article on care2 & water as a human right

Today my blog titled, Fighting alongside Africans for safe water was posted at under their Causes: Human Rights section. I could not be more excited – my writing is being shared with new readers and it is in the human rights section. I write about water, people, and my journey through life. When I first hearing about this opportunity, I was told, “I am sorry – your post is going to be in the human rights section – not a perfect fit, but there is no section on water.” I have to admit, I am glad there is no section on water.

“Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and his family.” ~Article 25, Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948).

1.5 million children die every year due to diarrheal diseases caused by lack of access to safe water and sanitation. Women spend hours every day walking to collect water – often water that is contaminated. Children stay out of school to collect water and because of illness. Although it is easy to forget when safe water flows freely from our taps, access to safe water is a necessary part of health and well-being of a family.

Although treaties focused on other issues have identified water as a human right, it was not until this summer that the UN General Assembly declared “the right to safe and clean drinking water and sanitation as a human right that is essential for the full enjoyment of the right to life.” Safe water is no longer a privilege or attached to other rights; it is now a human right. There are a host of implications to water being a human right. Water is no longer something to be hoped for – it makes water a legal right, or something to be expected. It empowers people to ask for and work towards their own rights. It puts the focus on community and their right to water rather than the organization helping to provide the water. These are critical differences and beautiful reminders for all of us. And that is why I am glad my article on water was included in a human rights category.

“Access to safe water is a fundamental human need and, therefore, a basic human right. Contaminated water jeopardizes both the physical and social health of all people. It is an affront to human dignity.” ~Kofi Annan, Former United Nations Secretary General

If you would like to read more on water being a human right, here are a few resources:

thank you

You did an incredible job in August. You came back to my site again and again to vote for safe water in Africa.  Your efforts, through Changents, P&G and Blood:Water Mission, are bringing safe water to those who need it.  You have enabled this story to be shared with a wider audience. Thank you.

As a small “Thank You”, there is a 25% off coupon for use to purchase photos or cards at  Use it as many times as you would like until October 15. The coupon code is: A8BCBF.

And, as always, the e-cards are free. Hope one of these pictures brings a smile to your face or a story to your mind. Thank you for sharing in my story!

we won: let’s celebrate together

It feels like this has been a long time in coming, but today is it – the official announcement that I won the Give Health Blogivation through Changents. My blog post won, but it is really something we won together. Thanks for voting! The behind the scenes conversation since the competition ended in late August has been about my “come from behind win” or “sprint to the finish.” For most of the competition I remained in 2nd place, but in the final days, you rallied your family, friends, and coworkers so that, together, we could win. There were 35 bloggers, and the competition reached more than 3 million people in more than 80 countries. Your efforts raised my blog to the top.

We won, but what does that mean? Your votes are having this incredible impact:

  • The collective votes during the Give Health Blogivation account for 21,099 days of clean drinking water that will be given to people in need through P&G’s Children’s Safe Drinking Water (CSDW) program – our votes account for 8,893 (42%) of those days.
  • P&G will give $15,000 to Blood:Water Mission to support our work in safe water. $1 equals 1 year of safe water for an African, so this is safe water for 1 year for 15,000 people (or 5 years of safe water for 3,000 people).
  • I will travel to Africa in November with the CSDW program to see the impact it is making through its on-the-ground partners. I will be blogging during this trip to bring you along as much as possible so that we can share this story together.
  • I have become a Change Agent – this is an incredible opportunity to share my story, share Blood:Water’s story, and rally people together to support safe water development in Africa.

We won, but what now? Your voices came together – let’s keep doing that today:

  • Spread the excitement  – share this news through the easy “share” button at the bottom of the post.
  • Go to my Changents page and become a “backer” – it is one way to support safe water and be alertedto things going on in the future. And while you are there, check out all of the other things that people are doing – they are people just like you and me, and they are doing amazing work!
  • Spread the word by twitter, facebook, email, and word of mouth. Our goal today is to have every person tell 2 other people – either about this or another story I have shared. It is a simple, tangible way for each of us to make a difference today. Do it!

Thank you for being a part of this story and helping it continue.

playing in a village

One of the beautiful things about children is that no language is required for fun to occur. And so, when children are gathered and not much seems to be going on, I take up simple games of “Simon Says” minus the “Simon Says” part of the game. Just simple old imitation. It is magic. Every time. Here we were acting like trains and saying, “Chugga chugga choo choo.” The building next to us is the location of a mobile medical clinic where people were being treated for ailments and tested for AIDS in Northern Kenya. Serious, important stuff. But at that moment, none of it mattered – we were playing and everyone watching was smiling and laughing. Just one of those happy moments from days spent in the field that do not occur when I am back in the office.

Photo by Barak Bruerd.

a perfect day in middle tennessee

As captured by my new i-phone 4:

Three friends, one canoe, a river, and a cooler filled with food and drink.

The first orange and brown and purple leaves of the season.

A historic bridge.

Hay bales that wanted some company. New place to do yoga?

I stepped into mud deeper than my legs. Thankful for a Elizabeth and a rescue paddle.

Smiles. Rescued from mud and ready for the journey to continue.

On our way home, we stumbled across Miller’s Grocery… people were waiting outside for a table and live music was filtering out the door. Our 20 minute wait rewarded us with fantastic Southern cooking, killer desserts, great atmosphere, and fun music. Check out their website and if you are nearby, make time to visit!

thumper turns 1

Although we celebrated his birthday last week when I was in Atlanta, today my nephew, Liam, aka Thumper, turns 1. He has been an incredible blessing to my family. Watching him grow and develop a personality this year has been so much fun. When I met him last Thanksgiving he did nothing but sleep on me for hours at a time. Now he is crawling across the house and walking while holding onto anything in sight. I think my favorite is that he likes to copy his mom and dad – he has his own (broken) laptop for the living room and a small frying pan for the kitchen. And, just like I promised Thumper, we all went camping together before he turned one. These are few pictures I took last week on a trip to the park; the last is my favorite. Yes, I am a proud aunt!

thankful that this cut is not life threatening

This blog was written for Blood:Water Mission’s blog and is also posted there.

Sunday afternoon a friend called, I realized I was really hungry, and then I made a mistake. With the phone squeezed between my shoulder and ear, I pulled a block of cheese out of my fridge and starting cutting off chunks. Not on a chopping block or even onto the bare counter, but towards me. And, because of my stupidity and haste, while still on the phone, the third chunk included a piece of my left hand.

Well, not exactly because this dime-sized chunk of flesh was (is) still attached to my hand. Long story short, I headed to a walk-in clinic at a drugstore, a wonderful nurse practitioner decided I did not need stitches, my wound was washed and cleaned, and I headed out the door and had dinner with my friend. Twice a day I take off my big band-aid, wash the wound with soap and water, and recover it with bacitracin (cream antibiotic) and a band-aid. I try to keep my hand out of water all day and am hopeful that it will be healed enough when I return to Africa in two weeks that I do not have to worry about infection.

All of this because of stupid, hasty actions. I am so thankful that this happened now, while I am in the United States working in an office. The tap water is safe, I am not constantly in or surrounded by dirt and dust, antibiotic cream and extra large band aids are readily accessible. The clinic is less than a five minute drive from my home. So easy, so close. In this environment, it is easy to forget that people die from infections every day. I will watch my hand, but I am doubtful that it will develop the red streaks indicative of a life-threatening infection. How the body heals is never guaranteed, but it is not a major concern. Under other circumstances, I would be worried about my life, not a scar.

I live my life with a foot in America and a foot in Africa. Today I am thankful that this week I am not in Africa. I would have been ok there because I have the means to get what I need, but here it is easy. I hope that someday it is easy across all of Africa and that cuts like these are not life threatening. Not just the big cities or the more developed nations, but everywhere. I hope that someday I do not have to be glad about which continent I am on when I am stupid and take chunks out of my hand.

thumper’s first birthday cake

Last week I was in Atlanta with my siblings getting over jet leg and enjoying some family time. The highlight of the week was the celebration of my nephew’s 1st birthday. We made a big cake and a little one for him. Banana spice cake with cream cheese frosting. At first Thumper was not so sure about the situation – the blue food in front of him. Then the sugar and some smiles. And then he was full. We all smiled. Thank God for kids. 1 year old pictures coming next week.

bath time

This little girl had just been given a bath. Mom had mostly dried her off and the final drops of water were disappearing to the afternoon sun. And, like always, it is her smile the caught me.

joyful adventure

As we were driving out of a community Thursday morning, Claudette pointed down the road and said, “That’s Uganda.” I knew that we were practically sitting on the border all week and had looked into Uganda from the mountain, but the border crossing was now less than a mile away and I knew that Mike, this being his first trip to Africa, had not yet been to Uganda. So I asked if it was easy to cross and a few more questions. Next thing I know Claudette had talked to Emmanuel, our driver, and we are headed to the border – all of us with big smiles on our faces.

There is just something about spontaneous adventure that is hard to beat. We could have turned around and gone to our next meeting, but we had some time to kill and Uganda was waiting for us. Except I know the visa to Uganda is $50 for Americans, and I did not want to drop $100 to walk on Ugandan soil. But, how can it be adventure if you know how it will work out before it has begun?

When we got out of the car at the Rwandan border (this would be a crossing on foot), I found out that Blandine, who is from this border community had never been to Uganda. Everyone had their papers – three of us passports, one set of national papers, and one set of local papers (that required no visa or stamp to cross). We exited Rwanda and walked to Uganda where I met the immigration officer. I explained what we were doing – that we just wanted to get a soda in Uganda. He waived us on for our little adventure, no visa required. “Please, is there any way to get a stamp in our passports or for you to sign our passports?” I was definitely not above begging. “No – that requires a visa.” (No need to mention the cost for a visa.) So, he waived us in and gave us a small bag of peanuts sitting on his desk – our consolation prize. And so we walked into Uganda with no stamp but eating consolation peanuts. We found the least grungy border hotel, had a warm soda, took some photos, and walked back to Rwanda.

Our time in Rwanda had been great – amazing stories, smiles, laughter, and gorgeous nature. But this adventure was different than everything else. We had conspired together and embarked on a journey that was not planned. No one was in charge and it was all slightly unknown. Both an American and a Rwandan (specifically from that region) visited Uganda for the first time. The smiles and bounces in everyone’s walk were larger than I have seen them any other time. I am so thankful for the good, spontaneous decisions we made that day. Together we journeyed and were filled with joyful adventure.

volcano and clouds

Every day we were in Cyanika it rained. The days started like this – blue sky, sun and clouds around the volcano. The clouds continued to build until the rain started somewhere between noon and 1pm. Predictable and beautiful.

tested at tumaini

This blog post was written for Blood:Water Mission’s blog and can be found there. All photos by Barak Bruerd.

What is the probability I have AIDS? Very low. What are my risk factors? Essentially none. And yet today I once again understood the hesitancy to be tested, the fear of being tested, and the tummy flutters while waiting for your results. All because I decided to be tested for AIDS at Tumaini Clinic.

Two years ago when I was last in Marsabit town, a clinic was a dream. Two years ago I met with an AIDS support group and heard their stories. Stories of transformation from supporting each other and simple home-based care that was possible. I also heard stories of extremely sick people traveling on large lories (large trucks used for transportation of animals and supplies) for two or three days to reach an AIDS clinic. And amongst their stories, they asked for a clinic.

Blood:Water and a lot of our advocates caught the vision, and the seed money for FH to start the clinic was raised. After the ground was broken and the vision was quickly becoming reality, other organizations were able to see the vision too. And so, where there was nothing, today there is a clinic. A clinic that serves the population in general medicine and provides excellent AIDS care. Beyond the physical building, the clinic reaches into the community through mobile clinics, home based care, and support groups. This is an awesome transformation.

There is so much stigma around being tested for AIDS. During our tour of Tumaini Clinic, we came to the VCT (Voluntary Counseling and Testing) room. Flowers on the room and a smiling nurse. Part of me wanted to be tested, to be here in a way with the many who have had the courage to be tested. But then my mind immediately went to thought of, “I have done that before…Last year I had the check swab test done….This is a blood test…Really… Why?” I have no reason to be scared, and yet I backed away from the test. Which is, in my mind, all the more reason to be tested.

And so I experienced the hesitancy, the nervousness, the questions in my mind of, “What will I do if I am positive?” Then I got to read my test. Only one line. Like the other times I have been tested (this nervousness does not go away with each test), I was negative. No AIDS in my body. Sigh. It feels good. Smile.

Have you been tested for AIDS? Do you want to stand in solidarity with those who have AIDS or who are at risk and are too scared to be tested? Find your local AIDS clinic and go get tested. It will transform your mind and thought process. I promise.

kiambethu flowers

The flower garden at the Kiambethu Tea Farm is amazing. And, since I still love the happiness of yellow, I thought I would share this one with you.