Maria Blackburn 0000-00-00 00:00:00
Expatriates find fellowship and fulfillment as Lions. The first time she saw the town of San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, Annette Maguire knew she was home. She loved the narrow cobblestone streets, the 16th- and 17th-century Spanish colonial architecture and the rich culture of the historic, hillside town. The weather – mild and warm – was appealing too, especially compared to the rainy, coastal climate of the Vancouver, Canada area, where she and her husband Michael lived for more than 35 years. Three years ago Maguire retired from her job as a government accountant, and she and Michael moved to San Miguel, joining the ranks of the 10,000 Canadian and American expatriates who have settled in the charming town of 80,000 people. Maguire, who is still learning Spanish, didn’t just want to live in San Miguel in some sort of English-speaking expat bubble. Upon learning that the area was teeming with people who were living in extreme poverty and lacked jobs, education and health care, she yearned to become part of the community and connect with her new hometown and her fellow citizens in a meaningful way. So she became a Lion. The Maguires joined the San Miguel de Allende Lions, an English-speaking club founded in 1987 by expatriates who wanted to serve their community. Now on Thursday mornings you’re likely to find the couple at work in the club’s weekly eye and diabetes clinic, assisting some of the more than 18,000 patients who have received free screenings, eyeglasses and diabetes testing since the all-volunteer staffed clinic opened in 1992. “These eyeglasses are essential to the young people and children who receive them,” says Maguire, the club’s treasurer. “They open doors. If they can’t see, they can’t read, and they can’t get an education. These glasses mean jobs and opportunities and an end to the cycle of poverty.” Annette also discovered the thrill of working alongside others who share the same vision. “With the Lions we are all on the same page,” says Maguire, who is 61. “We have had a lot of different experiences in life. We’ve all had great careers, so we have this extraordinary skill set among us. But what we share is this social awareness that brings us together and anchors us here. You are in the company of like-minded people.” The San Miguel Lions are just one of a small but active group of English-speaking Lions clubs in foreign countries that are bringing together like-minded people to serve. Comprised primarily of young professionals from around the world whose jobs in business, telecommunications and other fields have led them to relocate overseas, the expat clubs make up a small number of the 45,000 Lions clubs worldwide. But they are having a huge impact on their communities. Whether it’s planting rose bushes at a Denmark hospice, establishing the first bone marrow treatment center for children in Ukraine, addressing diabetes as the leading killer of adults in Mexico or building new schools for disabled children andAdults in Brussels, the clubs are exhibiting a unique brand of Lionism that crosses boundaries of language, culture and country. “A lot of expat networks focus on national identity but Lions does not,” says Melodie Karlson, a Wisconsin- born human resources assistant with the World Health Organization and charter member of Bellevue Multinational Lions Club in Copenhagen, Denmark. “Lions goes across all national identity boundaries. When we’re in the club together we are all Lions. It doesn’t matter if you are from Denmark or Turkey or Nepal or wherever. We are all there as Lions.” For Terry Davidson, a British public relations executive who has been a member of the Brussels Heraldic Lions Club in Belgium for more than two decades, the experience has brought him together with a wide variety of people from diverse backgrounds. Currently Lions Club Heraldic has 22 members of 12 nationalities. “You meet people that you wouldn’t normally meet and develop lifelong friendships,” says Davidson, club president. Whether it’s in Central America or Eastern Europe, the expat clubs usually form in the same way: A Lion relocates to a new country and upon finding no Englishspeaking Lions Club, decides to start one. That’s what happened to Bellevue Lions Club founder Hilke Panzner Fredheim when she moved to Denmark from Germany in 2006 for her husband’s work. Fredheim and her family moved four times when she was growing up in Germany, and every time they settled in a new town her father transferred his membership in the Lions. A Lion in Germany since 2005, the Microsoft marketing manager decided to transfer her Lions membership from Dusseldorf to Copenhagen as a way to develop a social network in her new city. “What I like is to have friends and people around me who have kind of the same attitude for life and what they want to achieve in life,” she says. “For me Lions is using some of your spare time and doing something good for others.” Karlson, who has lived outside the United States since 1989, saw joining the Bellevue club as a way to satisfy her desire to not just write checks but to do handson service projects for local charities. It’s a concept she found somewhat foreign in Denmark. “I wanted to have the opportunity to fundraise and to do the kind of volunteer activities where can get your hands dirty and you can do it in a way that makes a difference,” she says. As a Lion she’s planted rose bushes and installed a swing at a local hospice and spent Saturday mornings collecting food donations from supermarket shoppers and delivering them to area charities that operated cafes to feed the hungry. She hopes her club’s hand-on approach will not only be effective in reaching those in need also but in introducing Danes to a new way of charitable giving. “It’s a consciousness raising thing,” Karlson says. “We are getting the community involved and empowering them. We are also hoping that this is a way to get people interested in joining the Lions.” Ken Nachbar, a management consultant based in Kyiv, Ukraine, decided to join the Lions in 2005 upon learning that the infant mortality rate in Ukraine was several times higher than in countries with better, more advanced infant care. Through the Kyiv Lions Club, Nachbar has helped with efforts to improve conditions for patients at elderly care centers, purchase equipment for pediatric surgical units at hospitals and fund the first bone marrow treatment center for children in the country. “This community suffers a great deal so there’s a tremendous amount of work to be done,” says Nachbar, a past president of the club who is from California. “The Kyiv Lions Club has a high profile as a successful organization here. That means that we have the ability to be more successful working together than I would be working on my own.” The expat clubs, which typically have between 20 and 40 members, tend to be young and dynamic because professionals and expats are constantly relocating. Their meetings are held in English, but because their members hail from around the world, their focus is international. “We speak English but we never actually like to say that we are an English club because people might take that to mean that if you aren’t English you can’t join,” says David Zaruk, a Canadian expat living in Brussels, Belgium, who is the past president of the Brussels Heraldic Lions Club. “We like to say that we are an international club that speaks English. That distinction is important.” Because the type of the projects these clubs do often reflect the international backgrounds of their members, their work has a decidedly global flair. Take the Kyiv Lions Club, for example. A fundraising powerhouse, the club raises as much as $300,000 per year through events such as Burns Night, which celebrates the Scottish poet Robert Burns with haggis and bagpipes, and Kozak Night, which honors Ukrainian culture by showcasing traditional embroidered costumes, horseback riding and horilka, a local vodka. “The personality of our club is that we like to work hard and we like to play hard,” Nachbar says. In Brussels, a city that’s a mix of French, Dutch and other European cultures, the Brussels Heraldic Lions Club follows suit by being multicultural, too. The idea for their most popular fundraiser, the Swimarathon, came from founding member Bill Collin, who hailed from the United Kingdom; their annual Christmas MarKet is German in origin and was started by several German members. With funds generated from a CD of Christmas carols performed by local international school students singing in their native tongues, the club was able to build a new school in Pakistan to replace the original structure destroyed by an earthquake. And in San Miguel de Allende, the eye and diabetes clinic the Lions club runs takes advantage of an unusual international source for its support: tourism. Every year thousands of people from around the world travel to Central Mexico to experience the region’s beauty, arts and history. For the last decade Lion Jean Schickel has taken groups of about 40 people on tours around colonial Mexico and showed them the sights as a way to raise money for the clinic. Schickel, a retired sales representative from the Chicago area, volunteers her time and runs about six tours per year, which generate enough money to pay the 5,000-peso-per-month rent for the club’s clinic in town. “We use first-class buses, stay at great hotels and do the trips at cost plus a small donation to the Lions,” she says. “People love them because they are so reasonable and they like to help out.” Liking to help is enough to get someone volunteering for a good cause. But it’s that feeling that you are actually making a difference that gets them to return again and again. When asked how he knew the Brussels Heraldic Lions Club was having an impact, Davidson immediately recalled a project from 1990 in which the club, upon learning that a children’s home in Warsaw, Poland, needed a bus to transport its charges, bought and refurbished a bus, stuffed it full of supplies and drove it more than 700 miles to Poland in a weekend, visiting Lions clubs along the way and gathering donations for the children. “Remember that Warsaw was behind the Iron Curtain, so this was a massive logistics job,” he says. What surprised Davidson the most when they arrived at the children’s home was that waiting to greet them was a busload of children from Chernobyl, Russia, who had heard about the donation and spent two days traveling to meet the Lions and ask for help. He doesn’t know how they found out about the bus donation. To him, that’s not important. “When times are hard, people are desperate to find help,” he says. What was important was their reaction. Even 20 years later, he can’t forget how they responded when the Lions shared the contents of the bus with them. Davidson considers it his best moment as a Lion. “There was a magic to seeing their faces light up, knowing that someone was caring about them.” The interesting thing about doing good work is that news of it spreads quickly. Before long, it seems, everybody knows. That’s something Annette Maguire learned not too long after she began volunteering in the eye clinic in San Miguel de Allende. Her Spanish may need work, but whenever she gets in a cab in her hometown and tells the driver that she is going to Club de Leones at Correo 63, his response needs no translation. “Ah, Club de Leones, si,” the driver says, and gives her a wide grin. That smile tells Maguire everything she needs to know. “It’s the instant dropping of a wall,” she says. “He knows we have done good things for the Mexican people, that we treat them with kindness and respect, that we care. It’s a proving of the Lions.”
Published by International Association of Lions Clubs . View All Articles.
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