Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Headlamps have arrived in Zambia!

To all the incredible people supporting HLH-Zambia,

I apologize for the delay in updating all of you on the project. However, many interesting developments have taken place since I first asked for your support on this endeavor. First of all, through your efforts and connections I raised nearly $3,000, far exceeding my initial hopes when I sent out the email. Second, the founder of One Degree Solar came across my blog (and plea) and became very interested in supporting the headlamp mission. Turns out I had also pirated his idea, since he had already developed and patented a real 'Headlamp for Health' after working for several years in Liberia. (I knew I should have gone with 'Headlamps for Hemorrhaging'....) Fortunately, he was very excited about the project and more than willing to help. With his engineering background, he developed a headlamp that was more effective for medical purposes and piloted the solar headlamp in rural health care centers in Liberia. He is currently working with several ministries of health in Africa, bringing solar headlamps and panels to many rural health centers. And now Zambia has been added to the list! I tried out the headlamp for a week, asking all friends to come to me with the medical needs in the middle of the night....and after many band-aid applications, I decided it was the best headlamp for the job :) And because of your efforts and generous contributions, I have sent 46 Solar Headlamp for Health kits to rural health centers in Zambia, plus a number of additional solar headlamps that were donated over the past few months from many of you! Here is a link to the news update on the One Degree Solar website: http://www.onedegreesolar.com/blogs/news

Many thanks from both me and all the Zambians whose lives you have (and will) touched through your generosity.

Have a wonderful summer and think of all the women delivering by the light of headlamp when you take your own headlamp on camping trips in the next few months.

All the best,

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Headlamps for Health! Update...

It has been just one day since I first asked for help in raising money to purchase 20 headlamps to send to rural health centers in Zambia. I have had an overwhelming response and want to thank all of you for your support! I am so lucky to have so many wonderful family and friends, as well as many new people who contributed after receiving the email through mutual contacts.

My initial goal was to raise enough money to purchase one headlamp for each health center. We have met this goal and now I am hoping to raise enough money to send a headlamp to each health care provider that participated on the pilot project. This was my original goal, but I thought it was too ambitious. But as the last 24 hours has indicated -- the original goal was not ambitious at all!

Thank you again and keep spreading the word!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Headlamps for Health!

While in Zambia this summer, I gave away my clothes, shoes, digital camera – basically everything I had brought with me. But the most coveted possession I shared was my headlamp. Spending countless nights in villages with no electricity, the headlamp did more than save me from stepping on snakes in the middle of the night…

Sleeping on the floors of health centers gave me the rare opportunity to see the struggles of the work at hand. Returning after dark one night to the health center, I found a nurse holding a candle in her mouth as she hurriedly flipped through the pages of a medical book. She was trying to figure out what to do for the woman lying on a cot at her side. The wax was dripping on the pages and the flame nearly extinguished every time she breathed. I grabbed the candle and placed my lamp on her head. She turned to me in amazement… and I blinked back at her with constricted pupils – she was unaware that this crazy contraption on her head was blinding me as she stared at me with a huge grin from ear to ear. Needless to say, this story is not unique – except for the part about the musungu blinded by the light in a remote Zambian village. Countless women deliver in the dark or by the dim light of a candle in almost all of the health facilities I visited. If you read my blog over the summer, you might remember some of the challenges of childbirth in rural Zambia that I highlighted – and without light, these complications can go unnoticed. Most of the health centers are greatly understaffed, which makes the headlamp even more ideal, as it keeps both of the providers' hands free to deliver babies and save babies' mamas.

Recognizing the value of a simple headlamp, I committed myself to getting one for each of the health care providers I had the privilege to work alongside while in Zambia. Easier said than done. I have spent the last three months writing and calling companies in hope of securing a donation of solar power headlamps. And not too long ago, I received the last ‘sorry we would love to help you…but we can only support projects in alignment with our mission, like helping women become more active outdoors – you know, hiking and camping’. I laughed the first time I heard this response. My attempts at explaining how the women I met hike to the water pump or how village life is sort of like camping have not impressed folks to action. But lo’ and behold, the last corporate response included a personal note that my story was very moving (not moving enough for them to help), but maybe enough to pull on your heartstrings this holiday season…

And since it is the season for giving, perhaps you would like to give the gift of the light – in the form of solar power or windup headlamp (batteries are very hard to come by in rural Zambia) J I am not much of a fundraiser – as noted by the previous paragraph – and I don’t like asking people to donate to my causes. However, this one is more near and dear to me than most – and I control how the money is spent (only on headlamps – you have my word!). My current goal is to raise $500, which would cover the cost of around 20 headlamps – or one per health center.

How can you help? Donate just a few dollars (right corner) – the equivalent of that beer you were going to buy me the next time you saw me. A team from Venture Strategies (organization I worked for over summer) will be heading back to Zambia in late February and I hope to send at least 20 headlamps with them.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

NYT 'Half the Sky'

NYT "Half the Sky' Contest

“If you educate a girl, you educate a nation”, I read on the front of a school as we made our way out of the rural village in Zambia. I remember laughing at the irony. You see, I was well into my second month of traveling from one rural village to the next, assisting in the implementation of a maternal health program aimed at reducing maternal death from postpartum hemorrhaging with the simple drug misoprostol. I had met countless women since arriving in Zambia - incredible, courageous, intelligent women. But not educated.

At first they were too young to safely walk the long distances to school. Then they were too old to not be married. Somewhere along the way, the possibility for these girls to be something more than a mother was...just...forgotten. So there I was, deep into the Zambian bush, trying to safeguard the one thing they could hold onto - motherhood - using education as my only tool.

I will probably never view pregnancy and childbirth quite the same either. In the US, pregnant women ‘glow.’ They go to the doctor for regular checkups and pack a bag to prepare for the delivery - all well before the due date. In most of the rural areas I worked in, it is very surprising to see any woman above the age of 17 without a protruding belly and another child strapped on her back; no one asks these women how far along they were or if it was a girl or boy. If these women packed a bag, they were packing soap, clean cloths, and an umbilical clamp because these things are not provided by the health facility (however, most women don't get to pack bags at all. It is estimated that 50-75% of women in the rural communities don't even make it to a health facility. They give birth on a dirt floor, perhaps with someone to help if they are lucky).

Postpartum hemorrhaging (PPH) attributes to over one third of maternal deaths - a striking fact since PPH is such a basic complication of childbirth that it's practically unheard of in our world. The deciding factor? A drug called misoprostol that can be easily taken orally immediately after the birth to prevent PPH. For women delivering at home, having the equivalent of aspirin tablet in misoprostol is a life-saving factor.

My last site visit this summer was the weekly antenatal (pre-birth) clinic at the health center. Nearly thirty women were waiting to meet with Sister Hilda, the only trained provider, and I was told this was a "light" day. On average, Hilda will counsel 50 women a week. Now, thanks to the efforts of groups like Venture Strategies, misoprostol education is included in the antenatal sessions. Simply handing out tablets without the education would be pointless. Now, after their individual appointments and screenings, women are given the choice of taking Misoprostol home with them. An overwhelming number agree to do so, tucking the packet into the corner of their chitenge as they leave the facility.

As we seek to empower "half the sky," it's important to remember that it comes in many forms, and always starts with education itself.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Last day...

Out of breath and sweating in the waiting area for South Africa Airways at Lusaka International Airport, I thought about how my subconscious defense mechanism against teary-eyed goodbyes is packing and leaving for the airport at the last possible minute. This way – I am so overwhelmingly stressed about missing my flight that I do not realize I am actually leaving.

In the case of departing from Zambia, I decided that I needed to leave for the airport at 11am, which to me meant putting off packing until the morning of. After a couple of glasses of wine with friends the night before, I had a later start than expected the following morning. Then I quickly learned the 9 hand-woven baskets I bought were not going to fit in my carry-on bag and I needed to get something to transport them in. I decided I would run to the market and get one of the plastic carriers that all the Zambians use. Most of them are decorated with Winnie-the-Pooh or Disney characters. However, I did see one with the Zambian flag on a previous visit and was hoping to find that one. Although, the thought of showing up in Boston, with a huge pink bag with Winnie-the-Pooh painted across the front was also appealing.

The usual fan club cheered me on as passed them running to Kamwala. Several stall owners were very willing to help me find the Zambia bag as I reached the market. However, I was down to my last kwachas and refused to pay more than 10 pin ($2) for the bag. Musungu price is always quite a big higher – especially for something that could be considered a souvenir. My helpers were quickly able to find a bag, but would not go lower than 20 pin and claimed no one would. I turned down the offer and was about to go buy Pooh, which was selling for 6 pin, when I decided that I might be able to negotiate better if I tried on my own. I ditched my helpers and took off, weaving through the many aisles of the market. I found the bag and used my hard-earned skills after three months in Zam to negotiate the right price . As I sprinted out of the market, now running quite late, I shouted to the helpers, “I got it for ten pin…hahahaha”. They shook their heads and laughed. I could hear murmurs of ‘what did she say’ and then someone mimicking my response, even down to the accent.

The next hour was a whirlwind of making cds for the staff people at the backpackers, shoving what I could into my backpack and giving away the rest. I may have learned to negotiate in the last three months, but I still had learned African time. My friends were due to pick me up at 11am and of course did not show up until 11:30. How could I have forgotten that you have to tell someone to be there at least a half hour before you need to leave, if you want to leave on time? Then we stopped at the bank and for gas. As we entered the midday traffic, I was in total panic mode. I heard, “Stop chewing your nails off” from the back seat and turned to see my friend sipping on a warm beer, probably left from the night before, and smiling, not a care in the world.

When I arrived at airport, I needed to drop off my camera at the Proflight office. I was giving the camera to my friend in Mfuwe and needed to send it through a flight attendant he knew. The airport was very confusing and I left my bags near the security area, as I could run around in search of the office. I found the office, stuffed the camera in an envelope and then was off again. But by the time I returned to my bags, there were three security guards staring at them. “They are mine….they are mine”, I shouted as I ran towards them. The one guard replied, “Madam you cannot leave your luggage alone”. I smiled and said, “Oh I am sorry, I didn’t know that”, the whole time thinking about the States and the constant code orange warnings that are announced every 15 minutes in the airport.

After making it through security and immigration, I was able to make all the last minute phone calls to say goodbye. I was feeling very proud that I survived without crying. Just as we were boarding, a final text message came through from a coordinator that I spent a week driving from clinic to clinic on the worst roads in Zambia… ‘I will miss you my daughter. Safe journey’. And suddenly, I was no longer so brave.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Gift from MOHZ

They remembered how much I loved the falls!

Colleagues at MOHZ

Going away party