Back in 1961, the Kemptville Lions Club adopted a resolution by Lion Ralph Raina that “we undertake sight conservation and work for the blind as our major project”. No-one, I think, at the time could have imagined the effect of that resolution on the lives of thousands of people far away in Guyana, South America. But every year a team of Lions, eye doctors, nurses and opticians go out from Canada to the small town of Bartica, population of roughly 15,000, to operate a vision care clinic. Working with the local Bartica Lions Club, they bring with them all the equipment needed to perform eye exams, an autorefractor is used to determine what eye correction may be needed for a particular patient, patients are examined for cataracts and glaucoma, and individual prescriptions are written for those needing corrective eyeglasses.
Over the years, thousands of men, women and children have been helped to see better, to have vision problems resolved, and all for free. The entire team travels at their own expense, volunteering their time and expertise, and also some basic manual labour, to helping this community so far away from home. And it all goes through Kemptville. During the year, the Kemptville Lions Club collect used eyeglasses, donated by local residents and through Lions clubs in other communities. These boxes of glasses are stored at the Christian Reformed Church, and Lions spend time each week going through the donations and sorting them out.
Then, having co-ordinated the collection and sorting of the glasses, the Lions send them out to Guyana, dealing with national Customs issues, so that, when the team arrives in Bartica each year, the operation can be up and running for the week-long clinic. Each year, more than 1,000 people go through the clinic, the majority needing glasses or a diagnosis.
The trip to Bartica is, in itself, a major undertaking. After flying to Georgetown in Guyana, the team then has to take a long and arduous bus and boat trip to reach Bartica, which is situated at the confluence of the Essequibo, Mazaruni, and Cuyuni rivers, and is a staging post for people involved in mines located in the bush. It is a forty-mile boat trip up river to reach Bartica, and the Lions team bring everything they need for the clinic with them.
This is the Kemptville Lions Club international outreach, and it has been a successful and valuable one for years, not just for the Lions, but most certainly for the thousands of people in Guyana who can see and enjoy life better as a result.