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Leonine Service

Most people believe that the Lions Club is made up of people who wine and dine at posh hotels and then make a show of doing social service. This is a misconception as anyone who has benefited from their help will testify.

Most readers of this magazine will hear of the Lions Club of Marol only once a year, around August when it presents prizes to students who fare well at the SSC examinations. If the Lions Club does not attract attention during the rest of the year, it is only because its work is targeted at those who are not financially well off and therefore not in the news.

The Lion year begins in July after the new president and his team assume office. This year the president is M.S. Thakur. He took over in June from the former president, C.V. Shetty, at a pomp-filled ceremony at The Leela amid the blowing of conches and bugles. Almost the first act of service carried out during the year is the distribution of uniforms to about 60 balwadi students. These students study at the Lions Club's service centre on the Andheri-Kurla Road at Marol. The centre is so well known that the bus stop at the spot is called the Lions Club stop. A month later another set of uniforms is distributed to the students.

The Lions Club of Marol was established in 1971-72 and the service centre was bought for Rs 80,000 not long after, in 1976. Tailoring classes too are conducted here, and the club claims that in the past 26 years as many as 9,100 poor women have been trained by it. Last year there were 150 tailoring students on the rolls. Every Sunday an immunization camp is also held at the service centre; on an average 20 children are immunized every week against polio and other diseases. Another permanent project is the ambulance service; there are two ambulances, one is located near the service centre and the other near the Dena Bank in Marol.

How does the Lions Club fund its services? Each year every lion pays a membership fee of Rs 3,250. In addition there is a victual fee of Rs 2,250; this is to provide meals for the wives and children of lions at various dinners during the year. Of the total of Rs 5,500, Rs 1,000 is set aside for charitable work. Since the club now has 123 members this means that the club gets Rs 123,000 for charitable work from the membership fees alone.

But individual lions donate money in a big way apart from this too. For instance, there are many committees like the health committee, the immunization committee, the balwadi committee, the education committee and so on. The chairmen and other members often contribute money for the work done by these committees. This year, Shantikumar Shah, one of the oldest members of the club, donated Rs 1.5 lakh for the jogger's park being set up in Marol. Last year, at the annual prize distribution, a member contributed Rs 5,000 to enable a needy boy to complete his engineering education.

Thanks to these contributions, the club is able to engage in a range of activities during the year. Last year, it held four eye camps, a blood donation camp, and a food distribution programme. Medical equipment and foodgrain were distributed to 301 inmates of the home for the aged, Rs 20,000 was donated to the Swami Paridnyanashram educational and vocational centre at Virar, and so on and so forth. The biggest activity in coming years will be work on the jogger's park.

The average member of the Lions Club of Marol is 40-45 years old. Typically, he is a successful businessman or middle level corporate executive. Joining the Lions Club enables him to build contacts. It also helps him develop skills like public speaking. Seen thus the Lions Club can be regarded as a social club for businessmen. But that is not all. From its earliest days indeed from its beginnings abroad the Lions Club has had a strong service orientation.

Those who criticise the club for spending money on expensive do's must remember that the club could have done this and nothing else. Instead, its members all of whom are busy with their businesses and careers think nothing of spending considerable time and money on charitable activities. Indeed, this is more than most of the club's critics can claim to do. One welcome feature of the club is that it is not just an old boys' meeting place. The wives and families of lions are made to feel important participants in the club's activities. During the recent installation ceremony at The Leela the wives of many lions (or lion ladies as they are called) were honoured by past president C.V. Shetty and other members. And to disabuse the reader of the idea that Lions Clubs are male chauvinistic centres comes the news that Ms Mariam Kapasi has been elected president of the Lions Club of Andheri East. This club was incidentally sponsored by the Lions Club of Marol.

At the Lions Club of Marol, anyone who wishes to become president must serve a long apprenticeship. He must first become treasurer and secretary and then work his way up from 3rd vice president to 2nd vice president to 1st vice president, an example of succession planning that the corporate world could profitably learn from.

In the nineteenth century, a French sociologist Alexis de Tocqueville noted the tendency of Americans to form social organisations or associations in every sphere of activity. In India today Tocqueville would have noted depressingly that almost the only active associations are those linked with a particular religion or state or community or language. Can readers think of any other social organisation that unites people belonging to all creeds and languages? Apart from the Lions Club, that is.