online again & water at schools

This past week my computer was in the shop, and the week before that I was happily living without electricity. I like it when I can unplug and disconnect from the world… but when I am supposed to be plugged and connecting, it is amazing how hard it can be to only have partial access to things through a loaned computer. But I should not complain – my computer now is fixed for the moment and a new one on its way to the office. My work is piled up a bit, but I am fully plugged in… just in time to get on the plane tonight.

When I was in Western Kenya, I was exploring a possible school water project. Kids need water at school. They need to drink, wash their hands, have water too cook food, and wash the classrooms. Watering plants and gardens is an added benefit. While this seems like such a need should be assumed to be filled, it is, unfortunately, a poor assumption. Some schools have some water, others have none. The reasons for the situation are variations on not maintaining or simply not having. Regardless, something needs to be done. I will let you know more details if this project comes to fruition.

water – schools – children – transformation

Today I join more than 4,200 bloggers around the world talking about water. Why is this important? Because water, safe water, is the foundation of health in so many ways. It is needed for human health and for environmental health – so intertwined they are inseparable. Today there will be enough facts and statistics tossed around to make numerical salad to feed a small army. I love it all – all the numbers and ideas and the health that we hope for and work towards. But here I want to step away from that numerical salad and tell you about the Community Primary School in Mackenzie, Zambia.

Every time I have been to Ndola,I have visited the Mackenzie Community Primary School. Ok… let me rephrase that… every time I have been to Ndola, I have visited the well at this school. Each time, children have been gathered around pumping and collecting water in buckets and jeri cans. There is talking and laughter fills the air. A scene not that different than many I see  across Africa.

I see similar things all the time. And when things become common, we forget (excuse me… I forget) that they are important and transformative. This week while we talked around the well, the people I was with reminded me that it is often the young girls’ work to collect and carry water. Does that prevent them from going to school? No – but it used to  prevent them from going to school when they had to walk a long way to find water.

In addition to the well, their community has nearly full coverage of biosand filters – meaning that nearly each home has a filter providing them with safe water. Again, I have been into a lot of homes with biosand filters, and so it is easy to forget that they are transformative because I see them often. But then I hear again how a family – children and parents – no longer suffer from diarrhea and illness regularly because of safe water provided from the biosand filter. A simple, affordable technology that transforms lives.

The story of the Mackenzie Community Primary School is one of a peri-urban community that does not have a government school, but pooled their resources to create a community school. It is a story where the young girls can now attend primary school because they do not have to carry water. And a story where biosand filters in the children’s home keep them well enough to attend school. This is a simplistic look at a community’s transformation, but these are key elements to that transformation.

Safe water saves lives and gives children a chance at health and education. Sometimes I forget how things have changed, how they have improved, as I stretch for the next step of development. Because this level of transformation somehow becomes normal. But there are so many places that are not like this. So many places where children die from diarrhea and skip school to carry water. And so today, as bloggers around the world talk about water, I want to celebrate the progress that has been made as we rally together to do more.

If you want to be part of the solution, go to Blood:Water Mission’s website and donate – right now there is a dollar for dollar match that will go to support our work in Northern Uganda and Rwanda. And, like our work here in Zambia, this water work will transform lives. It’s why I do my job.

death at a lake

Written Sunday evening.

Today I saw a man die. Or maybe he as already dead. And another one remained under the water to surface later – most likely when his body becomes bloated and rises to the surface. Today two men died. Needlessly.

We all needed a day of rest, a relaxing afternoon. So we headed to a lake about 45 minutes from Ndola. The plan was to relax on the grass, read books, play games, take naps, and have a late lunch. I talked, I read, I napped, and I was reading again when Erin, having heard of an accident, said, “Do you know CPR?” Yes.

I, who do not run, sprinted barefoot after her down the path around the lake. A minute or two later we came to the scene. A man was down, was surrounded, was unconscious, possibly vomited lake water, and was non-responsive. I bent down to help. The man instructing said he was a medical doctor. Then a man next to him said he was a nurse. Yet it was wrong. All wrong. If he had vomited, his head should have been on his side so he did not take it back in again. His head was not tilted back. Compressions in the wrong spot. The doctor said he could not do anything – there was no first aid kit, no adrenaline. But that is not what was wrong. I tried to speak up, to say something. But he was a medical doctor and he wanted to go to the clinic.

Normally, I am loud and I take charge. But somehow, not today. For some reason, I tried to help, but I did not take charge. I demonstrated once. I explained. But he was a medical doctor. I am not a medical professional, but I know what was done was wronge. The unnamed man, possibly then a corpse, but it seemed his spirit was not gone, was loaded into the car and driven away. A man in a murky lake was still down, buried under water. I offered to swim, to dive a grid to find his body. No mask, no googles, could be found. Nothing. And so I stayed on shore. As we left an hour later, the fire truck came screaming towards the lake. I wondered, Do the firemen know how to swim?

It started with five men in a canoe. Five men who were clearly not good swimmers, if swimmers at all. I do not know why, but the canoe tipped. I know that some of these men were rescued by some teenagers, some children, who recognized the problem and helped. One man was dragged to shore and died there, and one man died in the lake. Three men lived.

Life is a fragile thing. So so fragile. This is easy to forget when we are not surrounded by death. Or when those who die are old or have long been ill. But accidents happen and people die. People die because of infections and disease, because of accidents and preventable things.

So many things can be said about today. What I choose to say is that what happened today was preventable. Today cannot be changed, but tomorrow can be. And so this is what I ask you: Do you know how to swim? Do your children know how to swim? Do you know basic first aid and CPR? If you answered No to any of these questions, please, please change your answer. You have the power to change your answer. It might not be easy, and it might mean facing a fear. But, tomorrow, it could mean life or death. Today people did not know what to do and people needlessly died. Please be prepared so that tomorrow’s accident does not happen or so that, when it does, you know what to do. Please.

headed back to africa

Tomorrow I leave for Africa again. After a quick overnight in Johannesburg, I am on to Zambia for a week, Western Kenya for a week, and finally Nairobi for a week. Even though I have been back in America for just over three weeks, it seems like it was just yesterday that I was unpacking my bags. I honestly wish I had a few more nights to sleep in my wonderfully comfortable bed with my perfect down pillow, a couple more evenings to cook food from scratch in my kitchen, and more time to finish the (thick, hardback) book that I am in the middle of right now that will not fit into my suitcase.

At the same time, I cannot wait to lock my little house up tomorrow and begin to live my life out of a suitcase again. Because, while I do, I spend time with some amazing people doing amazing things; I am constantly blessed by being in their presence. While I travel, I will be telling stories through twitter and blogs, words and photos – stories of water, AIDS, hope, resilience, and of African heroes. I invite you to join join the journey as I share it online in the coming weeks. I hope you too will be blessed by our African neighbors by sharing in this journey.

using a pick is not normal?

I recently realized that using a hair pick to comb / brush your hair is not normal when you are white. I used to think that it was just a preference, though I honestly have never understood the appeal of the traditional comb. But now I realize I am not normal.

I started using a pick when I lived in Fiji during Middle School. Fijians, and most people of the neighboring island countries, have hair perfect for making ‘Afros’, though they traditional sport a much shorter version. In Fiji a pick is used to comb hair and puff it out so that it looks good. My hair was definitely the wrong color and texture, but it did need combing. Since then, plastic and wood picks have been my friend.

Today when I travel, I normally carry a small pick and forgo a brush altogether. The pick is simple and does the job well. It is something I have never questioned. One evening after a long day during my Northern Kenya adventure in April, I was combing my hair out in the common area. The trip afforded little privacy, and that night only one shower room, so it was the polite thing to do. Erik made a comment that was half question to the effect, “You use a pick for your hair?” I was exhausted and all I could think was, “Yes; I did not make space for a brush in my back pack. Besides, I rarely use one.” I think what I really said was, “Yep.”

Then Sunday night I was having a fantastic conversation with Elizabeth about race and culture, which somehow got around to Fiji and hair. Elizabeth, good friend who often house sits for me, and who is definitely white, had noticed the lack of combs and presence of picks in my bathroom. Really? Yes. Elizabeth always carries a comb in her purse. But they lack a proper handle. The have two sides – one side gets much finer than a pick. But why would I want that?

And that is how our conversation went. Both of us baffled at the other’s choice while laughing at the discussion we were having. Abstractly, I see the point that, for my hair, a comb and a pick are the same thing. But I can promise you that if I loose my pick or it tragically breaks, I will go on a hunt for a new one. I think it is the island girl part of me that simply will not let go. You think you know how you are different and then BAM – another point. Another point that makes me smile and remember happy times. Now I wonder – what other aspects of my daily life are not ‘normal’?