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Lions Club members plan mission trip to Mexico

Area Lions Club members are on their way to their annual trip to Mazatlan, Mexico, to fit the poor with eyeglasses, but this year there are some new helpers joining and some changes in safety regulations.

Organizer Armand Radke said the two-week mission, which began yesterday (Saturday), is split into two parts. The first week, 30 Lions Club members from 11 clubs in the district will be checking 1,600 people for glasses in a mission church, a Lions Club pavilion and in a little farming community called Rosario.

During the second week, students from Holy Rosary School in Detroit Lakes, the University of Minnesota Medical School -- including Armand's son, Phillip Radke, and Crystal Long, who is also from Detroit Lakes -- and the Ohio State University College of Optometry school will make the trip down to help, and more importantly, to learn.

"The second week is not only examining people in La Familia, but the students will be learning how to examine eyes at the same time," Armand Radke said.

He said the Holy Rosary students got involved because they make an annual trip to Mexico to help with physical work, like painting La Familia, and have worked at orphanages.

"It just happened to be this year I was going to be teaching the students from the University of Minnesota and the Ohio optometry school, and I said why don't we one day do the mission trip at La Familia, where (the Holy Rosary students) have been painting so (they) could get an understanding for what we do," said Radke.

"Maybe someone would become interested enough that one day they would become an eye doctor and take a mission," he added.

In the past, the Lions have traveled to a place called the Zone of Tolerance, which is known for prostitutes and drug trafficking. During the day though, there was never a safety issue, Radke said.

"I have never felt threatened in Mexico, but a lot of times that happens, because when you're doing a mission trip in Mexico, the government looks after you," he said.

"Because the Mexican government said drug trafficking goes on in that area, it's not safe, so we canceled that one," he explained of the mission into the Zone of Tolerance.

But, that doesn't mean Mexico isn't safe overall, and tourists shouldn't stay home either.

Radke said he talked to a Mexican government representative and, "one of the first things she told me was to make sure that people know that it is safe to go to Mexico. She said the reason this all started was (because of) a crime initiative that the Mexican and the United States governments worked (on) together, to reduce drug trafficking."

The border towns are the most unsafe because the concentration of drug trafficking is much higher there, since the drugs pass from there into the United States.

The tourist areas, however, are safe, and the government guards those areas to keep them safe. Common sense is still needed for travelers, nevertheless.

"She said, 'As long as everybody respects the law, the law will respect them.' That was interesting," Radke said.

Parents who may have questions are welcome to call the Mexican consulate in St. Paul at 651-771-5494, ext. 13.

Radke also phoned a resident of Minnesota who lives in Mazatlan for six months out of the year, and asked if it was safe in the area.

"She chuckled and said, 'It's as safe as it's always been, but I live in Edina and didn't somebody just get shot at the Southdale parking lot? Maybe Southdale isn't safe anymore to travel to.' And she laughed," he said, with a laugh of his own.