A Smile for Sight

Sight is one of our most valuable senses. It allows us to connect with the moments in life and with each other.

Couple holds young baby After a premature birth, twins Kaya and Alime were both diagnosed with an eye disease called retinopathy of prematurity, and they needed treatment to protect their sight and prevent blindness.

Their parents, Ibrahim and Nilufer, traveled more than an hour and half from their home to the city of Izmir, Turkey, to find help for their children. Thanks to care provided by ophthalmologists at the first and only children’s hospital in the country, Kaya’s treatment is completed, and he is healthy. Alime continues treatment at the hospital.

The twins are only two examples of more than 15,000 children that will benefit from the Izmir Pergamon Lions Club’s sight project annually from support from Lions in District 118R and a Matching grant from Lions Clubs International Foundation (LCIF).

When Lions in Turkey heard that the ophthalmology clinic in their community needed additional equipment, they turned to LCIF for help, and were awarded a Matching grant for US$10,050. With the grant funds, Lions purchased advanced eye equipment to help determine the eye health of children and infants.

Girl waits for vision treatmentThe clinic is located at the Izmir Dr. Behcet Child Disease and Pediatric Surgery Training and Research Hospital, the first and only children’s hospital in Turkey. The hospital opened in the 1940s and serves the entire Aegean Region, which is about a quarter of the population of the country.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, many of the neighboring adult hospitals focused on caring for COVID-19 patients, increasing the demand on the children’s hospital. Children’s more frequent use of tablets and phone screens during the pandemic also increased vision problems. With more children having blurred vision, additional equipment was needed to meet the community’s needs.

Through the project, Lions in Izmir also raised awareness about the importance of regular eye checkups for infants and children.

“Eye health is underestimated around the world, and the necessary precautions for preventable visual impairments are unfortunately not sufficient,” says Faika Evrim Uysal, executive project manager. “As Lions clubs, we take this matter very seriously. Sometimes a project can do many things to help raise awareness and protect and improve more people’s eye health.”

SMILE project logoHelping support children’s eye care is essential because the deterioration of children’s eye health can impact their success in school and future.

Starting in the fall of 2022 school season in Turkey, Lions and ophthalmologists will start screening eyes with the grant-supported portable eye equipment in schools and orphanages. If the screening indicates a child needs advanced care, they will be referred to a health care provider.

“In order to make our communities healthier, more conscious, more sustainable, and happier, as Districts 118 R Lions, we undertake life-changing projects for infants’, children’s, and women’s health; and we do all of this together,” says Teoman Akcali, immediate past district governor.

Lions in Izmir call the project SMILE because they are determined to make someone smile by helping give the power of sight and hope to expand the project in the future. For the project, Lions even created a special mascot, called Lionopticool, a small-stuffed Lion, to help make children more comfortable during a vision screening.

The opening ceremony of the SMILE projectEver since Helen Keller inspired Lions to champion the cause against avoidable blindness in 1925, Lions and Leos have served and advocated for the blind and visually impaired. Worldwide, about 2.2 billion people have a vision impairment. At least 1 billion of those cases could have been prevented, according to the World Health Organization.

Nearly a century later, this long-standing mission continues.

Learn more how your support of LCIF can help make a child smile: LCIF.org/vision.