002 global population showed a reduction in the number of people who are blind or visually impaired and those who are blind from the effects of infectious diseases. Despite these advances, reports showed an increase in the number of people who are blind from conditions related to longer life spans. Experts predicted if SightFirst efforts came to a halt, the world’s blind population would double from 37 million to 74 million by 2020.
A Victory for Sight
CSFII sought to continue and expand SightFirst and address the changing patterns of blindness by raising a minimum of $150 million. Lions also set an additional $50 million challenge goal to help establish “Vision for All” through research, aid to vulnerable populations, and funding rehabilitation efforts and education for those already blind.
CSFII was launched at the 2005 International Convention in Hong Kong. Lions’ CSFII fundraising epitomized Lions’ dedication to the SightFirst program. More than 40,000 Lions clubs raised funds and made pledges. In addition, more than 3,400 clubs became CSFII Model Clubs by committing to the highest possible fundraising goals.
What Lions accomplished through CSFII was an answer to a plea voiced long ago by Helen Keller: “I appeal to you Lions, 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?” CSFII is an extension of efforts Lions began more than two decades ago. Combined with the first fund-raising campaign that launched the SightFirst program in the early 1990s, Lions have now raised more than $343 million for sustainable sight programs.
“SightFirst has changed the world, and changed the way that the world sees Lions,” said former U.S. President and Nobel Laureate Jimmy Carter. “Today, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and associations such as LCI play a critical role by taking on projects that governments and corporations cannot. Around the world, national and local governments turn to Lions as partners in safeguarding the sight of their citizens.”