portrait with attitude

Meet Febby. She is a Community Health Promoter here in Zambia. She teaches her neighbors about how to improve the health of their community. When I took her portrait she struck this pose that is filled with all the wonderful, life-filled attitude that she takes into her community. As I prepare for the 30 hour journey home, I could not help but share this with you. May your Sunday be blessed.

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.


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.

working women

Laughter and stories. Clanging metal tools. As I approached the outdoor shelter that is the small biosand filter factory, I wanted to join the work so that I could be a part of this team of women. Their job is to make biosand filters several days a week – the small “factory” needed to increase their output, and these particular women had proven their skill and work ethic in recent trainings. Extra income for the women, extra output for the factory, and more people with safe drinking water in their homes. A good day.

Each one of these women has a story that deserves to be told. But today I only have time to tell you about one, Dainess. She is 25 years old, is married, and has three young children. She has an engaging smile, can read lips in Bemba, the local language, and writes basic English. Our conversation began with me writing, “My name is Pamela. What is your name?” Then the other women joined our conversation and simple sign language combined with lip reading took over. I am hesitant to say it, because I do not want Dainess to be categorized and put in a box, but she is deaf-mute. I dislike labels and boxes because they evoke specific emotions that might or might not be appropriate. Here, Dainess’s deafness is part of who she is, but does not define her. Instead it is her family, her smile, her work ethic and her interaction with her peers that tell us about her character. Given the opportunity, I would choose to work beside her and hope that she would want to be my friend.

This entry was written for Blood:Water Mission. Check them out at www.bloodwatermission.com/blog.

drillers’ camp

Here drillers camp by the rig for several days while drilling a water well. No time is lost in going to and from the drill site. But, more importantly, time is spent with the community each evening. Besides, how fun is it to see these tents, the type I grew up camping with, next to a drill rig?

a biosand filter for christmas


That’s right. All it costs is $85. In terms of i-pods, it is a 3 for 1 deal: 3 biosand filters for families for the cost of 1 i-pod classic 160 gb. A few days from now is the famous ‘Black Friday’ in America when there are super sales and people get up at unbelievable hours to get that perfect deal. All for something that is, likely, disposable. A biosand filter is not disposable and will transform the life of a family by providing them clean water for 10-20 years. Consider ‘buying’ one as an alternative Christmas gift this year at: www.bloodwatermission.com/christmas.

women making biosand filters

women making bsf

These women are participating in a several day training to learn to make biosand filters. At the end of the week, the biosand filters that they made will be installed in their homes providing years of safe water for their families. Development at its best.

word images of the last month

Here is my attempt to capture a few word images from this past month. I doubt they do it justice, but hope you get the picture. As you read, smile and laugh because that is what I have done this month through the good times and the hard times.

Laughter. My time in Uganda, was filled with laughter. We laughed when we saw each other in the morning, when we told stories, when we walked through villages, when we shared tea, and simply at a funny look. In a moment there is laughter. Contagious laughter. So beautiful. I wish I could bottle it up and take it home. I once got an email from a colleague listening to my laughter through our shared wall that was titled, “I love your laughter.” Man she would have loved to be in Uganda with me.

Speed talking. On day 3 of my work in Lira, Faustino declared that he was terrified that he would be placed on my team the next day for our work in the village (his statement was, of course, topped off with loud laughter). For the first two days of discussions, we were a group of Ugandans, two Americans and two Canadians. The discussions were good and kept moving. Excited and surrounded by North Americans, I moved into my rapid-fire speed talking that is a clear indicator of how fast my brain cells are working. The poor man was struggling to follow and never bothered to say anything. We were partners for the next couple of days during which I spoke African English, we shared life histories, and we laughed more than one can imagine.

Science revisited. Do you have any idea what a petri dish of cultured e-coli smells like. If the word poop comes to mind, you hit it. The thing about testing water quality for e-coli is that when you have contaminated water, you are effectively multiplying the e-coli, containing them in a petri dish, and then opening the lid and counting the blue and purple dots (e-coli colonies). You use a little magnifying glass and get real close to make sure you count right. It smells. You loose your appetite. You are thankful that you do not drink from the river. Then you take a shower and then go to dinner.

Biosand filters. BSF. Based on an old technology that was modified for an individual household used less than two decades ago. BSFs can be made locally and, when properly cared for, reduce pathogens by 98%. I saw these in Uganda and Zambia. Everyone I asked who used a BSF loved it. But, the best part, is that the cement and sand act as a water cooler. And so, often before I was told about how the kids do not have diarrhea and their skin no longer itches, I was told, “The water is cold.” You think that is not a big deal? Yeah. You probably have a fridge and ice. Some brilliant person should start marketing BSFs as water coolers in places where there is no electricity with a side benefit of eliminating disease.

Latrines. I love them because they reduce disease. I love them because when I am in a village their presence means that when I need to pee, I have a place to put my white butt that does not involve mooning the world. But sometimes I think people building them are dense. For example, I used several latrines this trip with a hole that could not have been more than 6 inches square. I think a man made that hole and I wanted to kick him. Seriously though, every time I use a good latrine, I think of the girls who now have a place to pee during the day with dignity. And dignity begins to change this world.

Hand washing. What formal meal have I been to in America where everyone went to wash their hands before going through the buffet line? Can’t think of one. Matter of fact, I cannot think of a single meal in America outside of a home where this was the practice. Hamburgers. Fries. Pizza. Let’s not pretend that we do not eat with our fingers. How can I say this? Hand washing changes health. For the last month, I have washed hands with my friends and colleagues before meals. In the bush, we used bottled water and a bar of soap stashed in the glove box. At the formal dinner, we traipsed into the bathrooms. No questions asked. Do me a favor and think about that the next time you have a french fry.

Safe water. Latrines. Hand washing. Three key aspects to a healthy home & a healthy village.

Books. A part of my nomadic life is stashing books in my luggage. A few days ago someone asked me if I was well read. I am finishing book five of the month, an interesting collection of short stories of Indian immigrants to America (Unaccustomed Earth). Books one to four included good literature making me want to return to Savannah for another vacation (Midnight In the Garden of Good and Evil), B-grade action (Clive Cussler), learning to cook in Paris (The Sharper Your Knife, The Less You Cry), and an excellent book on community development (When Helping Hurts) that you should read. Last year the (former) president read more books than I did, and I somehow doubt his book list included beach trash. Some day I think I should read Plato and Aristotle. Then I will consider myself well read.

Safari. This one day safari in Botswana could be characterized by ‘elephant’. I do not think I am exaggerating if I say that I saw a couple hundred elephants – almost all headed to or at the river. The joy of it being deep into dry season is that the water holes in the park have dried up and the animals all flock to the river. As we sat in the boat, family groups of elephants headed to the river. At the sight of the water, the younger ones would start to run – the dust from the earth flying around them. 10-20 elephants walking and running… and not a sound. I want to say that they were light on their feet… but they were elephants. They were huge. Reaching the river, they drank their fill, then splashed water and mud onto their skin. Some of the kids rolled in the mud and sprawled  out. You could almost hear them sigh and say, “Mom, do we really have to go? It is hot out there.”

Seasons. In Uganda they said it had been dry, and not too much rain. Everything was green and lush. There were a couple thundering storms during the night. The maize was  growing. But, the real rains were just getting ready to start. The days hot and relatively humid, the nights cool. Zambia was in the dry season. No questions. Roads were dusty, the plants coated with a thin film of dirt, and I used lotion. The days were headed towards hot, but the nights remained cool. Each day I was here, the temperatures increased a bit… the locals say that October is the hottest month of the year, then the rains start in November. Between the dust from the earth, the dust from the cement factory, and the heat, it sounds like not a lot of fun. Please remind me to not visit in October.

Singing. Somehow I sing in languages I do not know because one cannot help but sing when surrounded by the voices and rhythms of Africa. Each region’s music is different, and each confirms that I have no sense of rhythm and sing off key. One morning Peter teaches a new song he has just written. Within a minute everyone is harmonizing and I feel blessed to be in the middle of this awesome beauty. In heaven I want to be that white girl in the crowd because I am convinced that my off key singing, clapping at the wrong time, and awkward dancing will somehow fit in just perfectly. Until then, I love that my African brothers and sisters include me in their worship.