ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday, June 24, 2007
Vol. 42 - No 04

Lanka’s Lion ready to face the challenge

By Esther Williams

Lion Mahendra who hails from Galle joined the Lions Club of Galle as a Charter member in 1967, going on to hold important positions both locally and internationally in the Lions movement.

In Lankan business circles he is well respected as is obvious from the positions he has held that include Deputy Chairman Hayleys Group, Chairman United Motors, Chairman Employers Federation. His other stints include: Chairman of the International Chamber of Commerce (Sri Lanka) the National Agribusiness Council of Sri Lanka, the Planters' Association of Ceylon, the Institute of Management of Sri Lanka and the Joint Business Forum of Chambers of Commerce. Currently he is the Chairman of the Commercial Bank of Ceylon, Pelwatte Sugar Industries and Unawatuna Beach Resorts.

‘Challenge to Change' is the theme that the new President of the International Association of Lions Clubs, Sri Lanka's very own Mahendra Amarasuriya wishes to adopt during his one year term beginning July 2007.

"In this fast paced world where everything is changing, Lions too must change in the way we conduct our projects, meetings and recruit people," he said adding that they have to respond to young people's views while keeping to the same philosophy of serving the less fortunate people of the world.

It is truly an honour for a Sri Lankan to be unanimously elected to this coveted position of the world's largest service organisation, Past Council Chairperson Lion S. Sivananthan said announcing the appointment at a meeting of the International Association of Lions Clubs Multiple District 306 on June 8. Mr. Amarasuriya will be sworn in during the 90th Lions Clubs International Convention to be held in Chicago between July 2 and 6, 2007.

"He has a vital challenge ahead of him and we as a country should be proud to have produced a person of this calibre," Council Chairman Lion Chitral Amaratunge said, referring to Mr. Amarasuriya’s significant contributions to national, regional and international activities.

Acknowledging that there was a lot of work to be done, Mr. Amarasuriya spoke of Lionism that began in 1917 by Chicago business leader Melvin Jones and its living philosophy that is accepted in both rich and poor countries. " 'We serve' is our logo that describes what we are and what we can do," he said.

Currently there are 1.4 million Lions in 202 countries with a mission to create and foster a spirit of understanding among all people for humanitarian needs by providing voluntary services through community involvement and international cooperation. Since its initial stages Lions Clubs around the world have aided the blind and visually impaired in an effort toward conquering blindness.

In Sri Lanka too their focus has been on sight activities, having raised $ 200 million to operate sight centres in various districts and help the government in meeting the backlog of cataract operations and upgrading rural hospitals. Their tsunami recovery programme consisted of large-scale distribution of food, clothes, medicines and building of houses.

Mr. Amarasuriya will be required to travel extensively over the year. "I shall recommend that we participate in some of the UN Millennium goals of poverty alleviation, education, women's empowerment, eradication of malaria, TB and AIDS by 2015 and ensure sustainable development through global partnerships," he said. Other plans include increasing membership, promoting leadership and opening new clubs, one being a centre in Bhutan, the only country in South Asia without a Lions movement.

One of his main targets as he travels around the world and meets with world leaders is to present a positive image of Sri Lanka. "I hope it will help develop Sri Lanka's tourist potential," he said adding that the Tourist Board has extended its support to him. He hopes to ease fears of tourists who are worried for their safety.

At the forthcoming convention, a Sri Lankan dance troupe is expected to participate in the spectacular parade that will see representatives from 160-170 countries many in native dress marching along with floats . Further in every country he visits, a promotional clip will be shown about Sri Lanka, the flag hoisted and the anthem sung.

Meanwhile, several activities have been planned for the 50th anniversary of Lionism in Sri Lanka that falls on October 6 this year. Among them are a parade, a carnival and a public meeting during which wheelchairs will be presented to the needy. To observe World Sight Day that also falls in October there will be sight testing in six districts, 3000 cataract surgeries, distribution of spectacles and a seminar on sight for children.

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Copyright 2007 Wijeya Newspapers Ltd.Colombo. Sri Lanka.