“I hope you will adopt me. I am the youngest here,” Helen Keller said in her famous “Knights of the Blind” speech to Lions at the 1925 International Convention in Cedar Point, Ohio, USA. Keller was speaking figuratively, of course. She was 45 years old at the time. But the story she shared of her early childhood blindness and her heartrending struggle for independence as a girl left a lasting impression. It was one of a few key moments that led many Lions clubs to adopt sight as a major global service area. Since Helen Keller’s challenge in 1925, Lions’ service to sight has been realized in myriad ways. It has helped countless children to see or to see more clearly and to access the tools and resources needed to reach their potential. Lions have supported schools and summer camps for blind children, provided eye health education, screened for vision problems and provided free eyeglasses. Many local Lions clubs have raised funds to cover the cost of eye surgery for children in their communities.
Lions clubs and Lions Clubs International Foundation have also mobilized more than US$400 million in SightFirst funding to prevent blindness and build local eye health capacity. Children’s eye health has emerged as a global concern in recent decades, and Lions are leading the way for children’s specific eye care needs. The World Health Organization estimates that 1.4 million children worldwide are irreversibly blind, and tens of millions suffer from conditions such as nearsightedness, farsightedness and astigmatism that may hinder their ability to learn. Lions have worked hard for the past century to develop innovative programs and establish global partnerships that help more children see. In 1998, Lions Clubs International introduced Lions World Sight Day, a global event that has become a showcase for Lions’ service efforts to promote children’s eye health. For example, thanks to local Lions, nearly 4,000 children in Sao Paulo and Sao Jose dos Campos, Brazil, received vision and eye health screenings. The WHO adopted World Sight Day, held on the second Thursday of October, as an annual day of awareness to focus global attention on blindness and vision impairment. In 2002, in partnership with Johnson & Johnson Vision Care Inc., the Lions Clubs International Foundation launched Sight for Kids, a school-based program that mobilizes volunteers to provide vision screening, professional eye exams, eyeglasses and other services.
The program has become one of the Lions’ largest and most impactful partnership programs. As of 2015, more than 125,000 Lions and other volunteers have worked to bring the Sight for Kids program to more than 20 million children throughout Asia, India and the Philippines. Among those children, Sight for Kids has referred more than 800,000 children to eye care professionals for further evaluation and provided eyeglasses to more than 250,000 children. In 2014, the program expanded to Turkey and Kenya. Among newer initiatives by Lions Clubs International of the 21st century, Sight for Kids remains an important partnership for LCI and LCIF. Learn more about Sight for Kids today.