Allie Stryker 2013-01-07 23:02:20
Opening Eyes in South Africa This past October, athletes from 13 African nations participated in the 2012 Special Olympics Africa Regional Unity Cup in South Africa. The three-day soccer tournament was the first Special Olympics Africa regional event. The tournament wasn’t just about soccer. It was also about connecting with others. “Participating in social programs like Special Olympics is great because raising a child with intellectual disabilities alone is very hard,” said a parent of a Special Olympics athlete. The tournament featured a Healthy Athletes screening and a Family Health Forum for the athletes and their families. As with most opportunities to provide service, Lions were there. “‘In a World of Service’ there is one name that stands out among the others – Lions Clubs International,” says District 410-B Governor Ivan du Plooy. “Our motto is ‘We Serve’ and that is what we did.” Humanitarian service is at the heart of the Lions Clubs International Foundation, and Lions often work to empower people with disabilities. For more than 12 years, LCIF has been partnering with Special Olympics in the Opening Eyes program. The partnership provides vision screenings for Special Olympics athletes with the support of optical industry partners Essilor International and Safilo, SpA. Athletes receive free eyeglasses if needed, allowing them to participate more fully in Special Olympics events like the Unity Cup and to see more clearly every day. LCIF has provided $13.4 million for this program and more than 16,000 Lions have volunteered in the screenings worldwide. To date, more than 255,000 athletes have had their vision screened through Opening Eyes. The health needs of those with disabilities are often overlooked. During the Unity Cup events, Lions helped provide more than 150 athletes with vision screenings. The Opening Eyes program also trained six new clinical directors from the region. Additionally, Lions assisted during the event’s Family Health Forum. As a recent initiative of LCIF and Special Olympics, Family Health Forums provide information to help families and caregivers overcome the challenges that athletes and their families face and facilitate better access to health care, education, social services and inclusion in their communities. At the Family Health Forum, du Plooy spoke on behalf of the Lions Clubs of South Africa. He also was honored by Special Olympics International Chairman Tim Shriver. For DG du Plooy, the Unity Cup symbolized “togetherness and assistance with caring.” Participating in the event “was one of the highlights of my year! I was so proud to be affiliated to Lions Clubs International. It was indeed an honor to be there and experience it for myself. … I was in awe of what they did and stood for.” On hand to cheer on the athletes and congratulate them and their families were Aida Noma, the UNICEF country representative; Mmemogolo Semane Molotlegi, the Queen Mother of the Bafokeng Nation and Dikembe Mutombo, a former NBA All Star and Special Olympics global ambassador. Thanks to these efforts, the Unity Cup’s title could not be more fitting.
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