Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Water 4 Life...


What will 2010 look like for you? As for me, I am not sure, but what I do know is that for one billion people in the world it will be yet another year without clean water. Can you imagine? That is 1 in 8 of us. And every day in this New Year, women and children will walk for hours to collect water, water that is often contaminated by animal and human waste. It is very likely that in 2010, water-borne disease will again kill 4,500 children alone every single day. It’s tragic. And it is all because of a shortage of clean water. The water crisis is big, but there are simple solutions, solutions that we can be a part of.

This year, we can help bring clean water to a community in a developing country. Wouldn’t it be awesome if in 2010 you and I can help finance the construction of a well for 250 people in need of water? Enabling children to go to school rather than spend their time looking for water? Ensuring a healthier community without water-borne disease? Allowing women to spend time on income generating businesses rather than searching for water? Our contribution to a well in 2010 can make a lifetime difference in the lives of these people. Imagine life without water in your house, or even in your neighborhood! Wouldn’t you be thrilled if you had a well nearby? Let’s give a community a reason to celebrate in 2010.

Partner with me in raising $5000 for a well by contributing to Water 4 Life. Any amount is welcome: $1, $5, $10, $20 or more. Every bit helps. $5 will give one person water for 5 years. $20 gives one person water for 20 years. $5000 will give an entire community a well. My ‘Water 4 Christmas’ Campaign raised almost $3000, but we still have $2000 to go. Join me. And spread the word. Invite friends and family to join in and make an impact on the lives of those less fortunate than us.

Water 4 Life. Give life by giving water. To contribute to my campaign please go to: http://mycharitywater.org/sandralako and make your donation on my campaign page.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Running for them...

On Saturday the 26th of December I ran my first race: the Christmas run. Arriving at the starting point, I noticed the route posted on the wall, showing the distance as well as the terrain. Having trained for an 8 km run, I was a bit shocked to see that it had become a 9 km race. I also realized that a large stretch of the race was along the beach. Despite this new knowledge, however, I was committed to run, running for charity: water, raising money for a well for an entire community. And, at least the weather conditions were good: dry and a temperature of 5 Celsius.

The annual run is held in Dishoek, near Vlissingen, and attracts a couple hundred people; this year there was a record of about 475 people. I guess that is why the registration took so long and the race started 10 minutes later than planned. Fortunately I did not have to wait alone. My parents, and three very close family friends were right by my side, committed to running this race with me. They were a great support through the whole race!

At 11:10 am the race began. We were situated at the very back of the group, so it took a little while before we crossed the starting line and off we went. We started at a good pace and ran a loop around the village (which I heard didn’t even count in the 9 kilometers!) before heading down the road. After that first loop we continued on the bike path along the bottom of the dike and soon climbed the stairs up the dike and down the other side (slowing us down a little as it was hard to actually run up and down.) The next stretch was along the beach, which was definitely harder than running on the road, but at least the sand was fairly compact. We did however, have a strong wind in our faces and also had to wedge our way through rows of poles posted from the dike to the ocean, at various points along the beach. This meant slowing down, choosing the poles to go in between, squeezing through, and then picking up the pace again.

Once the beach segment was finished we continued on a bike path, along the edge of the woods. And, with the wind in my back I felt like the run was going great again. I was determined. But then, something very unexpected came up: more sand, this time very loose sand. Unfortunately due to construction of the dunes/bike paths there was a fair stretch (1.5 km!!) of very loose sand that we had to run through. It was terrible. I seriously felt like I wouldn’t make it. I tried to focus on my goal: the people without clean water and those supporting my cause. I tried to regulate my breathing and keep my legs moving but I was slowing down even more. Fortunately one of my friends came to my side and helped me along: he slowed his pace down and ran in front of me so that I could follow directly behind him in his footsteps. And by doing this, I made it to the end of the sand pit!

After the sand pit I felt like the run was going better again. It was easier to pick up the pace. And, towards the very end, when the finish line was almost in sight, my supporting team of 5 let me run up front and I gave it all I had. I ran at double pace towards the finish. As I approached the finish I saw more friends/family waiting, cheering us all on. I threw up my arms in a victory cheer with a smile on my face, as I crossed the line, about an hour after having started. Although the race was harder than I expected, I did it! Thanks for your support!

The water campaign is still open for another 57 days. Having raised almost $3000, I am still hoping for another $2000 so that a well can be given to people in need. Please consider contributing to the cause. Give $1, $5, $10 or more. Give life, by giving water. Give directly on my campaign page: http://mycharitywater.org/sandralako

Saturday, December 26, 2009

The day of the run...

Wow, 9 weeks ago I started training for today’s 8 km (5 mile run). Following a training program, I started running for 3 minutes, followed by walking for 1 minute, and repeated this 5 times on day 1. Looking back, it’s funny to think that I found this challenging enough to start out with. Two weeks into the program I was running 15-20 minute stretches without a break. And after five weeks I was faced with the 40-minute endurance run. This was a stretch for me and it was interesting to see how much I could push myself!

Some runs were definitely tougher than others. I ran in various places and in various weather conditions- the icy roads being my least favorite as they caused a lot of muscle pain due to running extra carefully to keep from falling. I think I ended up using muscles I’d rarely used before while running; I still have some sore muscles from my runs over the past week! I also discovered that running with music makes the runs much more enjoyable and somehow seemed to help me press on.

So 35 training runs later, here I am. If I calculated correctly I have run 926 minutes (15 ½ hours) and walked 135 minutes (2 ¼ hours) over the past 9 weeks. And today is the day of the main event- a sponsor run to raise money for a well to provide water for a community in a developing nation. A community who does not have access to clean drinking water. A place where mothers and children have to walk for miles to get to water, which is often contaminated and causes many diseases. With the help of others in this campaign I am hoping this can make a difference in the lives of these people.

For more information, see: http://mycharitywater.org/sandralako

Monday, December 21, 2009

Registered for the 8 km run...

I just registered myself for the 8 km run that is taking place on December 26th. I also saw that the run will be over the dunes, on the beach and on sidewalks and bike paths. This could make it an even more interesting and challenging run! Another challenge could be the weather as we have had snow over the past few days and many roads/paths are now VERY slippery. I'll do my best to run as fast as I can, but it might end up being even slower than my usual pace which is fairly slow already. : )

My goal: to finish. My motivation: raising money for a well for a community in a developing country through my campaign: http://mycharitywater.org/sandralako

Join me. Sponsor my run. Give up a few gifts. Give lots of clean water.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

7 days and counting...

A week from today is the 8 kilometer (5 mile) Christmas run near Vlissingen, that I am planning to take part in as a sponsor run in order to raise money for charity: water.

My training run today was a 40-minute run at a steady pace. For me, steady means consistently slow, but never mind, at least I am managing to complete each of my runs. Today’s run was in Harderwijk, over the snow-covered sidewalks with a chilly temperature of -9 Celsius (or 15F). I was very happy to have my gloves with me this time. After about 15 minutes I had some cramps in my calves, which was likely due to running in the snow. I think I was using my muscles a bit differently during today’s run due to my extreme caution in not wanting to slip. My muscles will recover. I must say, although the actual running is not the easiest in the snow, it definitely was one of the prettiest runs so far. This upcoming week will consist of 4 more runs after which I hope I will be fully prepared for the run on the 26th of December. Ready or not, here I come! And of course, through this sponsor run, I am hoping to make a little bit of a difference in the water crisis.

Please consider partnering with me. It is 6 days until Christmas and 7 days until my run. Join me. Sponsor my run. Give up a few gifts. Give lots of clean water. To contribute please go to: http://mycharitywater.org/sandralako

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Very sick girl in the village...

“There’s a very sick girl in that village. She has an arched back. The family thinks it is witchcraft.”

Those are the words I heard once we were on the bumpy road again after briefly stopping in a village in the east of Sierra Leone, about a thirty-minute drive from Koindu, our final destination. The girl had been sick for two weeks and her family did not want to take her to the hospital. We contemplated turning back, but since we did not have medical supplies with us we continued our journey.

That night, over a plate of rice with potato leaves, I asked one of my national friends why the family is keeping the child at home. An array of reasons was presented to me; lack of money, distance to the hospital, lack of trust in the clinic, belief in witchcraft etc. The next morning, while sitting on the porch, the same friend came by to visit before taking us on a village tour. After an exchange of greetings I again asked about the sick girl. Her condition was the same, she said but she assured me that the family is trusting in God.

I found this statement odd. Witchcraft was said to be the underlying cause, they were trusting God to heal her, yet for the past two weeks the child had only worsened. I was missing any effort on the part of the family. Should everything be left in God’s hands? Why leave a critically ill child in a hut, waiting, when there was clearly something that could be done? Was this my Western mindset or medical background getting in the way? I was frustrated and wanted to do something.

After retrieving my pediatric handbook from my bag I decided we needed to go to the family. I would show them pictures from my book to convince them that their daughter is very sick. But that she likely has a disease that could be cured with medicine. My teammates agreed.

We headed to the village in the land rover, a 6-mile drive on a very rough road; enough time for a million and one thoughts to swirl around in my mind. I could not help thinking that if it were my daughter I would have picked her up and walked to the hospital. I then tried to look at it from their perspective. Sickness and death is embedded in their society. Sierra Leone has one of the highest child mortality rates in the world and a child dying has become part of daily life. Going to a hospital for health care is usually a last resort, hence making hospitals notorious for deaths. This, as well as the high costs involved, keeps people out of hospitals. So, for this family, it was easier to blame the illness on witchcraft than to experience the shame of poverty that would come from asking their neighbors for money.

On arrival I was ushered into a small dark hut and there on a bed of straw, lay the girl, rigid. With her back arched, she was groaning and breathing with difficulty with drops of sweat dripping from her brow. Theresa. Thirteen years old. Sick for two weeks. Started with a headache, a fever and then after a few days she became stiff. A few days ago she stopped talking and walking. It was a textbook case of meningitis or maybe cerebral malaria. Textbook cases generally appeal to doctors but there was nothing appealing about this case. It was tragic.

After discussing back and forth, the parents agreed to take their daughter to the hospital. However, it soon became clear that we would have to drive them, as transport was hard to get. They insisted on going to the Liberian hospital; it was closer and there was said to be a doctor and medication there. I thought that sounded like good reasoning, albeit sad that such could not be found in their own country. There was a little commotion when trying to get everyone in the car and although the child had been in the hut for days, I felt a sense of urgency, partially because the child’s condition was so poor but maybe also because now she was our responsibility. Finally, father, mother, an aunt and a suckling baby joined us in the car and with some difficulty Theresa was laid on one of the seats to rest, with us supporting her so she would not roll off.

The road was long. The fever was raging. Prayers were being said, for Theresa and for grace at the immigration check points. Since we were not expecting to be crossing the border today, we did not have our passports at hand. Only one person had a photocopy. Fortunately that, along with the sight of an extremely ill passenger, was enough for the immigrations officers to wave us through.

Once in Liberia we asked for directions to the hospital. Thankfully it was an excellent hospital with skilled staff, clean rooms, and emergency care. The nurses went swiftly about their business as they cared for Theresa and within minutes a kind doctor entered the room to examine Theresa. He then said one word, which put my mind at ease: “meningitis”. I was pleased to know that Theresa was in competent hands.

After blood tests and administration of drugs the doctor mentioned that he would prefer to treat with another drug, but it was out of stock. On hearing this we headed to the village center in search of penicillin vials. To be honest the ‘pharmacies’ were shacks and looked like places that would sell knock off drugs. However, the ‘pharmacist’ was able to show me the correct medication, still in date, for a very good price. Satisfied with the purchase we hurried back to the hospital so that Theresa could receive her first dose. At that time we also realized we needed to head back to Sierra Leone, to make sure we met the same immigration officers at the border to avoid any trouble. On leaving Theresa behind with her mother, all we could do was hope. I had seen cases like her respond well to treatment, but have also seen the victims die. We prayed.

* * * * * * *

Two days later the news reached us: Theresa had died. Thoughts raced through my mind. Why? I questioned. But despite the excellent care she received, it had been too late. Her body had given up. This was not the desired outcome. But this was reality.

That same morning we were heading back to Freetown, and decided to stop at Theresa’s village to pay our respects. As we approached the compound there was a large gathering of people outside, people who had come to share in the grief of the family. To share in the meal that would be served later in honor of Theresa. I could not help but think that maybe these same people could have helped get Theresa to a hospital earlier in the first place; again, my Western mindset.

After condoling the father he led us into the hut. And there on the floor lay Theresa’s lifeless body, her granny mourning at her side. After paying our respects we chose to pray for the family as they cope with their loss, for comfort and peace and encouragement and that somehow, in the bigger picture, something good will come out of this situation. That somehow their village would be positively affected by this seemingly unjust situation. And then, in that moment of sorrow, I saw something beautiful. I saw Theresa’s body wrapped in a beautiful bright pink cloth, a cloth that to me represented new life.

As we resumed our ten-hour journey back to Freetown we were subdued, pensive. Silently rejoicing in the fact that Theresa was no longer suffering yet deeply stirred by the injustice of the situation; another child gone. How many more would follow? And how could we make a difference?

Copyright 2009 by Sandra Lako

Monday, December 14, 2009


I went for a run this morning and although struggling with the cold weather and my breathing I pushed forward reminding myself I am doing this for a good cause. And while thinking about my campaign with charity: water and the people in Africa I am doing this for, I was struck by some stark contrasts.

While out running I saw many mothers and children strolling leisurely through the park with coats, strollers, mittens and smiles on their faces. In the developing world, it is these same mothers and children who are walking 3 miles to collect clean water. However, they are not doing it for fun, they are doing it to survive.

Another contrast: the weather. It was a very cold and frosty morning and I forgot my gloves. Within minutes my left hand (holding my stopwatch) started cramping up from the cold. I thought of the sun and the tropics. And how in most places in the developing world it is quite the opposite: not cold but hot. But, imagine walking 3 miles in the stifling heat? And with no water to quench your thirst? I quickly tucked my hands into my sleeves and kept running.

Then came a thought about the length of my run. My training today consisted of running 6 minutes, 5 times, with 2 minute walking breaks. Not so hard, but the point is building up speed. So, I think I went a little faster than I should have in the beginning, and was running with some difficulty about half way through the session. Then I thought about walking 3 miles with a bucket of water on my head. I have tried that once, and believe me, it was tough. I felt like my neck was being crushed. I realized that I have it easier running 5 miles than all those people walking for 3 miles in search of water.

Although I forgot my gloves I had all of my running gear on: trousers, running shirt, jacket, stopwatch, headband, running shoes. I was set to go. And as I was thinking about how stupid it was that I forgot my gloves I was thankful for all of the clothes I was wearing. I was picturing women and children on their trek for water, walking barefoot on the red dusty roads. Not only are they walking a great distance, but often with no footwear! I am fortunate.

So, while thinking about all of these contrasts, I could only be thankful for everything I have and for the opportunity to make a small difference in the lives of those who have it so much harder than I do. Can you help me make a difference? Join me in the water campaign: http://mycharitywater.org/sandralako

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Running 4 Water 4 Christmas...

I need your help. It's almost Christmas time. And unfortunately there are many people less fortunate than us. Help me make a difference...

Right now, almost a billion people on the planet do not have access to the most basic thing: safe, clean drinking water. That's one in eight of us. Can you imagine?

Millions of women and children in developing countries walk over three miles every day to collect water. Not only is this hard work and does this keep the children out of school, but sadly, often the only water they have is sitting stagnant in contaminated ponds and flowing through streams and rivers polluted by cows and human waste. It is not a surprise that water-borne disease is rampant, killing 4,500 children alone every single day. And causing millions of adults and children to spend weeks off work or school, impacting their economy and a chance for a better future.

The water crisis is BIG, but there are simple solutions; solutions that we can be a part of. It takes people, it takes a vision, it takes money, it takes an organization, it takes partners and it takes perseverance. I want to be a part of the solution.

What is my contribution to the solution? Well, it is almost Christmas. And as we remember the amazing gift God gave us by sending His Son, we enjoy giving each other gifts as well. Christmas is a time to give. And so this year I want to give to those who are really in need of a gift. I want to sacrifice (as little as it is) the gifts I would otherwise receive and money so that I can give the gift of water.

What does my campaign look like? Well, while the women and children are walking three miles to collect unclean water, I want to run 5 miles (8 km) for them on the 26th of December (sun, rain, hail or snow) as a sponsor run to raise $5,000 for one well for their community, through the organization charity: water. I only started running this past September, so I am not only aiming high with the amount of money but also with the length of the run. Many hours of training and a goal to run for will see me to the finish line.

How can you join in? Of course, I need your help. I am not asking you to give up Christmas gifts altogether. However, seeing as in America alone $450 billion is spent to celebrate this holiday I thought maybe, just maybe, people can tone down their spending on themselves a little and be willing to give more to those in desperate need. I am asking you to give to a greater cause. Give to those who do not have the basic necessity of water. Give life by giving water.


For my campaign go to: http://mycharitywater.org/sandralako

Through charity: water, 100% of the money raised will go directly to the water project in a developing nation. And each project is "proved" using GPS technology and photos and placed on Google Earth, so we will be able to see the impact we have made through this campaign.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Children dying...

6 years 23 days 5 hours 10 minutes and 40 seconds left until 2015. The year in which we hope the Millennium Development Goals will be met. One of those goals is to reduce child mortality by two thirds. Unfortunately for many children, this will be too late. So many children are in dire need of health TODAY.

Earlier this afternoon, I found out that while my friend was on the ferry to Freetown yesterday he was approached by a woman who asked him for money. She said that her three-year-old child was very sick. Not knowing exactly what the mother wanted to do with money, my friend suggested she take the child to a doctor, offering to pay for the transport costs. After all, health care is supposedly free for children under five in Sierra Leone now. However, their encounter was cut short and ended dramatically with the child dying right there on the ferry in front of my friend’s eyes. Tragic.

This story is one of many. In 2007, 9.2 million children died before age five. Half of the world’s under-five deaths occurred in Africa, which remains the most difficult place in the world for a child to survive until age five. Did you know that a child born in a developing country is over 13 times more likely to die within the first five years of life than a child born in an industrialized country?

I am again reminded of the horrific statistics of child mortality around the world. And remembered the Millennium Development Goals. How great it would be if this goal could really be reached in 6 years time. And how much I desire to play some kind of a role in helping these children...

Saturday, November 21, 2009

World Hello Day...

November 21st is World Hello Day.

The objective: to say HELLO to ten people

Background: initiated by McCormacks in 1973 in response to the conflict between Egypt and Israel.

Philosophy: by greeting others, people (including world leaders) should realize that one should use communication rather than force to settle conflicts.

So, go and enjoy world hello day!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Universal Children's Day...

Yeah! It’s Children’s Day. A day set aside to celebrate children and promote their welfare!

In December of 1954 the General Assembly first recommended that all countries institute a Universal Children's Day, to be observed as a day of worldwide fraternity and understanding between children. The chosen date in most countries is the 20th of November. This date marks the day on which the Assembly adopted the Declaration of the Rights of the Child, in 1959, and the Convention of the Rights of the Child, in 1989. (see: http://www.un.org/Depts/dhl/children_day/ for more information)

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child has been signed or ratified by more countries than any other international treaty. The Convention addresses the rights of children and youth under the age of 18. It recognizes their basic human rights and gives them additional rights to protect them from harm. The Convention’s 54 articles cover everything from a child’s right to be free from exploitation, to the right to his or her own opinion and the right to education, health care, and economic opportunity. (See: http://www.unac.org/en/news_events/un_days/children1.asp for more information)

So, take some time today to celebrate children. Unfortunately there are children today who are being trafficked. Children who are dying of preventable diseases. Children fighting in wars. Children who cannot afford to go to school. And children forced into labor. Let us hope for a brighter future for ALL children.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

World Toilet Day...

19 November is World Toilet Day – yes, I know it sounds funny but it is true. World Toilet Day is a day to celebrate the importance of sanitation and raise awareness for the 2.5 billion people (nearly half of the world's population) who don't have access to toilets and proper sanitation.

Here are the staggering facts according to www.worldtoiletday.com

  • 2.5 billion people worldwide are without access to proper sanitation, which risks their health, strips their dignity, and kills 1.8 million people, mostly children, a year.
  • Diarrheal diseases kill five times as many children in the developing world as HIV/AIDS. That's 5,000 children DYING EVERY SINGLE DAY.
  • Not only that, but the disease kills more children than either malaria or AIDS, stunts growth, and forces millions - adults and children alike - to spend weeks at a time off work or school, which hits both a country's economy and its citizens' chances of a better future.
  • Lack of sanitation is the world's biggest cause of infection.
  • One gram of feces can contain 10 million viruses, one million bacteria, 1,000 parasite cysts and 100 parasite eggs.
  • Safe disposal of children's feces leads to a reduction of nearly 40% in childhood diarrhea.

Enough reasons to focus on the importance of proper sanitation…

Monday, November 16, 2009

Devastated father...

There is a man in Freetown who I have known for sometime, since November 2006 to be exact. I’ll call him Kargbo. The day I met him was the day he came to the clinic with a one-month old boy. The child was not his own; it was his brother’s child but due to a severe cleft lip and palate deformity, the child had been disowned by his family. In Sierra Leone children with such deformities are shunned. The mother is blamed and told it is because of things she did during her pregnancy, like stepping over a gutter or going to the river at night, etc. And many believe that the child is bewitched, a ‘devil-child’ as they say. Kargbo, however, was convinced that this was not a devil-child but a ‘mortal man’ like every other child and decided to travel to Freetown with the child to find help.

That is when Kargbo showed up at the clinic with this tiny, hungry little boy. Being single and needing to work to make ends meet, Kargbo could not take in this child. So, not only did he want us to help with this child’s deformity but he also wanted us to take the child in. Thankfully we were in touch with someone working at an orphanage in town and we managed to arrange for the child to be taken in by them later that same day. While sorting out the paper work, we satisfied the little boy’s tummy with some milk, provided him with some clothes and laid him down in a laundry basket to sleep. I was happy to be able to be a witness in handing over this child to the orphanage staff.

Over the new few months I was able to arrange a cleft lip repair for this little boy on the ship. And a year later, around the same time he was adopted by a pastor and his wife, he underwent cleft palate surgery. Kargbo was so happy to hear that the child had been adopted and was thrilled to see pictures of the child after his successful operations.

Two years after after our first meeting, Kargbo again showed up at the clinic with a child. This child was a girl, but had the same defect that the little boy had. And again, had been disowned by her family. Having seen the change in the little boy’s life, Kargbo was determined to take care of this little girl. He wanted to be her daddy and provide her with a home. He took great pride in looking after his daughter and came to the clinic with her for check-ups, bought her the formula she needed, came with her when she was sick, etc. He was excited to hear that we would try to schedule a surgery for her. However, unfortunately, the ship’s plans changed and surgery was not possible in the near future. But Kargbo did not lose hope. He even went to other organizations and expats asking for help- for surgery for his daughter. This did cause some confusion as the little girl ended up on multiple potential surgical lists, but Kargbo meant well.

Prior to leaving Sierra Leone I made sure to see Kargbo and his daughter one last time. This meeting took place mid-June. And although Kargbo had been a bit ill, his daughter was thriving and doing well. She did have a heart murmur, but this had been looked into and was not causing her any trouble. I was hopeful she would do well and be operated on within a year or two.

Just the other day I again received news about this little girl. You see, currently there is a team in Sierra Leone to do cleft repairs and so a contact I have went out to find this little girl (who had also been on his list) to fit her in to the surgery schedule. Unfortunately when he went to Kargbo’s house he was told that the little girl died a week earlier, a week prior to her first birthday. And just a week before hearing she would be able to have surgery. It was heartbreaking to hear this news, another child in Sierra Leone that did not make it. And of course I can only imagine how devastated Kargbo is, his little girl, gone. How I wish I could see him and let him know that he has done so much for this little girl. Yes, she died, and that is terrible but maybe, just maybe, Kargbo would be comforted in knowing that she died knowing she was loved by her father. He gave her something no one else did – love.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Facebook in Africa...

Facebook. What would I have done without it? Well, I suppose for the first 2 years in Sierra Leone I did not even know about facebook but once I discovered it, I was hooked. No, honestly, as much as it can be a time waster, it is definitely an excellent way to stay in touch with friends and family, especially when so far away. One of the fun attributes is of course the status updates, which were sometimes a little out of the ordinary when I lived in Salone…

Sandra Lako…

Is cross checking the dispensary medication control book, 100 tablets of this and 60 tablets of that - 'missing'. My least favorite bit of the job: cross-checking!

Had 2 interviews with national doctors today - 1 went very well, the other was okay. Let's just say that spending 1/4 of your interview on your cell phone does not give a very good impression.

Is ready to start treating children after sorting out some ‘line’ issues with parents outside the gate.

Had a sad start to the week. [One of the patients died while waiting in line outside the gate]

Does not like sneaking out at midnight with a flashlight, cell phone and panic button to explore strange noises on our compound. Don’t we have guards?

Swam in the ocean, lazied around in the lagoon and hiked through the jungle today.

Just got back from an almost 12 hour clinic day- 46 patients today- many very sick ones today!

Loves that we have electricity on a Saturday. How long will it last?

Finally got the red dust washed out of her hair after a road trip upcountry

Just finished making a giant paper Christmas tree to take out to an orphanage tomorrow...

Had a glorious shower- excellent water pressure for a change - I didn't have to kneel down to wash my hair!

Loved talking to her niece for her 4th b-day but was sad when her 1st question was “are you coming for my birthday from Africa too?” & I had to tell her “no”.

Had an exciting day: 65+ patients, 1 snake & a fumigated office due to almost exploding car!!!

Sent a 3 year old weighing 7.9kg to the feeding center today...

Is celebrating Friday with fine dark chocolate with an intense taste of mint

Is upset that a child she referred to children's hospital yesterday died because they couldn't see the doctor cause they did not have money at hand to register!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Starting with those around you...

Today's challenge: how can you make a difference in someone's life?
And I do not necessarily mean in the developing world.
I mean right where you are. today.
All around you there are people in need.
People who feel alone. rejected. hurt. afraid. worn out.
People in need of a hug. a smile. a listening ear.
Those in need of a friend. a family member.
Maybe a box of chocolates. some flowers. or an encouraging note.
Reach out to someone near you today.
And make a difference.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009


H1N1. H1N1. H1N1.
It’s all over the news.
A hot topic.
Is it because of the numbers of people dying as a result?
Is it because it causes a potential global threat?
Or is it because it is a disease causing ‘havoc’ in the West?

I understand, being sick with H1N1 or the ‘normal’ flu is not nice.
I know it causes more work for those taking care of the infected.
Naturally my heart goes out to those who have lost family members.
And yes, I am happy that I have not been affected by it.
But, my life does not revolve around it.
I find myself wondering how it’s captured yet another headline.
Is it the most important disease we’re battling in this world today?

I suppose whether or not it is top priority is a matter of perspective.
Is your perspective from one of the countries in the top of the human development index?
A country where you are not faced with death on your doorstep everyday?
A place in which political gain is so important you must continue debating over such issues?
Or are you from a country at the bottom of the list?
A place where other issues are much more demanding?
Issues like malaria and the need for basic childhood vaccinations.

Every 30 seconds, malaria takes the life of another child.
Yearly it brings death to 1 million people.
A disease that is preventable and curable yet takes the toll of so many.
What are politicians doing about this?
And what about the 1.02 billion malnourished people in the world?
10 million people dying of hunger and hunger-related diseases.
But who cares?

In the West we are quick to find solutions to our own problems.
Some use these problems for political gain, world power and fame.
But what about the problems in the developing world?
Do they not matter?
What about the people born into a world of poverty?
People without a voice in this world.
Where is the justice?

If their issues would enter ‘our world’ we would be quick to act.
Every bed would have a mosquito net.
Every fever would be properly checked out.
Access to doctors and drugs would be scaled up.
After all, wasn’t malaria once an issue in the West?
Yes, it is their problem and they need to step up to the plate too.
But couldn’t we be doing more to assist them.

I am not trying to say that no attention should be paid to H1N1.
It does have the potential to become a bigger problem.
It is real and maybe vaccines will help prevent further spread.
But the much bigger problems are out there too.
And I want to see more of that in the headlines.
I want our world leaders to look seriously at the impact they can have in the developing world.
What I want is social justice.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

World Food Week...

World Food Day is held on 16 October each year, remembering the day in 1945 when the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) was set up. The day is used throughout the world to raise awareness about those living in hunger all over the world.

With an estimated increase of 105 million hungry people in 2009, there are now 1.02 billion malnourished people in the world, meaning that almost one sixth of all humanity is suffering from hunger.

The first Millenium Development Goal is to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger by 2015. That means halving the proportion of people who suffer from hunger over a 25 year period. With only 6 years to go, the figures are still astonishing.

  • 10 million people still die every year of hunger and hunger-related diseases.
  • According to the UN, rising food prices may push 100 million people deeper into poverty.
  • And although fewer children below five are undernourished, malnutrition still accounts for about one third of childhood deaths in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Let us reflect on these numbers and the suffering behind them. The FAO states that they have the know-how to do something about hunger and the ability to find money to solve problems when considered important. Let’s make sure this recognized as a big problem. There is a World Summit on Food Security proposed by FAO for November. Let’s hope that our world leaders come up with good solutions. And in the meantime, let’s do what we can…

“There is enough food grown in the world for everyone. And yet we remain stuck in a food crisis. Half the world’s food is lost as waste and a billion people – one in every six of the world’s poorest – cannot access enough of the other half and so go hungry every day.” – Oxfam

Monday, October 19, 2009

Psalm 23...

Lord, you are my shepherd. I have everything I need.
You let me rest in green meadows, you lead me beside quiet streams.
You give me new strength everyday.
You guide me in the right direction, bringing honor to Your name.
Even when I walk through the darkest valley I will not be afraid because You are with me.
Your rod and your staff make me feel safe and secure.
You prepare a meal for me right in front of my enemies.
You welcome me as a guest, anointing my head with oil.
I am overflowing with blessing.
I know that your goodness and love will pursue me every day of my life.
And I will live in Your house forever.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

The doctor is out...

This morning I went to the doctor’s office.
As I entered, the assistant informed me that the doctor was not in.
He was called out to an emergency.
He would be back soon, but would be running behind schedule.
I was told there were 3 people waiting before me.
My response: “no problem”.

As I sat there it was interesting to hear other responses.
One lady looked at it from the view point of being the one in urgent need.
And said she would be thankful too if the doctor would attend to her right away.
Another lady was in a hurry and could not wait.
She would make a new appointment.
Someone else grumbled a bit before sitting down.

My thoughts drifted to Sierra Leone.
There, people are thrilled if they can get to a doctor’s office.
In Holland we take easy access to medical care for granted.
Everyone has a family practitioner they can go to.
It’s only a matter of calling up and making an appointment.
And even today, with the ‘extra long wait’ I was only there for an hour total.

If only people knew what it was like in Sierra Leone.
A country with 168 physicians for a population of 6 million.
Compared to Holland with 60,519 physicians for a population of 16 million.
Fathers and mothers lined up in front of clinic gates by 5 in the morning.
Waiting rooms full by 8 am with 50+ children sitting around till late in the day.
Families who get sent away without help due to lack of resources/staff.

As I sat there thinking, I realized how privileged I am.
And hoped that others too, would realize how fortunate they are.
Fortunate to have access to health care, education, water, and so much more.
It’s true, we cannot choose where we are born; in wealth or poverty.
But we can choose how we live in this world.
Let us choose to be satisfied and reach out to those less fortunate than ourselves.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Fistula Centre...

Watch to see the life-changing surgery that women like Yeabu experience at the Aberdeen West African Fistula Centre in Freetown, Sierra Leone. Thousands of women in the world suffer from obstetric fistula. Sadly prolonged labor usually ends in the birth of a stillborn baby but too often the woman is also left with a fistula, usually a hole between vagina and bladder causing them to leak urine continuously. The centre in Freetown provides free surgeries for these women. The outpatient clinic for children where I worked is co-located in the same center. When the women were fortunate to have live babies, I would be the one to make sure their babies are healthy, during the mother's admission on the ward. Needless to say the little babies brought much joy with them. And although the women were sad and depressed when arriving at the center, most left with tears of joy as they headed back towards their villages to start a new life. I would like to credit Jenny Chu as filmmaker.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Video of Mercy Ship's Outpatient Clinic for Children...

Video by Linda May Kallestein 2008

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Dire state of healthcare services...

Another interesting read about healthcare in Sierra Leone. And the pregnant lady who lost her baby due to lack of transportation to get to a hospital lives just outside of Freetown, the capital city of Sierra Leone. Imagine what life is like for people upcountry.

"The recently-built health centre in the Sierra Leonean village of Charlotte was shuttered. Inside were lamps without bulbs, infant scales that had not weighed any babies, an unused baby cot, boxes of surgical plaster, unopened bottles of formaldehyde, and rows of beds without mattresses...

Aminata Conteh was pregnant in January 2008. When she went into labour her pains persisted and the local traditional birth attendant was unable to treat her problem. With no other transportation, neighbours placed her in a wheelbarrow and pushed her 9km to the closest health centre in the neighbouring village of Regent. She lost the baby. "This is what happens to most of our sick people. Especially those who fall severely sick in the night - look at the road", said village leader Conteh, pointing at a dusty rocky dirt path, "How can you carry someone in the middle of the night along this road?"

~ Act Justly. Love Mercy. Walk Humbly. micah 6:8 ~