The conditions of rooms and bathrooms for severely ill children at the hospital ward in Kyiv, Ukraine, were so unsanitary that the BBC sent a reporter and video crew last summer. Not as obvious but just as appalling was the hospital’s lack of proper medical equipment, supplies and basic services for patients and their stressed families. The hospital was so strapped for funds that when an operation was scheduled for their child parents had to travel to clinics and pharmacies to purchase on their own nearly everything needed for the procedure including blood. Parents staying overnight were forced to sleep in the same hospital bed with their child and bring food for their child to the hospital. “Frankly, I’ve seen better facilities in active battle field hospitals in war zones,” said Martin Nunn, a Lion in Kyiv. The BBC report touched people’s hearts and many contacted the Kyiv Lions Club to offer assistance. One of the largest in the region, the 70-member club already had saved lives by purchasing sophisticated medical equipment for the pediatric department of the Neurosurgical Institute at the Academy of Medical Sciences of Ukraine. Lions also cleaned, painted and renovated the operating rooms, wards and bathrooms. The dismal conditions at the hospital were especially heart-wrenching to Kyiv Lions, who are accustomed to modern, sophisticated medical care. Nearly 70 percent of members are expatriates including Brits, Scots, Scandinavians, Mexican, Americans and Canadians. Many are senior executives in the business community. The club was founded in 2002, and members have used their business expertise and leveraged their contacts to carry out large-scale social work. The club has flourished because it’s seen as a legitimate, safe and effective way to improve social conditions, says Nunn, whose media company does free public relations for the club. Under the Soviet Union, social services in Ukraine were provided by the state. After the Soviets left, the new government was unprepared and underfunded to offer health care and other services. The wealthy often supported the sick, poor and elderly, but the law set $250,000 as the minimum level of donation to earn a tax break. Cash donations became prevalent—and so, too, did fraud. “Charity is seen to this day by the public and the tax office as highly suspicious,” said Nunn. Lions have overcome that stigma. A press release of the Kyiv Lions states that “international companies now view Kyiv Lions Club as a safe means of making charitable donations and of ensuring that their generosity is not diverted.” One corporation donated $40,000 for charity through the club. The club plans to hold a seminar on how charity works and what legislative changes are needed and will invite government officials, charity leaders and the media. “In many ways our club is setting the national standard for charity and donations,” said Nunn. The biggest impact the club has made was from providing an ultrasonic dissector/aspirator, allowing the hospital to undertake more difficult procedures and to reduce post-operative complications. The machine was used in brain operations for more than 100 children in the first nine months. The club teamed up on the project with Soleterre, an Italian-based humanitarian group. The club is adept at collaboration. The renovation of the hospital was supported by club member Dave Young, managing director of the Britain-based construction company INS, and INS workers. The club also knows how to use celebrities to gain attention and support. Pop singers Anna and Lera from the band XS and Vadim from the Mad Heads XL chatted with the ward’s children and even took a turn with the paintbrush. In its best year, the club raised $500,000. It stages Kozak Night celebrating Ukrainian art and culture, holds a black-tie ball and works with the Scottish expatriate community on its popular Burns Night (named after Scottish poet Robert Burns). The fundraising allows the club to support other health-related concerns as well as support homes for the orphaned sick and elderly, provide recreation for those with disabilities and buy new glasses for those who need them.
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