The past week seems like a blur of activity for us. From touchdown to takeoff, our days were focused on the business of Lions Clubs International and learning about the local culture and customs of the Hungarians we met in Budapest. To top it off, we were able to reconnect with our fellow board members, many of whom we will not see again until our spring meeting in Savannah, Georgia.
Service at the international level brought us together on the board, but deep friendships will keep us together as a group long after we complete our term of office.
The selection of Budapest as our meeting site was purposeful. Because board members come from around the world, the board meeting moves around the world to balance the travel costs. From a practical perspective, being in east central Europe, Budapest is a closer destination for the international directors from Europe and Asia who comprise the majority of the board; so this time, Budapest was selected as a major city where air travel in and out is convenient. Finally, the cultural activities in Budapest provide educational experiences for the spouses and companions of the directors. In addition, LCI President Dr. Jitsuhiro Yamada has a special fondness for Budapest, having developed a special project to sponsor over 100 young musicians from Japan to attend and study at the Liszt Academy in Budapest.
When we arrived, it took a little time to get adjusted. But, it wasn’t long before we were in session.
The first business meeting was a formal event with Dr. Yamada presiding. In addition, the Lions Clubs International Foundation recognized Lions who have contributed to the Foundation. As board members, we are encouraged to personally support the foundation because in order to motivate others to make donations, we must set an example.
For this board meeting, Kathy and I made a donation to the LCIF One Shot One Life Measles Initiative to provide vaccinations to save the lives of 1,000 children. This donation, coupled with donations made in our name from Lions districts where we visited last year, resulted in Kathy receiving a Melvin Jones Fellowship and me getting my fifth diamond progressive MJF.
Once we moved into committee, we spent the next two days working through our agendas. The public relations committee is comprised of six members and the LCI division leader, Dane LaJoye. Joining me were ID Lewis Quinn (USA), ID Bill Phillipi (USA), ID Linda Tincher (USA), ID Eun-Seouk Chung (Korea), and board appointee, PID Dr. Ta-Lung Chiang (Taiwan). We spent a lot of time together, and even had dinner at a traditional Hungarian restaurant as a committee on the last night we were in Budapest together.
The committee had quite a lot to accomplish in the short time we were together; and I’m pleased to say that we successfully navigated the approval of a revised protocol for LCI, received approval to begin the process of creating an historical archive for the Centennial and beyond, and sent forward several recommendations supporting the development of a global marketing strategy. We also reviewed the advertising budget and schedule for the year, awarded 10 centennial grants to multiple districts, and developed specific public relations action plans to move our strategic plan—LCI Forward—into our second century of service.
I facilitated a cross-committee discussion that included the public relations, membership, and service activities committees to identify potential audiences for our public relations efforts and to suggest effective marketing strategies. Getting nearly half of the board’s directors together with LCI staff, and some of the executive officers was very beneficial because it identified common issues and committee members to share ideas with each other across committee groups about developing particular strategies to help LCI grow and retain its membership.
Kathy had tremendous experiences that she’d like to share, as follows (in italics):
Since the cornerstone of Lions’ service has been directed to helping the blind, it was understandable that we would visit the only state–run school for the blind in all of Hungary. Currently it supports 200 students from kindergarten through high school on an urban campus that includes classrooms, a playground, theatre, music facilities, dining area, library, and medical facilities; as well as dormitories, as most of the children go home for the weekends.
We were treated to a recital by a small group of students who were so proud to perform for us. It was an emotional experience, especially because most of the children were intellectually and physically disabled. Similarly, on my way back to the bus, I turned around and saw two blind boys on an outdoor trampoline having a fantastic time and showing no signs of disability in any way.
What challenged my ability in every sensory manner was the “Invisible Museum” of Budapest. We formed groups of five and were led into a four-chambered space that was in complete darkness. We were instructed to remove any object that might reflect light, including our cell phones, glasses, and jewelry.
In a period of 30 minutes, we had to make our way through an apartment, art museum, urban street, and hunter’s cabin. We were asked to identify familiar objects in each chamber and maneuver our way from one place to the next. It was the most unusual experience of my life. I felt helpless, dependent, anxious, and hyper-alert. I could not see anything. I could not recognize any statue in the museum even though I teach about Michelangelo’s David, I was not able to identify it. Nor could I recognize the statue of a lion! To express how I felt in the loud, busy street scene really tested me. I got stuck between a bicycle and a corner of a building. It was difficult, but I was fairly successful in the “apartment,” since I ran into the piano, bathroom sink, and the kitchen counter. I disliked the hunter’s cabin because the furry clothing and animal hides brushed up on my skin and I was not expecting those textures. It was amazing and of course gave me a better understanding of a sightless person’s challenges—physically, cognitively, and psychologically.
The third site that also presented psychological challenges for me was the “Hospital in the Rocks,” located among the famous limestone caves on the Buda side of the river. This underground medical facility served wounded soldiers of WW II, especially during the siege of Budapest in 1944. Thousands of Soviet troops pounded the city and destroyed much of the hill where the royal palace, the famous St. Matthias Church, and our hotel were located. Having to treat and house 600 wounded proved to be deadly: the water supply to the caves was cut off; and malaria, dysentery, and infection took the lives of a majority of the soldiers. After the war, this site became a Cold War Soviet station for radioactive testing and bomb shelter.
The third experience was a food tour of Budapest. Our guide, Gabriella, provided us with a first-hand walking tour of several restaurants and the covered market on the Pest side of the Danube.
She placed an historical context on the foods, wines, and restaurants of the region. Through her explanations of Hungary’s past, we came to better understand the meaning of her response when asked: “What is the character of the Hungarians?” She said, “We are a disappointed people.” I was so saddened to hear her expression. But I did not find her to be depressed or angry or bitter. She explained that many invading empires dominated Hungary since it was formed nearly 1,200 years ago. Since the fall of Soviet domination, the people are not optimistic about progress under capitalism. They see some restoration of their beautiful architecture, but not enough. They witness new freedoms but worry about the new crisis of migration. I felt enriched by our day spent with Gabriella.
To conclude, I was gratified by our tour of the city that featured a private tour of Europe’s second largest Parliament building with an address by a government officer.
Also, we were fortunate to attend a concert in the Music Academy of Hungary’s most revered composer, Franz Liszt, learned of the persecution of Cardinal J. Mindszenty and saw his church, and toured Hero’s Square, a monument that includes the statues of historical leaders beginning with St. Stephen, the founder of Christianity in Hungary.
Budapest holds so many treasures that I felt very fortunate to be able to experience this city during such a challenging time period for all of Europe.
In addition to the work schedule, a group of about 15 directors and spouses/family members joined together to rehearse and perform as a chorus at our last meal together.
We sang, “Don’t Stop,” “What the World Needs Now is Love,” “Everything is Awesome,” and one of Dr. Yamada’s favorites, “I Left My Heart in San Francisco.”
When we left Budapest, our next stop was Augsburg, where the 2015 Lions Europa Forum was scheduled later in the week. The LION editors conference was scheduled two days prior to the Forum so board members and executive officers could combine trips to save extra travel costs. Some 32 LION magazine editors and publishers from around the world met to review the transition plan from print to digital format, as well as other information pertaining to their operation. ID Linda and Vern Tincher joined Kathy and me as representatives from the board at the conference. Because of my background, I was invited to give the keynote address. I entitled my keynote: “To Catch A Whale: Taking the Bait in the Digital Age.”
We all found these editor conference sessions to be very informative and what we learned will provide insight for ID Linda and me about LCI’s flagship publication, LION magazine.We took a short tour of the city and experienced the Oktoberfest atmosphere of our German hosts. It was a fitting end for a productive and rewarding week of international service. Our trip from Augsburg back to the airport in Munich was interesting as we experienced a rare traffic jam on the autobahn and saw the countryside.
Our experiences on the board of directors never cease to amaze us as we serve and learn. We remain grateful to our friends and supporters who made this opportunity possible for us.
Best wishes to all who serve.