There’s a new Lion(ess) on the block

New Lions district governor, Geila Wills.

There is a new Lion’s district governor, and she is the real deal. Geila Wills has been involved in community work since she was 4.

Her empathy is an integral part of her nature, but beyond that, Geila also possesses the ability to inspire and enthuse.

In a world which suffers overwhelm and learned helplessness, Geila cuts through the nonsense with the philosophy of doing what she can, where she can; to the best of her (considerable) abilities.

Geila now spearheads the organisation which has been part of her world for 34 years. Prior to that she was a Leo, the linked organisation for younger people where she worked her way up and became district president, which is effectively the national president.

At the cut-off age of 28, Geila moved from Leos to Lions Club International and was a charter member of the Groote Schuur Lions Club.

These were the days when her own Lion’s club wouldn’t take women, and chartering the new club afforded her the chance to do her good work from within the structures of the Lions. The Groote Schuur Lions Club thereby became the first Lions Club in the country to open its doors to both men and women – it also had the advantage of being the first club where half its members had already been Leos, so knew the service world’s ropes well.

Geila, a Lansdowne resident, became president of Lions in the millennial year and has gone on to become zone chairman, region chairman, impeccably marking off all the requirements to take on the coveted role of district governor.

Being elected to this role took her to Chicago to attend the Centennials Celebration of Lions Club International in June this year and to Governors School, at the Centennial Convention where there were 35 000 Lions from around the world.

Among the speakers were Ban Ki-moon, Al Gore and Patti Label.

Geila now has 45 clubs in her district which includes the Western Cape, Northern Cape and Namibia; 45 opportunities to do the work that Lions Club International hold dear, 1.45 million people in 210 countries whose hands and hearts work for the organisation.

Lions Club International is the world’s largest service organisation, she says, with satisfaction. Firmly rooted in this satisfaction is her knowledge that a smorgasbord of issues are being covered by Lions. There are five cornerstone areas they dedicate themselves to, and then a myriad things beyond

The five areas that take precedence are sight – including Lions Operation Brightsight and preventing river blindness in Africa -getting white canes and sponsoring guide dogs among them – recycling of spectacles and cheap scripts for glasses.

Food and nutritional support for hungry people is the next major focus and here – once people have been vetted – there is the opportunity for the truly hungry to receive food parcels. There are soup kitchens that they sponsor. The environment is a big factor for Lions and tree plantings and beach clean-ups are vital to their ethos. They are also heavily focused on spreading knowledge about and the prevention of diabetes, and help with paediatric cancer

Geila says at Governor School in Chicago there were 874 new governors present and they were asked to put the name of one person they know on a large cardboard heart. “The sad thing was that every single one of us personally knew one person with diabetes, which shows what a growing concern it is worldwide.”

For the centennial celebrations, Lions across the world were tasked with doing 100 million service hours in three years. “We exceeded that and clocked up 250 million,” Geila said.

“Our aim by 2020 is to serve 200 million people.” To do that, even more hands are needed, and Geila is looking forward to seeing her district grow. She wasn’t joking about being involved in community work since the age of 4, her grandmother, and later her mother, involved her in all the work they did in the various communities they worked or lived in. “It wasn’t given the name of community service then, it was just something one grew up doing. Recognising a need and doing what one can to fill it,” she said.

Geila also has, above and beyond her Lions work, a hand in animal rescue. Her own dogs are previous rescues now living in the lap of luxury, both enrolled in puppy school and dog obedience classes and with toy boxes the envy of many less fortunate hounds.

The work done by Lions is often unseen, Geila explains. She says during the Hout Bay fires, they were among the first responders with basics like water and blankets at the ready.

Overwhelmingly it is Geila’s can-do approach that makes joining the Lions feel like a natural extension of one’s own life: that the effort required is so minimal in relation to the sense of achievement that one gains from being part of an effort to uplift and empower people. “I can sleep at night knowing I have been part of a network that is making a difference. I may not even have personally done the deed, but somewhere the organisation has people that have ensured that others are helped, fed, nurtured. That somewhere, people are better off, because of what has been done for them,” she said. And she makes it look seamless.

And fun (who would have thought, considering the severity of need.) “It is actually simple,” she says. “If things need to be different, you are the difference. You are not here to be an average, you are here to make that difference.”

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