Lions are recognized worldwide for their humanitarian services to the blind and visually impaired. This recognition began when Helen Keller challenged the Lions to become “knights of the blind” in 1925. Keller (1880-1968), was left blind, deaf and mute by illness when only 19 months of age. Despite these staggering handicaps, Keller went on to graduate with honours from college and to become for years the foremost American advocate for the visually impaired.
Accepting her challenge, for more than 85 years, Lions have been recognized throughout the world for their commitment to blindness prevention.
In Manitoba, Lions members continue their services to help those who suffer with vision disabilities through the Lions Eye Bank and the annual fundraising event, the Journey for Sight, which passed through a number of communities between January 16 and 19, culminating in Brandon.
Celebrating the Journey for Sight’s 30th anniversary, the snowmobile fundraising event once again brought out riders from northern, central, and southern regions of the province. In total, 33 sleds were involved in the whole ride, with a number of area riders joining the journey on January 19, after the group fanned out from Shoal Lake in various routes.
“Prior to reaching Shoal Lake, the group was graciously fed supper at Birtle where it all began in the early 1980s by Lion Gordon Boulton, who was in attendance,” said Kris Ostash of Shoal Lake. “When we left Flin Flon it was -33 C, warming up to -18 C at Swan River. Today (final day), we will battle the wind.”
At the final destination of Brandon it was announced that $66,000 had been generated through the snowmobile trip alone, with additional monies still to come in.
Kelly Martens of Thompson said the ride presented good winter conditions. He was riding along with another sledder in memory of Richard Salmon, who had planned to take part in the 2013 journey, but passed away on Dec. 12.
To date, over $1 million has been raised for the programs of the Lions Eye Bank, which include corneal eye transplants in Winnipeg.
Stamping out preventable blindness and making life easier for the sight impaired has become the foremost cause of Lions in some 200 countries around the globe. It is why Canadian Lions have set up their own guide dog training centre in Oakville, Ontario. It is why Lions collect old eyeglasses. It is why Lions, twice in the past two decades, have set out to raise tens of millions of dollars worldwide to eradicate river blindness and other preventable vision problems. It is why Lions dedicate so much time and effort to help combat diabetes, a major cause of blindness.
Known as Knights of the Blind or more commonly Lions, the Journey for Sight has evolved over the years from the original two riders to scores of participants today. Many are seasoned veterans of the trip, undertaking this arduous journey for a great cause.