Community leaders are encouraged to “think local” in order to impact the communities in which they live.
But when it came to inspiration, attendees at a Jefferson County-centered “Building Healthy Communities” forum last Wednesday turned their attention toward the international scene.
Serving as guest speaker for the conference, coordinated by Fort HealthCare and hosted at the Hoard Historical Museum, was Melrose “Megs” Lunn of The Philippines, who has strong local and international ties.
She is best known in Jefferson County through her work with Rotary International and having had coordinated with the Fort Atkinson and Jefferson Rotary and student Rotary Interact clubs for several years. She also has served as an officer of District 3850 Rotary International since 2003.
Lunn has touched lives across the planet through her work with Rotary International and the American Red Cross and through her roles as educator, missionary, and advocate for the environment, minorities and people with disabilities.
Lunn focused her talk at the health-care gathering on building and connecting leaders, noting that every individual has a part to play, but people and organizations can get much more done if they work together to address a shared issue or concern.
“For 16 years, I have been working with a lot of different NGOs (non-governmental organizations) and nonprofits,” Lunn said.
She listed basic recommendations to help groups work together. First, she advised, know what you need; second, build relationships and learn to work with people of different dispositions; third, look at results and work together with others to achieve a common goal; fourth, “connect your connections;” and finally, work with love in your heart.
She used examples from her own life and the efforts in which she has been involved with to illustrate those ideas.
To illustrate “know what you need,” Lunn talked about a charitable project she and her daughter were involved in to provide running water and toilets to a remote mountain community that they visited in the Philippines.
They had visited there to provide meals to impoverished children, but had decided not to stay on site because there was no plumbing and no drinkable water.
In this community, situated 1,500 feet above sea level, people had to walk a considerable distance down the mountain to retrieve water from a well.
After delivering the meals and spending some time playing and singing with the children in that community, Lunn and her daughter just couldn’t get over the unsanitary conditions in that community and vowed they had to do something to help.
“These are minority people,” Lunn said. “My heart goes out to them. I think they need this.”
Shortly thereafter, Lunn drew up a list of things that community needed and posted it on Facebook, asking her online friends and associates if they sensed an opportunity here.
Lo and behold, just a couple hours after her post, Lunn got a response from Rotary International, and specifically, from Edwin Bos of the Fort Atkinson Rotary Club.
Though separated by thousands of miles, the two communities worked together, with Lunn as the glue.
The Fort Atkinson Rotary Club raised money to install a pump to bring clean spring water up the mountain to this remote community and to install toilets, handwash stations and faucets with drinking water for the entire community to use.
The fathers of the community then built the facility via manual labor, often working in the pouring rain. For this work, they received a stipend they could use to help put food on the table for their families.
This spring, high-schoolers with Fort Atkinson High School’s Rotary-affiliated Interact Club traveled down to the Philippines to help with the project. They helped tile the hand-washing station area, seeing the project to completion.
“Thank you, Fort Atkinson,” Lunn said.
The Fort Atkinson Rotary Club and Interact together contributed $6,500 toward the WASH project, Lunn said.
While in the village, the Fort Atkinson high-schoolers also helped plant five different types of fruit-bearing trees that will serve the community into the future.
Meanwhile, members of the Fort Atkinson community saw other needs and stepped up to help the mountain village. Fort Atkinson High School students donated a sewing machine and six piglets. Others brought shoes and coats for the villagers. Kids Against Hunger donated rice.
“With more opportunities open to them, these people (in the mountain community) will be motivated to work hard,” Lunn said.
Moving on to her second point, Lunn said that it’s important to bring people together in order to reach a common goal. That means being understanding and respectful of others who might have different religious or political points of view and cultural backgrounds.
Lunn said her work has taken her all over the United States, where she has coordinated charitable projects in conjunction with Catholics and Lutherans, Mormons, Jewish people and more.
“If you want to have an advocacy, you have to work with everyone,” she said.
As she coordinates charitable missions and projects, Lunn said, she has to take into account not only the needs of the recipients, but also the volunteers, without whom the project would not get done.
That means giving some married couples one bed while providing separate beds for others, accommodating a variety of food allergies or medical conditions, and just generally making this easy on the people who are dedicating their time, effort and expertise to help others.
Illustrating this point, she talked about working with various service organizations — Lions, Kiwanis and Rotary clubs and more — to facilitate surgeries for children with cleft palate and other facial differences through Operation Taghoy Philippines.
Through this charity, doctors volunteer to help children born with facial differences so they can look, eat and talk like other children do.
It was difficult getting this project off the ground, because it meant recruiting doctors to do work that usually generated good pay for free.
“At first, they were reluctant, but then when they met the patients and saw what we were doing, they learned to love it,” Lunn said.
She related a comment from one doctor comparing the before-and-after photos following a surgery for a child with a cleft palate.
“I love doing this, because you can see the results right away,” she said.
Moving on to her next suggestion, Lunn used Project WALK (Wishes of Aid and Limbs for Kids Inc.) — of which she is a co-founder and executive director — to illustrate working together with others to achieve one goal.
Project WALK was founded 10 years ago after a big typhoon hit the Philippines. Lunn was working with Rotary International to provide relief, delivering needed medications to people who were working in the dark, with no running water, electricity or food.
There, she met a 12-year-old boy who was born without limbs; he had congenital deformities of both his arms and legs.
Asking him how she could help, he said he’d like a pair of crutches so he could move more easily.
She immediately put out a request to Rotary International. She received a response from the richest Rotary club in her nation, a representative from which asked her, “Why stop at crutches? Why not prosthetics?”
So started a Rotary drive to fund new limbs for the boy, named Arnel. After three months of treatment and rehabilitation, he was fitted for his new limbs and started walking with them.
He was ecstatic, Lunn said. She shared a video that showed the boy, now grown and working in the field of prosthetics himself, saying, “My life changed when I started using artificial legs.”
Arnel’s success inspired the coordinators to continue the project and open it up to other recipients.
WALK now is in its 10th year, assisting children, teens and some adults who are dealing with clubfoot or missing limbs either due to a congenital defect or an accident.
“WALK changed my life too,” Lunn said. “At first, I didn’t think I could do this. I was sensitive of rejection. But seeing this success ... gave me a purpose.”
WALK works with children and their families over the course of years, as growing children have to return when they outgrow their first prosthetics.
The recipients of the prosthetics didn’t just gain a physical advantage, she said. The change in their ability to move also helped to propel their confidence, give them a sense of worth and assist in their growth and productivity.
Addressing the idea of “Connect your Connections,” Lunn said that it is important to bridge people from throughout your network as you strive to achieve a goal.
What one organization is trying to do often overlaps with or builds on what another is trying to do, and a coordinated effort helps everyone, she said.
“Widen your horizons,” she said, noting that some 150 NGOs came together during her term as Rotary president.
Finally, Lunn said that the key component of all humanitarian service is love.
“Keep that love going by giving back,” she concluded.
Melrose “Megs” Lunn has a long and impressive resume. A graduate of the Polytechnic University of the Philippines, she earned her bachelor’s degree in tourism, gained a master’s certificate in management, majoring in public and business management, and currently is pursuing a certificate with Columbia University in Fighting for Equality.
She is extremely active with various civic communities. A past president of the Aklan Press Club Inc. and the former executive director of the Phil Chamber of Commerce and Industry, she also formerly served as a college professor at Panay Technological College, Aklan State University and STI College. Currently, she serves as president of the Aklan Blood Coordinating Council, a board member and secretary of the Philippine Red Cross Aklan Chapter and member of the Brotherhood of Christian Businessmen and Professionals.
She has served as executive director in the Phils of Uplift Internationale (with offices in Denver, Colorado), since 2003. Uplift International provides free surgery for Filipino children with facial deformities.
Lunn herself is co-founder and executive director of WALK (Wishes of Aid and Limbs for Kids) Inc., vice president of Aklan Baghay Inc. and a board member of the provincial advisory council for police transformation and development.
However, she is best known locally through her work with Rotary International and having had coordinated with the Fort Atkinson and Jefferson Rotary and student Rotary Interact clubs for several years. She also has served as an officer of District 3850 Rotary International since 2003.
Lunn has run numerous seminars and training sessions in her own country and abroad, winning many honors, foremost among which are the Presidential and Distinguished Service Awards from Rotary International and the Distinguished and Competent Toastmasters Award from Toastmasters International.
Her “day job” — when she is not volunteering her time and talents — is as a consultant to private companies in the Philippines and part-time administrator and teacher at the Infant Jesus Academy and the St. Nino Seminary.