KAILUA-KONA — Forty years ago, Norman Sakata took a Kauai-based art program for elementary school students and expanded it into an annual, statewide tradition to promote awareness of blindness and vision impairment.
The Sight is Beautiful art competition has students from Kindergarten through sixth grade all over the state creating posters with the theme of promoting healthy eyesight.
“I think a lot has to do with his grandmother who went blind, when she was 30 years old,” Sakata’s daughter Michelle Johnson said. “So the whole program for the Lions Club for sight has touched his heart from when he was 12 years old and had to take care of his grandmother.”
Vision is one of the Lions Club’s global causes, along with hunger, environment, diabetes, and childhood cancer. Sakata also has raised thousands of dollars for the Hawaii Lions Eye Bank through his years as a member of the Lions Club.
Two Lions Clubs on the west side of Hawaii Island — the Lions Club of Kona and the Kailua-Kona Lions Club — join together every year for the Sight is Beautiful program.
Lions Club of Kona vice president Norma Matsumoto called Sakata “the mind and muscle behind this project,” and the reason it has lasted for decades.
Sakata was at a Lions Club trustee meeting in Honolulu 40 years ago when he heard about the program being implemented on Kauai.
“I asked why there wasn’t a state program. And they said it was impossible,” Sakata said. “Why impossible? They asked who was going to run it. And then they said ‘Well, you asked for it.’ It kept growing and growing to a point where what we see now is it is one of the largest projects ever run by the Lions Club organization.”
While the Sight is Beautiful contest is about the underlying theme of raising awareness of vision impairment, it’s the reaction from the students that make the program worth running for Sakata.
“It’s good to see them happy, and to see their smiles,” Sakata said.
The Lions Club of Kona collects posters from six schools — Holualoa Elementary, Honaunau Elementary, Hookena Elementary, Kahakai Elementary, Konawaena Elementary, and Konawaena Middle School.
The Kailua-Kona Lions Club collects posters from Kealakehe Elementary, Makua Lani Christian Academy, and Innovations Public Charter School.
The deadline for the 2020 Sight is Beautiful program is Friday, Feb. 21. The poster has to be 12×18 inches to qualify, and the words “Sight is Beautiful” has to be located somewhere on the poster. The poster also has to be two-dimensional, for transportation purposes.
The student’s full name, the teacher’s name, and the school’s name also need to be on the back of each poster in order to be a part of the contest.
Johnson said its important all posters meet those qualifications, but the art itself is open to the interpretation of the students.
“As adults, we’re in awe of the quality of the art,” Matsumoto said.
Around 1,700 posters were collected last year between the two Lions Clubs. Miho Morinoue of the Donkey Mill Art Center helps judge the posters at the local level, and the winning posters are sent to Honolulu for the state competition. The winners receive cash prizes.
The competition is divided by the grades of the students participating.
“The fact that an art project of this scale can go on in every school, makes sure, no matter the resources the school has, that some artwork gets done in the schools,” Matsumoto said.
Johnson remembers being a child and watching Sakata in their home carefully sort through the thousands of posters submitted to the two Lions Clubs in Kona. It was painstaking work that only a man like Sakata could pull off on his own.
“To help share the sight awareness and instill it in little children now so they can take care of their eyes, he’s very attached to that,” Johnson said. “And he did it pretty much all by himself.”
She said all the Lions Club members see the increase in self esteem the students get out of participating in the Sight is Beautiful poster contest, thanks to Sakata’s efforts.
“There’s been an alliance to the program because of my father,” Johnson said. “You can see the love that he has for the children, and the pride of the children when they show us their art makes him so happy. It’s for the children that we do this.”