The Gates Foundation has awarded LCIF $5 million

By Russell Sarver Past international director of Lions Clubs International

Russell Sarver is a Past international director of Lions Clubs InternationalLions Clubs do great work locally and around the world. Below are some examples of what has been accomplished.

Update of measles initiative: Since joining the measles initiative last year, Lions Clubs International Foundation, in a collaborative effort with several leading organizations to eliminate measles, have vaccinated the one-billionth child for measles. Since 2001, the World Health Organization estimates that measles has been reduced by 78 percent. In 2009, almost 900,000 African children died from measles; and in 2010, 164,000 died from measles.

The Gates Foundation has awarded Lions Clubs International Foundation $5 million for the program this year, by matching every $2 that LCIF raises with $1, and they have set a combined goal of providing $15 million toward this initiative.

Lions Clubs making impact in South Asia: Lions helped to raise more than $200 million during Campaign SightFirst II in donations and pledges. These funds already are having a great impact around the world, including South Asia. To date, in South Asia, the program has helped to fund 112 projects totaling $16.9 million. These funds are being used to upgrade or expand 72 clinics and hospitals, provide 496,200 cataract surgeries, and train 96 midlevel ophthalmic personnel. In addition, one eye hospital will be constructed and equipped, and one multiple district diabetic retinopathy program, including equipment and training, has been completed.

LCIF awards grants: At the recent international board of directors meeting in Hong Kong,  55 grants were awarded, totaling $4.09 million and benefiting 915,778 individuals. This includes $1.19 million for the Special Olympics Opening Eyes program.

River blindness eliminated in Colombia: Since 2004, SightFirst has been a contributing partner in the Onchocerciasis Elimination Program (River Blindness) of the Americas, which works to end river blindness in Latin America. As a result of work done in these areas, it is announced that Colombia is now free from river blindness.

LCIF providing famine relief in Africa: Right now, famine is threatening the lives of millions of people in Africa. As always, Lions are bringing aid to the people affected by this disaster. LCIF has approved a $15,000 grant to support famine relief. Lions in Kenya also collected $10,000, and our members around the world are rallying to help. Lions in Sweden are donating $77,000; a Lions Club in Germany has pledged to collect $7,100; and Lions from Ethiopia are also taking part in relief efforts.

Lion help Hault the Transmission of River Blindness

Ecuador has become the second nation in the Americas to halt the transmission of onchocerciasis, according to a press release from the Carter Center, the Atlanta-based sponsoring agency for the Onchocerciasis Elimination Program in the Americas.

The Onchocerciasis Elimination Program in the Americas is a community-based partnership that includes volunteers in the endemic countries of Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Mexico and Venezuela and has the support of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Pan American Health Organization, the Pan American Health and Education Foundation, Merck, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Lions Clubs International Foundation, the release said.

Acting under a resolution by the Pan American Health Organization, the program has sought to end transmission of river blindness in these six endemic countries by 2012 through health education and the semiannual mass distribution of the anti-parasite drug Mectizan (ivermectin, Merck).

The Ministry of Health has been providing ivermectin to patients in the northern part of Ecuador’s Esmeraldas Province since 1990. In 2008, 27,372 ivermectin treatments were administered to more than 16,000 people there, after which epidemiological studies showed that the transmission of the parasite had been stalled.

Colombia was the first of the six nations to break the transmission of onchocerciasis in 2008.

“With only four countries remaining endemic, it’s critical that elimination efforts and health education are intensified elsewhere in the Americas to reach the regional goal and to avoid future suffering,” Frank O. Richards Jr., MD, director of the Carter Center’s River Blindness Program, said in the release.

In order for the World Health Organization to confirm that the parasite has been eliminated, a 3-year surveillance phase will begin in Ecuador this year to ensure that infection does not reoccur in the absence of ivermectin distribution.

Citizen Choice Awards: Garner Lions Club

By Lisa Mumma
Citizen Journalist

Editor’s note: The following is the fourth part in a six-part series of profiles on our Citizen Choice Awards honorees. Citizen Choice Awards is an award ceremony that recognizes people who exemplify what it means to be a Garner citizen. This week, we honor the Garner Lions Club for civic organization.

Winded from carrying several heavy boxes into the back door of the Garner Lions Club’s West Main Street facility, Jim Valsame, Gene English, Signal Ross and Kenny Lynch gathered on a recent afternoon to do a job. Having sorted into heaping piles more than 700 pieces of donated eyeglasses, lenses and hearing aids, including related accessories like cases and tiny batteries, they paused to admire the bounty before them.

“Our residents, eye care professionals, funeral homes and senior citizen organizations, among others, have been extremely generous this year,” said Ross, a Garner Lions Club member for more than 20 years who currently serves as club chaplain. “I’m thrilled with the number of boxes we get to pack and ship.”

Nurtured by parent organizations Lions Clubs International and the N.C. Lions Foundation, the Garner club, chartered in 1944, strives to improve the lives of the blind, visually impaired or hearing impaired by providing these individuals with opportunities to enjoy life fully and productively. Club members support these efforts through raising funds for prevention, research, education, recreation and emergency service programs to help eventually eliminate these impairments.

Club members also welcome and support collaborations with education, medical and recreational partners to create and maintain projects to meet its goal, such as funding clinical eye trials and radio reading services. The 21st-Century Vision Van travels the state, for example, providing free screenings in communities across North Carolina.

Valsame, a Lions Club member since the mid-1950s, was tapped to spearhead the SightFirst capital campaign early in his career to help the World Health Organization fight blindness in third-world countries. Inspired by Helen Keller’s challenge for the Lions Clubs to be the “Knights of the blind and deaf” when she addressed the N.C. Lions Foundation convention in 1935, Valsame also worked toward increasing the presence and reach of humanitarian campaigns such as the White Cane Fund for the Blind.

English, on the club rolls for more than 30 years, noted that club members across North Carolina enjoy volunteering at Camp Dogwood, a 54-acre resort on Lake Norman constructed to give visually impaired or hearing impaired kids a typical summer camp experience. He added that service options are endless and range from swinging a hammer, leading a hike or flipping pancakes. Clubs can also choose to sponsor kids to attend camp when funds at home fall short.

Propelled by the organization’s humble but clear motto, “We Serve,” the Garner club also directs its benevolence toward home. The legacy of its ball fields notwithstanding, in addition to subsidizing eye exams and glasses, hearing tests and aids, the club supports a long list of local charities such as Garner Area Ministries and the Linus Project. The Garner club partners with its neighboring club in Knightdale to sponsor the annual Dollars for Scholars golf tournament, which benefits area high school students who show potential for success in higher education endeavors.

“We don’t make a big deal about our work sometimes,” English said. “Lions Clubs are the best kept secret in the community.”

“Vision for All” Achieved Success of Sight Campaign Means 74 Million to be Saved from Vision Loss

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.”

Confronting Blindness
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.”

Uniontown Lions Recycling Program

Lions Recycle For SightThe Uniontown Lions Club collects old or unwanted eyeglasses for distribution to the visually impaired in developing nations. While 130.4 millions Americans wear prescription eyeglasses, according to the Vision Council of America, many children and adults in developing nations struggle through life with poor or severely impaired vision, due to expensive and limited eye care resources. According to the World Health Organization, the eyesight of one-in-four people worldwide can be improved through the use of corrective lenses. In some developing nations, an eye exam can cost as much as a month’s wages and there may be only one eye care physician available for several hundred thousand people. You can make a dramatic difference in the life of a child or adult by simply donating a pair of eyeglasses.

Despite the profound need for eyeglasses around the world, 68% of eyeglasses still languish in dresser drawers or get thrown away, according to a survey sponsored by Lions Clubs International. In fact, more than 75% of Americans who purchase prescription eyeglasses do not recycle their old eyeglasses when they buy a new pair, and more than half (62.2%) of those surveyed purchase new eyewear at least once every two or three years.

All types of eyeglasses and sunglasses, prescription and non-prescription, are acceptable. Exceptionally strong or weak prescriptions are needed. Reading glasses are very useful because many recipients are craftsman in need of visual correction to help them perform close-up tasks. Sunglasses are needed by people living near the equator, especially those with cataract, to shield their eyes from the sun’s damaging rays.

eyeglass rcycling centersThe eyeglasses you donate are processed by our club members. The glasses are cleaned, the prescriptions are read with our digital lensometer, and the glasses bagged and labeled. We then provide these glasses to several local optometrists who travel to Latin America to fit them to the poor. The glasses you donate today could be helping a poor villager see in a few months.