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Bosnia: Lions Club Sets Its Sights On Sarajevo

Sarajevo, 9 October 1997 (RFE/RL) - The Lions Club International, world's largest community service club, boasting some 1.4 million members in more than 180 countries and areas, has a new home -- Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina.

An RFE/RL correspondent who visited the city recently reports that the first-ever International Lions Club in Sarajevo joins a fast-growing list of Lions clubs in the East. The Lion's club is a non political, non-sectarian organization operating under the slogan, "Liberty, Intelligence, Our Nation's Safety."

Sarajevo's Minister for Culture and Sport, Amira Kapetanovich, said in welcoming the first meeting that the slogan is well-suited for the people of Sarajevo, and Bosnia-Herzegovina as a whole, as it seeks to establish a peaceful future following nearly four years of war. Kapetanovich was flanked by an impressive array of local doctors, lawyers and businessmen and women, drawn by the allure of a western-style membership club with 80 years of experience.

"It is a good opportunity to meet the leading locals and to do something good for the community at the same time," said one new female member, married to the President of the new Sarajevo chapter. Another woman said, "anything coming from a stable, civilized environment -- like the United States where the Lions was founded -- is a good development."

The Lions Club International Federation (LCIF) has provided approximately $600,000 for humanitarian service projects to relieve suffering in the former Yugoslavia. Four LCIF projects are the focus of that effort, spearheaded by Phil Nathan, a District Governor for the Lion's Clubs of England.

Nathan developed the idea of sending shoe boxes filled with relief items to the Balkan region -- a plan that later became known as the "Lionheart Shoe Box Appeal." The idea behind the appeal is the fact that many basic health, personal and food items are in short supply in the Balkans and some are only available on the black market. Lions Club members thus filled 100,000 shoe boxes with essential items, topping it off with a message of support and goodwill to the recipients.

In a show of international solidarity, the project plan called for a truck convoy to travel 2,500 miles across Europe to the Balkans to personally deliver the boxes to children living in refugee camps in the former Yugoslavia.

Nathan said the refugees were grateful for the supplies but he said they were even more appreciative of the fact that they had not been forgotten. Among the impressions indelibly etched on Nathans' memory are the woman and her son blown up by a land mine; a priest counseling 150 teen-aged girls -- all of whom had unwanted babies as a result of sexual assaults; a train where hundreds of people lived for more than four years; and a meal shared with a Muslim doctor who had worked more than four years without being paid.

Nathan emphasized that Lions Club members who are committed to relieving suffering in the former Yugoslavia can not escape what they have seen.

"We are compelled to continue," he said.

Another chief relief effort in Bosnia led by Lions of the British Isles and Ireland is that of evacuating seriously ill children to the United Kingdom for treatment. But now that the peace process has begun, the Lions Clubs have broadened the scope of their humanitarian work in Bosnia to creating a health care infrastructure that will eventually make it unnecessary to evacuate children for complex treatment or surgery at all. European Lions Clubs are also involved in rebuilding schools in Bosnia and providing them with the necessary equipment -- all in consultation with the International Red Cross (ICRC) and the United Nations.

United Nations Day is celebrated later this month and commemorates the ratification of the United Nations Charter in 1945. Lions took a leading role in the activities at the UN Charter Conference in San Francisco and the association has had close ties with the United Nations ever since. Lions Clubs International continues to hold consultative status to the U.N. Economic and Social council. In addition, Lions Clubs have maintained an active association with other UN organizations, including the UN children's fund (UNICEF), the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the World Health Organization (WHO), and the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO).

While Lions Club members speak many languages, and profess many religious and political beliefs, they all subscribe to common objectives and ethical principles. Chief among them: To create and foster a spirit of understanding among the people's of the world. To promote the principle of good government and good citizenship. To encourage service-minded people to serve their community without personal financial reward.

They also strive to promote high ethical standards in commerce, industry and personal and public works, and to aid others in need or distress.

These are ethics and objectives the Lions Club International Foundation (LCIF) is now striving to deliver to places like Romania, Belarus, Russia, Ukraine, Latvia, Estonia and Kyrgystan. That effort is perhaps more in place in Russia, which boasts 59 clubs, and Estonia with 32. But the Lions Clubs' work is just getting off the ground in Central Asia, with one club in Kyrgystan, and Belarus, where six chapters now operate.