families of water tanks

This blog post was written for Blood:Water Mission. The original post is found here.

On Friday I had the joy of visitings a water tank in Northern Rwanda that was just finished. It is now collecting water for 10 families to use during the dry season that is just about a month away. After talking with a few of the people this tank will serve, we began to walk down the path to our car (our little 4WD could not make it up the final bits of the mountain road/path). As we walked, there was happy talk that was eventually translated for me.

“That tank over there is the grandmother tank.”

“And that one is the mother tank.”

In this community, the tanks have been given family trees. When the first tanks were built, many families shared one tank, carefully rationing the water and hoping to make it through a dry season. As more tanks were built, fewer families shared a tank. And the community, in which children are prized, calls this process one tank giving birth to another. So, on Friday, I saw the grandmother, the mother, and the baby tank. Along with it, a lot of smiling women and children who no longer walk down a mountain to get water from a lake.

The goal for this project is to have each tank serve 10 families, and the last tanks are being built right now to make that possible –  a process that has taken several years. The community provides all the local materials – the stones and wood and labor – to make the project possible. But, they need a lot of cement for each tank – about 54 bags. Would you think about partnering with communities like these? Match their resources with yours to make water projects possible. In doing so, you will change lives this Christmas season. To take part in this campaign, go here.


working from rwanda

This post was written for Blood:Water Mission and was originally posted HERE.

For two weeks, I am working from Rwanda. Nashville has been unusually cold this week, and Kigali unusually hot. With temperatures over 90 F each afternoon, I find myself thankful for low humidity and wishing for an afternoon shower – or maybe a fan. Here we live with the climate – hot or cold – there is nothing to change the impact of the weather save opening or closing some windows. But this is not a post about the weather – it is a post about working here. It is just hard to separate the two when I my mind is melted and I am in need of a shower.

Normally I visit our African partners to collect stories, talk about work completed or yet to be done, and build relationships. This  trip is something a bit different – while doing the above, the focus is on preparing for a training next week. Training manuals have been translated (not by me), copies printed, materials gathered, and plans for implementation have been made. The rest of the time I am sitting here on my laptop doing my work as per normal. No, I did not have to be here this week. I could have flown in at last minute and not helped with the details. But then I would have missed so many opportunities – to help, to learn, to teach, and to be blessed.

In the coming months we will be talking more about how Blood:Water Mission is in true partnership with our local partners. This is just a piece of that. Choosing to work alongside rather than zip in at the last minute. And so, every afternoon when my body is caked with a layer of sweat and my mind is melted and does not want to work, I am thankful that I get to be here, to work alongside our amazing African partners.

lwala: water at schools

October seems like so long ago, and yet it was less than two months ago that it was October and I was in Western Kenya exploring options for Blood:Water to come alongside an old partner in a new way. I talked about this ever so briefly in this post about water in schools. Things worked out well, and this partnership is going to happen. Or, I should say, is happening. Last week I wrote about this on Blood:Water’s blog -which you can read here. (Please take a minute to read the post as it will provide great context for future stories I tell about Lwala. Besides – it is an inspiring story, so perfect for this Christmas season.) I am so excited about this partnership, so keep your eyes and ears open in the coming year for more trips to Western Kenya. I am so looking forward to sharing stories from there with you.

This is a health journal from the school office of one of the schools participating in the water program.

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.

article on care2 & water as a human right

Today my blog titled, Fighting alongside Africans for safe water was posted at Care2.com 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:

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.

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.

larachi video

The video of Northern Kenya that I was talking about is now out. It is so exciting to see the first batch of video I took be molded into a short story about the village of Larachi in Northern Kenya. I will be back in Northern Kenya in a few weeks and am excited to be able to share more stories with you then. Anyway… check the video out HERE.

fighting alongside africans for safe water

I have signed up to participate in the Clean Water Blogivation campaign. If my blog receives the most votes, I will win an opportunity to join Dr. Greg Allgood on a clean water expedition to Africa and a $15,000 donation to my favorite charity (Blood:Water Mission) tackling water issues.

Please vote  – it just takes 10 seconds, but it is a 2 STEP PROCESS:

  1. Enter your email address and click on the ‘vote for this blogger’ button in the box below.
  2. Confirm your vote through the link in the email you receive.


Thank you for voting! Your voice was heard and my blog won! Official announcement and more coming on September 30. Stay tuned…

When I ten years old, I lost 10 pounds in 10 days because I was incapable of keeping fluids in, compliments of giardia, a diarrheal disease. When I learned to camp on the Sinai, my family planned and packed every drop of water we would use.

I have long chosen to fight for water. I choose to do so because as a child it was a reality and I believed a place where I could make a difference. My passion first took me through three degrees and field academic research in Haiti and West Africa, all focused on water. I began to work alongside Africans serving as a consultant and a friend rather than a leader or boss something I continue to strive to do.

Now I fight for water through my work with Blood:Water Mission where I am the Africa Field Manager. We have amazing partners in Sub-Saharan Africa who address the water crisis through sustainable community development. I help them build out their programs, challenging them towards excellence in community development through many long conversations and field visits. I capture their stories through words, photos, and video for our fundraisers and advocates who give generously of their time, effort, and money to make it all possible.

If someone told you that nearly a billion people lack access to safe water, would you understand that number? I would not. The most recent number from the World Health Organization is actually 900 million people. I could try to help you understand what 900 million is, but it is too big and abstract. What is not too big and abstract is one person’s story. One story through words or photo or video and the number is real. This is what I do; the number becomes real and suddenly both you and I have a reason to fight.

This website is where I share my journey through life. It is the meeting place of where I fight for water, fight to make the numbers become people, and where I simply live. It is a journey that I hope you find enough value in to follow from time to time. I have not filled this post with stats and stories and photos. I do not need to because this whole blog is filled with them in the context of people’s stories.

Between now and November I will be spending 8 weeks in Africa blogging all along the way. I invite you to join that journey. You will learn more along the way and, I hope, the numbers will become real through story.

Please vote for me so that I can give $15,000 to Blood:Water Mission’s water work in Africa. Why them you ask? Because they choose to walk alongside African partners and to dignify individuals through sharing stories of hope rather than despair. Because, through their African partners, people’s water situation is being changed every day – one person, one story at a time.


One of the things that I do as I travel is gather stories – through words, photos, and video – to be used in campaigns and project updates. Remember when I was in Zambia, Uganda, and Kenya? There are photos and videos you have not seen from that trip – most recently used in Blood:Water Mission’s summer campaign, Lemon:Aid.

The concept behind the campaign is simple: kids make lemonade stands – they tell people about water in Africa and raise money by selling lemonade – so that kids (and parents) in Africa can have water. It has been awesome to watch so many people get behind this campaign. There is still time before school starts, so if your kids need something to do, check out the website to download materials and take a stand for safe water in Africa. Whether or not you decide to do a Lemon:Aid stand, I hope you enjoy these photos & short stories.

the nobodies

Picture 1

I feel as if I have recently taken a breather from weightier books, and I am diving back in again. This poem comes at the beginning of the introduction to Paul Farmer’s Pathologies of Power:  Health, Human Rights, and the New War on the Poor, and it struck deep chords inside of me. It struck deep inside because I like to believe that I do not classify people as nobodies, but the truth is that it is a constant battle.

In my work I have to ask the questions: How many people will a certain project reach? What is this project’s cost per person? Are we meeting our numbers? Or even this… let’s expand the merchandise we sell to include local handicrafts made by some of our partners. Each question is well founded – we want to reach as many people, as many individuals, as many communities as we can with every dollar raised. We want to be responsible with our funding. We want to hear stories of people no longer skipping school to carry water or girls staying home because they are menstruating and have no private toilet facilities. We want to support local groups who use their art, their crafts, to create income and become self-sustaining. Behind each number and question is a story of a person who is not a nobody, but we must fight to make these bodies the driving force, not the numbers.

And so today I am excited to dive into heavier literature that forces me to think, to remember why I do what I do, and to re-examine and expand my own thought processes. To be challenged is a good thing.