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.


  1. Hi Karen-
    Thanks for sharing your experiences in Zambia. I really enjoyed reading your post. I have a blog that tracks media coverage of progress toward MDG5 ( and I will post something/link to your headlamp cause. Maybe you would like to post a guest blog at some point about your experiences working on maternal health issues in Zambia.

    I would like to challenge you though on the last line of the post. Shouldn't we (those working on issues of maternal health) demand that women's lives are worth saving for the sake of saving womens lives and not offer the option of caring only because of the babies involved (whose lives are certainly worth saving too)? We know that it is true that infants have better outcomes when their moms survive--but I truly believe that until we can convince society that women themselves are worth saving---we won't see a true policy shift /true progress toward Millennium Development Goal 5.

    Again, thanks for posting. It sounds like you have been doing some really amazing work in Zambia. I plan to contribute to your headlamp fundraiser! And, please let me know if you would like to post a guest blog on my site.

    Kate Mitchell

  2. Dear Kate,

    Thank you so much for your comments. I am going to take a look at your blog and would definitely be interested in contributing in the future. I absolutely agree with you about making women and mothers a priority -- especially as their survival relates to that of their children.

    The blog posting was actually copied from an email I sent out to friends and family. The final line was included more as a joke because I get grief about caring only for 'babies' mamas' and because so many people are suckers for babies.

    I look forward to being in touch!



  3. Hi Karen!
    Thanks so much for your reply. And, congrats on the success of the Headlamps for Health campaign.

    I wanted to let you know that I linked to your blog from mine:

    Keep in touch and let me know when/if you would like to post a guest blog. I look forward to it! Take care:)