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...

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