An International Family of Lions
Mabel Lillian Oesterling Taylor was born and raised in Butler, PA. At age 33, she became blind from a brain aneurism and became good friends with Helen Keller. Helen Keller was responsible for the Lions’ involvement in helping the blind when she spoke at an early national convention and urged the Lions to become the “Knights of the Blind.”
The Butler Lions Club was chartered in 1932, sponsored by the New Castle Lions Club. Helen and Mabel encouraged and assisted the Butler Lions Club to establish the Butler County Association for the Blind as one of its early significant achievements. For her outstanding contributions to the blind, Mabel was one of the first women recognized as an honorary member of the Pennsylvania International Association of Lions Clubs.
Mabel’s younger brother, Howard M. Oesterling, was also born in Butler, PA. He spent much of his adult life in Marysville, PA. Influenced by his sister and her friendship with Helen Keller, he was very active in the Lions Club in Marysville, and in Sebring FL after his retirement. He was President of the Marysville Lions Club, District Governor of District 14-T, an International Counselor for 8 years, and he held a life membership in Lions International. He founded the George Nisley Memorial Eye Bank Substation and was the local supervisor of eye bank activities. Howard was especially proud of his Lions Club vest, which sported pins from Lions Clubs all over the world. He was always ready to drop everything to help with transportation of donated corneas.
Mabel’s tragedy resulted in a lifetime of dedication to the Lions Club by her brother Howard. When tragedy struck Howard’s daughter Linda, the Lions Club was there to respond in kind.
Linda Oesterling Bowers lost her 23-year old daughter in a bicycle accident while serving in the Peace Corps in the remote village of Lumwana West, Zambia, Africa. Twenty-one people in Africa were helped by donations of her eyes, organs, and skin tissue. In memory of Beth, her family and friends established the 501c3 nonprofit Elizabeth Bowers Zambia Education Fund (EBZEF). This fund provides scholarships for young women in Lumwana West and currently supports 92 young women in grades 8-12 in Lumwana West Basic School and Mwinilunga High School. In 2007, EBZEF funded construction of a library in the community and worked with Books For Africa to stock the library with 22,000 lbs. of books. See www.bethsgirls.org for more information on EBZEF.
EBZEF was recently contacted by two of “Beth’s Girls,” Agatha and Priscovia Sangenjo. The girls are almost blind but recently graduated from Basic School with much help by teachers and family. They want to go on to secondary school at Mwinilunga High Boarding School, but have such poor eyesight they fear they will not be able to continue with their studies. EBZEF’s focus is on education, and it is too small an organization to support the health care issues of Beth’s Girls.
Drawing on her father’s legacy, Linda contacted Rod Bach, Governor of District 36R in Oregon, to see if the Lions Club could help. He put them in contact with Edgar Musaka Kabibwa, President of the Lions Club of Nkana, Zambia. Mr. Kabibwa and the Nkana Lions Club immediately agreed to transport the girls from their village to the Kitwe General Hospital Eye Clinic for examination. Both girls had cataracts from an early age, and the local Lions Club paid for their surgery and post-operative eye care. Nkana Club Secretary Winneys Chikonde was in charge of helping Beth’s Girls. Georgina Muzongwe from Lions Club of Kukuba attended to the personal needs of the girls.
Priscovia had her operation just before her 15th birthday, stating, “I started having eye problems ever since I was born. It is wonderful to see clearly on my 15th birthday.” Agatha wrote, “I started having sight problems ever since I was a baby. I am not the only child with this problem. There are three others with the same problem. It will be a very wonderful day for me to start seeing things clearly. I will remember this day for the rest of my life. I thank the Bowers, Lions Club of Nkana, and my good teacher Mr. Njolumba for helping my sister and I through this.” The headmaster of the Lumwana West School, Mbongo Njolomba, traveled and stayed with the girls at his own expense throughout the ordeal. So many gave so much of themselves to help these girls see clearly.
Lions Clubs International worked to make connections halfway around the world to help the Sangenjo sisters. The family thread from Mabel to Howard and from Linda to Agatha and Priscovia in Zambia in memory of Beth Bowers continues the cycle of giving and caring across generations and international boundaries, all facilitated by Lions Clubs International.