Give Sight To Those Who Would Live In Darkness!

Give Sight To Those Who Would Live In Darkness!
by William L. Bulla

By the time you finish reading this article, many children, somewhere in the world, will go blind! One child goes blind every minute. More than 260,000 children will have lost their sight between now and the end of this year, 2007. That's a startling fact! And...Childhood blindness is only a part of the world's vision crisis. Experts say the blind population can increase from 37 million to 74 million by the year 2020 if nothing is done. But, the Lions will not let that happen.
On June 30, 1925, Helen Keller, blind, deaf and mute as a result of fever at age 18-months, addressed the Lions Clubs International Convention in Cedar Point, Ohio. She challenged the Lions to become "knights for the blind in this crusade against darkness." The Lions picked up that challenge and pledged to give sight to those who would live in darkness. Thus, Sight Conservation and Work with the Blind Program became a major service initiative for Lions Clubs International.
Local clubs are part of the Lions International District 22-W which encompasses the five Western counties of Maryland. Washington County, Region II of the District, is comprised of fourteen Lions Clubs, two Lioness Clubs, and one Leo Club, which meet at the Boys and Girls Club in Hagerstown. These clubs, in addition to being very actively involved in service to the blind and visually impaired, are involved with many other programs affecting the welfare of youth, seniors, handicapped and the general welfare of their communities.
For 14-years the Hagerstown Lioness Club has spearheaded a vision screening program throughout the elementary and middle schools in Washington County. The Club screened 7,231 children in the fall of 2006, and referred 821 children to professionals for further evaluation. The Lioness members will be in the schools again this year in September and October. Some Lion Clubs occasionally assist them in this mammoth project. In addition, several other clubs are involved in a Pre-school Screening program to detect "lazy-eye" problems in the very young.
Campaign Sight First, launched in 1989 to battle preventable blindness, was the Lions' most ambitious and most successful initiative ever. Internationally, Lions have restored sight to 7 million people through cataract surgeries, prevented serious vision loss for 20 million people and improved eye care services for hundreds of millions more. Now the Lions have launched Campaign SightFirst II. Despite the success of the first campaign, much work remains. The growth and aging of the world's population create new challenges. Changing patterns of eye disease, barely discernable in 1989, have become serious threats to sight around the world. Those diseases to be addressed are cataracts, childhood blindness, river blindness, trachoma, glaucoma and diabetic related blindness.
The local Lions Clubs support research activities at the Lions Vision Research Foundation at Wilmer Eye Center, Johns-Hopkins. This facility is involved in research to aid low-vision patients. Low-vision refers to those eye-diseases, which are not correctable by medicine, surgery or glasses, such as macular degeneration. In addition to supporting this research, Lions drive patients to and from the Vision Center.
Recently a van was needed by Blind Industries and Services of Maryland to weekly transport 160 persons with vision problems in Garrett and Allegany counties. District 22-W requested a grant from Lions Clubs International Foundation (LCIF) to help purchase this van. LCIF provided $14,109, and the clubs in the District had to match the grant in contributions. While the van was to be used in Region I of the District, twenty-one Lions and Lioness clubs throughout the District helped raise the funding to meet this critical need.
LCIF provides grants to financially assist Lion districts with large-scale humanitarian projects that are too extensive for the Lions to finance on their own. LCIF provided grant monies for projects in the past such as a Habitat for Humanity house in Hagerstown and a flooding disaster in Hancock.
Lions can be seen on the street corners and in front of retail establishments handing out miniature White Canes or rolls of mints at various times during the year. They are also seen collecting used eyeglasses. Lions support a Leader Dog program, which trains and supplies guide dogs for the blind.
Eight-two years ago, the Lions made a pledge to Helen Keller to "become knights for the blind in their fight against darkness." They reaffirm this pledge to give sight to those who would live in darkness through the Campaign SightFirst II slogan, "Lions' Vision For All".