By Assunta Ng
Northwest Asian Weekly
Wing-Kun Tam knows that there are 950,000 people in China who are blind. He sees how their quality of life is affected. For many, blindness limits not only the capabilities of individuals, but also of families. For each visually impaired person, there is a caretaker. Neither can work in a full-time job because of the disability.
Tam empathizes with these people acutely. He is the current vice president of the International Association of the Lions Club and president-elect, slated to replace international president Sid L. Scruggs III on Friday, July 8.
On Tuesday, July 5, between the Seattle Center and the Washington State Convention Center, about 12,000 Lions Club International members marched in a parade. Chinese supporters cheered loudly for Tam, chanting his name as if they were campaigning for his presidency.
Lions Clubs International has had a Thai and an Indian president before, but Tam will be its first Chinese president.
The organization is holding its 94th International Convention in Seattle this week, running through Friday. The convention is expected to bring in as many as 20,000 Lions members to Seattle. Korea had the most members at the convention, with 1,500.
“It’s lovely here,” said Lions Public Relations Manager Melitta Cutright, explaining that the location for convention was decided upon by polling its international members, who indicated that Seattle is a destination city for them. This is the largest convention in Seattle in decades.
Founded in 1917 in Chicago, Lions Clubs International is the world’s largest service club organization, with 1.35 million members. More than 206 countries are represented.
History of fighting blindness
In 1925, Helen Keller addressed the Lions Clubs International Convention, challenging members to become “knights of the blind in the crusade against darkness.”
Since then, Lions volunteers have provided nearly 8 million cataract surgeries, saved the sight of more than 14 million children, prevented serious vision loss for more than 30 million people worldwide, and vaccinated 41 million children in Africa against measles, which is the leading cause of blindness.
Professionally, Tam, of Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR), People’s Republic of China, is chairperson of a group of air transportation companies.
However, many know him as a Lion.
A member since 1981, Tam has held many offices in the association, notably as Campaign SightFirst multi-national coordinator, as OSEAL recording secretary, and as SightFirst China Action executive chairperson.
Tam will be the first Chinese international president, a position he has been elected to.
Lions Club International has all of its members vote on its leadership, not just the board. Tam received 100 percent support. Tam will serve as president for one year.
“It’s incredible to have 100 percent support from the world,” said Tam in an interview.
“I really appreciate the trust. I am very happy.”
Lions Clubs International has experienced tremendous growth over the last four years.
When Tam first joined the Lions Club International leadership in 2009, there were only 1,500 members from Hong Kong. Today, there are 3,000 members from Hong Kong and 10,000 from China. The United States has the most members with about 400,000.
Japan has 15,000, and India has 17,000.
“I am most proud of the work I’ve done with service projects in China, to eliminate blindness,” said Tam. Tam organized and chaired a committee that recruited volunteers, medical and non-medical, to organize surgeries for people with blindness or who were close to blindness. About 52,000 people received surgeries.
“It’s important for people to see light,” said Tam. Currently, Tam’s committee is also working on prevention.
Tam has received numerous awards, including the 100% District Governor Award, 21 International President’s Awards, the Campaign SightFirst National/Multi-National Coordinator Award, the International Lion of the Year Award (2003), and the Ambassador of Good Will Award.
Tam, with his late wife, Irene, has three children — Alvin, Tiffany, and Andrew. ♦
Assunta Ng can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.