The grand prize winner of the 2011-12 Lions International Essay Contest, Mikaela Smith, 13, of Indiana, first met Carl Augusto, president and CEO of the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB), while in New York to be recognized for her winning essay at Lions Day with the United Nations. The two found they had a lot in common and, at the request of the LION, they later spoke on the phone about the challenges of blindness, Lions and attitudes about the blind. Following is an edited transcript of their conversation. Mikaela: So, what is one your favorite Helen Keller stories or items from your archives? Augusto: One of my favorite Helen Keller quotes, which is hanging right behind my desk, says: “When they were saying among themselves it couldn’t be done, it was done.” That was a quote from the early 1900s, and basically, all the medical doctors, the neurologists, the psychologists–all these Ph.D.s and M.D.s were saying [that] people who were deaf-blind can’t be educated, they can’t contribute to society, they can’t go to college. While they were saying that among themselves, it couldn’t be done, Helen Keller was doing all of that. She was going to college, she was being educated, she was contributing to the literature, she was also traveling the world and beginning to influence and change attitudes. So whenever people say, “Oh, that’s too hard, we can’t do it,” I often point to that sign. I think [during your visit] I said something like, “You know, Mikaela, you can be a Helen Keller someday.” The things I was really impressed by with you that reminded me of Helen Keller are: you are smart, you have a great presence and personality. The other thing is, I see you advocating not only for yourself but for all people with visual impairments. So I think you are going to be removing a lot of barriers in your life and changing a lot of stereotypes. That’s the warrior image in you that I saw connected to Helen Keller. Mikaela: How is this opportunity through the Lions Essay Contest significant? Augusto:Well, first of all, I think it is significant because it was Helen Keller who went to a Lions clubs convention in 1925 and asked Lions to become the knights of the blind, and they said yes. And so for the last 87 years they connected to people like us, Mikaela, the blind and visually impaired. I think it is terrific that the Lions said, let’s have an essay contest just for visually impaired kids. The other thing– and I think your essay proved this–the subject matter is really important. Asking blind kids to talk about peace I thought was a very good idea from the Lions. Mikaela: And are there many similar opportunities for visually impaired people to be able do this? Augusto: I don’t think so, and that’s the beauty of it. That’s why we tip our hats to the Lions for initiating this. Mikaela: Yes, I have to agree. I liked it. How can Lions further connect to visually impaired youth in their community to sponsor the [essay] contest? Augusto: Well, first of all, we hope that the Lions will continue to have this contest. We think that whole concept of literacy for blind people is so very important. In the United States, Mikaela, most blind people like you and I know Braille. But in many parts of the world, few blind people even know that there is Braille. They are not even educated at all. So if we could launch this literacy campaign throughout the world, maybe we could touch the lives of thousands and thousands of blind and visually impaired kids, who before this campaign didn’t even know that Braille existed, didn’t even know that they could be educated. So we are very excited about what we are doing with the Lions on this campaign. Mikaela: What can Lions clubs do for the blind that they may not already be doing? Augusto:Well, I think there are many things that they can do: meeting blind people, talking about giving blind people jobs, helping to pass legislation that would be favorable to blind people, just a lot of public awareness in their communities. And we are putting on our [AFB] website new information that lists all of the many opportunities that the Lions clubs of the world can undertake in order to help people with vision loss. Mikaela: What types of resources for visually impaired students are available to support the Lions reading and literacy campaign? Augusto: I think part of this issue is to let people know, let government know and maybe the developing countries that blind and visually impaired people can and do learn just as easily, just as well, are just as smart as their sighted peers. It is going to be hard in developing countries where many blind kids don’t even know that Braille exists, and where blind kids are not allowed to go to educational programs because their educational programs and their teachers wouldn’t know how to teach blind kids like they do in the United States. Mikaela: They need to learn! Augusto: That’s right, they need to learn. That’s why we are hoping that the Lions’ campaign, such a powerful international organization, can help to support governments around the world and educate other Lions throughout the world that blind kids can learn and can be educated and can contribute to society. Mikaela: And they can! Augusto: Yes. Read the rest of the talk between Mikaela and Augusto and watch a video on the essay contest in the digital LION at www.lionmagazine.org. Take Action Today Lions are reaching out to support education and literacy through many service activities. Working with the AFB and others on the Lions Reading Action Program, Lions are exploring new opportunities for service. One way clubs are connecting with visually impaired students is through the Lions Essay Contest, providing the opportunity for these young people to share their written interpretations of peace. The theme of the 2012-13 Lions Essay Contest is “Imagine Peace.” The theme, shared with the Lions International Peace Poster Contest, draws upon the creativity of young people ages 11-13 throughout the world. The contest must be sponsored by a Lions club. The deadline for participating clubs to submit their entry to the district governor for the 2012-13 competition is Nov. 15. Essay Contest details and the entry form are online and also included in the Lions International Peace Poster Kit, available through Club Supplies. For information, visit www.lionsclubs.org (search: Essay Contest), call 630-571-5466 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Additional resources are available from the American Foundation for the Blind at www.afb.org.
Published by International Association of Lions Clubs . View All Articles.
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