by Lara Lebeck December 14, 2021World Sight DayThe Fall from HeavenPandemic forces creative solution to safe school screeningsTo many, Australia is heaven on Earth. North to south, the massive country offers diverse and breathtaking landscapes, with lush rainforests in the northeast transforming to majestic mountain ranges in the country’s south. Natural beauty combined with cosmopolitan flair are no doubt among the reasons 26 million people call the Land Down Under home, and where millions more choose to visit each year.After the fire melted the existing water tanks, Lions purchased and installed new tanks, giving families access to life-sustaining potable water.But in the center of the world’s sixth largest country by total area, lies desert. Desert that, in 2019, turned heaven to hell.“The only way to describe those days is that the gates of hell opened up,” recalled Balmoral RFS Brigade Captain Brendon O’Connor.Australians are no strangers to bushfires. Drought and high winds in the country’s summer months regularly bring increased fire risk, putting those nearby on high alert. In the last few months of 2019, now known as Black Summer, Australians frantically worked to save their properties from the voracious flames, eventually abandoning the fruitless effort to flee for the ocean to save their lives.With more than 46 million acres obliterated by the year’s mega fires, thousands lost their homes and almost one billion animals lost their lives.Black Summer will scar Australia for decades.Where there’s a need, there’s LCIF and Lions The need was immediate. As smoke filled the sky from November to January in New South Wales, Victoria, and South Australia, Lions mobilized quickly, cooking meals for the first responders who were battling blazes and treating the wounded. Lions also collected and distributed food and other emergency items and held fundraisers for fire victims.PIP Gudrun Yngvadottir and PIP Barry Palmer, a native Australian and lifelong resident, visited Balmoral, one of the hardest hit areas.To exponentially broaden their impact, Lions sought support from their global foundation – Lions Clubs International Foundation (LCIF). A US$103,000 LCIF Disaster Relief grant enabled them to restore water infrastructure in District 202-N1, where many families use above-ground tanks to store their drinking water.“When flames rushed through, the heat of the fires melted the tanks, leaving families without safe drinking water,” explained a local firefighter. With the LCIF grant, Lions purchased and installed new tanks, giving families access to life-sustaining potable water.In addition, LCIF provided more than US$200,000 in major catastrophe funding to support emergency relief efforts and begin the rebuilding process in the hardest hit areas of Australia.Providing hope In the wake of the fires, then LCIF Chairperson and Past International President Gudrun Yngvadottir and Past International President Barry Palmer, a native Australian and lifelong resident, visited Balmoral, one of the hardest hit areas. The pair met residents facing the daunting tasks of rebuilding their homes, their livelihoods, their lives.Recovery during a pandemic The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic brought significant challenges to Australia’s recovery efforts. TheMore than 46 million acres were obliterated by the mega fires, thousands lost their homes and almost one billion animals lost their lives.government was forced to pivot and focus on the immediate need – containing the spread of the virus. Many fire-affected areas were left behind. Many continue to struggle financially and emotionally.However, there is hope. Lions were among the first to rush toward those hit hardest in Black Summer, and they’re still there. With grant opportunities such as District and Club Community Impact grants, LCIF is there, too, helping Lions rebuild heaven on Earth.