Lions still heeding Keller

St Joseph's School pupil Nathaniel Ellis (6), blind from birth, shows Lions Clubs International president Wayne Madden, of the United States, his new skills with a white cane at the Queenstown school yesterday. Photo by James Beech.
St Joseph's School pupil Nathaniel Ellis (6), blind from birth, shows Lions Clubs International president Wayne Madden, of the United States, his new skills with a white cane at the Queenstown school yesterday. Photo by James Beech.
A boy born blind demonstrated his new skills with a white cane yesterday to the president of the largest service club organisation in the world.

St Joseph's School pupil Nathaniel Ellis (6) had become a popular member of the Queenstown school since he enrolled in the middle of last term, principal Trisch Inder said.

It was exciting for Nathaniel to learn to use his cane and braille because it encouraged his independence, she said.

Nathaniel and his classmates were visited by Lions Clubs International president Wayne Madden and wife Linda, both of Indiana, United States, with international director Sheryl Jensen and club member and husband Kevin Jensen, both of Rotorua, and school board trustee Phil Wilson, of Queenstown, to see how the boy was progressing.

Deaf-blind American suffragette Helen Keller challenged the Lions of America in 1925 to become "knights of the blind" and appealed for them to "crusade against darkness".

The organisation's volunteers have supported eye care and worked to prevent blindness ever since.

The Maddens, on their first trip to "beautiful" New Zealand, are both former teachers.

Mr Madden encouraged all clubs to raise literacy in their communities and launched his own personal campaign, the Reading Action Programme, to improve standards in the Pacific.

The World Literacy Foundation report "The Economic and Social Cost of Illiteracy", estimates the social and economic toll on New Zealand of illiteracy is $3 billion a year.

Queenstown is hosting about 250 Lions Clubs International members from counties including Australia, Indonesia, India, Japan and Thailand from today until Sunday at the ANZI-Pacific Lions Clubs Forum.

The VIP group yesterday presented a cheque for $2000 to the Frankton Volunteer Fire Brigade, to go towards a new vehicle.

It also awarded a certificate to St Margaret's Remarkable Readers.

The group of 18 women voluntarily read stories to Remarkables Primary School pupils every week to promote literacy.

The Lions group met Wanaka Lions on Wednesday. The same day, it visited Cromwell, viewing club projects. It also inducted new members in Cromwell, which took the membership up to 81.

Queenstown Lions Club president Jim Gibson said it was a "once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for many of us to meet the international president".

"Very few Lions clubs meet him over the year, so it's very exciting."