ON A STEAMY MORNING IN AFRICA A DOZEN YEARS AGO, JOSEPH KAMANJA PUT ON A WHITE SHIRT, A TIE AND A SPORT COAT AND HURRIED FROM HIS HOME HUNTING FOR LIONS. A FEW DAYS BEFORE THE KENYAN FARMER HAD REGAINED HIS SIGHT THROUGH CATARACT SURGERY AT A LIONS’ EYE HOSPITAL IN NAIROBI. KAMANJA, 80, HAD SPED HOME TO SEE WHAT HIS CHILDREN LOOKED LIKE FOR THE FIRST TIME IN YEARS. HE ALSO SAW HIS GRANDCHILDREN CLEARLY FOR THE FIRST TIME. NOW, AFTER HIS RUSH OF JOY, HE PLANNED TO EXPRESS HIS GRATITUDE. Kamanja coaxed several purplevested Lions and a white-coated ophthalmologist to join him in a public square. In a loud voice and with arms swaying, he sang an improvised hymn of thanksgiving. The Lions allowed themselves small smiles of satisfaction, and passersby stopped and grinned. For nearly 50 years LCIF has brought joy to millions. The foundation has given 13,000 grants for $982 million. Working with Lions and often with partners as well, LCIF gives vision to the blind, screens children for sight disorders, gives children in the classroom invaluable life lessons through Lions Quest and meets countless other humanitarian needs worldwide. LCIF’s range of projects is as wide as the span of community needs: the foundation’s Standard grants start with clubs or districts identifying a local need and proposing a solution. Typical projects include mobile health units, hospices, and eye clinics. Year after year, LCIF has transformed countless lives. Lions Clubs have been transformed as well. Lions’ longstanding model was for clubs, or, less commonly, districts or multiple districts, to focus their limited resources on a community need or social ill. LCIF expanded the scope and range of what Lions could do. Lions became a player on the world stage, a force for good that tackled immense problems. The efficacy of Lions united through LCIF was recognized in 2007 when Financial Times ranked LCIF as the No. 1 nongovernmental organization worldwide with which to partner. A TURNING POINT More than 15,000 Lions and guests descended on Phoenix, Arizona, in 1994 for the 77th international convention, and the gathering was history-making. “Lions of the world,” announced new International President Dr. Giuseppe Grimaldi of Italy to loud cheers, “at this convention we have celebrated the conclusion of this greatest fundraising program in the history of the association.” Campaign SightFirst had raised more than $146 million. Lead gift donors, including some non-Lions, had each contributed as much as $250,000. But the lion’s share had come from clubs; many Lions earned a new status as a Melvin Jones Fellow because of their campaign contributions. The campaign was the culmination of five years of planning and study. Lion leaders had been alarmed by an estimate that the world’s 40 million blind would number 80 million within 25 years. So they convened an international sight symposium in Singapore in 1989, and by the following year Lions had launched Campaign SightFirst. Melvin Jones’ simple idea of community members coming together to help their town had been irrevocably modified and upgraded. Now Lions worldwide were pooling their resources and banding together. Internationalism and brotherhood, always an ideal for Lions, took on a new, expanded dimension. SightFirst soon made headway against blindness thanks in part to partnerships. In 1995, it provided $2 million to The Carter Center to prevent river blindness in Cameroon, the start of a long, productive relationship with The Carter Center. Through LCIF, Lions were able to stretch a dollar and save vision for the price of soda. It cost less than $1 for Lions to distribute a dosage of Merckdonated Mectizan, which staved off river blindness. For as little as $20, SightFirst made possible a cataract surgery. In its first 15 years, SightFirst was able to prevent serious vision loss for 20 million people. The sight benefits would continue for years: SightFirst built or expanded 207 eye facilities, improved 314 others with equipment and trained more than 83,000 eye care professionals. A six-year-old boy from Ecuador receives a free pair of eyeglasses after a vision exam that was made possible by LCIF. Part of LCIF’s pleas of support to Lions has been its economic efficiency. LCIF has used 100 percent of donations toward grants. Administrative and promotional expenses are paid from interest on investment. LCIF’s large pool of volunteers—Lions—has helped keep costs low. “LCIF definitely has advantages other foundations don’t,” says Pat Cannon, a longtime Lion who served as head of Public Relations for Lions Clubs International from 1979 to 2001. “Their cost of doing business is so low. That’s attractive to Lions.” The success of Campaign SightFirst helped pave the way for Campaign SightFirst II, which also easily topped its fundraising goals by 2008. CSFII raised $205 million, again mostly from ordinary Lions, allowing LCIF to expand its fight against preventable blindness. The growth and success of LCIF belied its modest start. Incorporated on June 13, 1968 as Lions International Foundation, it did not award its first grant until 1972 when Lions in South Dakota received $5,000 for flood relief. Not much was given early on because not much was on hand. The total contributions to LCIF from Lions in fiscal year 1971-72 were exactly $5,702. The Melvin Jones Fellowship, initiated in 1973, helped greatly in raising funds for LCIF. The MJF recognized Lions for humanitarian service while supporting LCIF. “I think we all became MJFs [during Campaign SightFirst],” recalls Cannon, whose club is near Chicago. “Lions took pride in alleviating problems around the world.” DISASTER RELIEF Sturdy homes a decade old are scattered about the Hambantota district in Sri Lanka. A gift of LCIF and Spanish Lions, the 72 homes were built after the terrible tsunami of 2004. Many families were able to work again thanks to sewing machines donated by LCIF, which responded to the devastating tsunami as it never had to a disaster. Lions worldwide sent in donations, and LCIF eventually awarded $15 million to build more than 4,000 homes and many health centers, schools and orphanages in Thailand, India, Indonesia and Sri Lanka. The tsunami of 2004 was another turning point for LCIF. The foundation discovered it had the resources and know-how to respond to large-scale disasters, and its well-coordinated response to the tsunami helped serve as a template. LCIF quickly provided short-term aid and long-term reconstruction after Sept. 11, Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the earthquake in Haiti in 2010, the earthquake in Japan in 2011 and many other disasters. In the last decade alone the foundation has provided more than $100 million for disaster relief.
Published by International Association of Lions Clubs . View All Articles.