Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Bringing Clean Water to Guatemala

"But whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life." -John 4:14

Dear Friends,

Greetings from the San Francisco Bay Area! As you may already know, a lot has happened in the last year or so. Last summer, Matthew and I went to Cambodia for two weeks to volunteer with Agape International Missions by serving children who have been trafficked for sex or who are vulnerable to trafficking. It was a very meaningful trip that opened our eyes to the horrors of child sex trafficking and that further confirmed our calling to serve abroad for a more extended period in a couple of years. On a slightly different note, I also recently found out that I was accepted into the Masters of Public Health program at UC Berkeley, so I will be leaving my job at Aetna and starting a two-year program in health and social behavior this coming fall. I am hoping that God will use this time to prepare me for a career change that enables me to exercise my passion for health justice.

On the theme of health justice, one of the major global health crises of our day is that 783 million people lack access to safe drinking water. Many of these individuals are part of the billion people on our planet who live on less than a dollar a day. Communities without a reliable source of clean drinking water are often plagued by water-related diseases or parasites, and some people risk their safety to travel miles every day to gather water from the nearest source.

I recently learned of an opportunity to bring clean water to one such community, and this is the main purpose of my letter today. One of my friends was awarded a volunteer grant by his tech company, which pays for him and one other individual to go on a well-drilling trip to Guatemala. The only catch was that he needed to assemble the rest of his drilling team quickly! As Matthew and I were reflecting on whether another missions trip was in the cards for this summer, God placed this need directly in our laps. Matthew will unfortunately be out of town on another trip that week, but we decided it would still be a great opportunity for me to go and serve the Guatemalan community alongside our friends.

So in less than two months, May 18-25, I will be headed to Guatemala with Living Water International! This is an organization that seeks to demonstrate God’s love by implementing participatory, community-based water solutions in developing countries. They recognize that meeting physical needs is an important testament to the true “living water”—the gospel of Jesus Christ—which alone satisfies the soul’s deepest thirst.

In order to attend this trip, I need to assemble a team of people committed to praying for me before, during, and after my time in Guatemala. In addition, I need to raise approximately $1900 to cover the participation cost. Due to the short timeline between when God provided this opportunity and the date on which the full cost of the trip is due, I am left with about two weeks to raise full funding. I am trusting that God will provide! I would be honored if you would consider partnering with me on this mission to bring clean water and the love of Christ to those in need.

Would you be willing to join my prayer team and/or to support this mission trip financially? Donations are tax deductible, and any amount you are able to contribute is significant in helping to reach my fundraising goal. You can make donations via credit card by calling our Living Water International trip coordinator, Sarah Evans, at (281) 207-7814, or by mailing a check with the remittance form at this link to Living Water International (address listed at the bottom of the remittance form). All donations must be received by Living Water International no later than April 15. If you would like to join my prayer team, please comment below or contact me directly.

Please do not hesitate to contact me with any questions you may have. I look forward to hearing from you soon!

Kristen Campbell

Update: For those on my prayer team - my prayer requests right now are for the Lord to provide spiritually and financially by raising up a team to support the trip. The other major request I have is for my neck. I have been experiencing a lot of pain in the last couple of years and have (finally) started physical therapy recently. Please pray for healing, strength, and also to stay safe on the trip, especially because there will be manual labor involved, and I need to plan for it to protect myself from further injury. There may be opportunities for me to take some breaks from manual labor by conducting hygiene lessons in the community (as the organization usually does this at some points anyway). Please pray for God's protection over my neck/back and for Him to be watching over all of the logistics of the schedule to create the best environment for that. Thanks!

Monday, March 18, 2013

Obstetric Fistula: What Can I Do?

A while ago, I wrote a post about obstetric fistula. For those who do not know already, obstetric fistula is a hole between the vagina and bladder or between the vagina and rectum, which can be one of the most tragic and humiliating effects of obstructed labor. (I highly recommend reading my older post that includes moving personal stories of fistula, if you have not already.) This is one of the most heart-wrenching issues I have ever encountered, and it has been on my mind throughout the last year. I have been looking for ways to get the word out about fistula to those who are not already aware.

Along those lines, I am very excited to report that last week, I helped to organize a "lunch and learn" presentation at my workplace. About a dozen people attended the event (out of ~70 employees in the office), received a free hot lunch (homemade by myself and other wonderful women of our office volunteer committee), and listened to a presentation about fistula. The attendees asked a lot of great questions, and many seemed interested in getting involved or spreading the word themselves. If nothing else, I am so excited to know that this important global health issue has gained even a fraction of greater visibility, with this handful of newly educated individuals.

This is the type of event that you can organize to touch your own places of influence, be that your office, church, friend group, family, professional organization, or another circle of people you know.

Other ideas to help women with fistula:

  • Purchase Mothers' Day gifts that support women with fistula.
  • Play this facebook game to earn points that Johnson & Johnson will convert into an actual cash donation.
  • Donate to an organization helping women with fistula, such as the Fistula Foundation.
  • Give the book "Half the Sky" to friends for special occasions.
  • Screen a fistula documentary for friends and family at your home, church, office, or other location.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Ultimate Treadmill Fails

Ok, so I know it is sort of messed up that we humans can find it funny to watch videos of people getting hurt. But laughing is good for your health, and I can't help but say that this compilation of "The Ultimate Treadmill Fails" is pretty much hilarious. Some of these workout catastrophes do look plain old painful (and not so funny). Others look like bad ideas gone wrong, or perhaps it would be more accurate to say bad ideas gone even worse than planned. But in my opinion, the clip 50 seconds in makes the whole thing worth watching. I laughed out loud, both the first time I saw it and when re-watching it. So go ahead and treat yourself to a good laugh!

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Neck Pain, Trapezius Hypertrophy, and Ergonomic Adventures

Today, I wanted to share a little tidbit of what I have been learning in physical therapy. Between surviving the rigors of late-night paper-writing back in college, attempting to exercise in various ways (like African Dance), and getting in a car accident on the freeway a couple years ago, I have had all sorts of neck pain for the last several years. Thankfully, I finally got my butt to a doctor a few weeks ago, in large part due to the encouragement of my wonderful and persistent friends and husband. (Seriously, after a lovely lunch date, one of my concerned friends suggested she not leave my house until I had called the doctor in front of her. And it worked!) Now, I am working on the getting better part!

One of the most interesting things I have learned is that my upper trapezius muscles are hypertrophied. In normal-person speak, this means that those big muscles that connect my shoulders to my neck - the ones I use to shrug - are being over-worked and over-firmed. Hence the reason my neck feels like a rock all the time. I find this cool, because it means I have at least one strong muscle in my body! Win! (Unfortunately for me, I actually need to make this muscle smaller.) As it turns out, some of the hypertrophy may be due to injury, but working on a computer all day can contribute to the problem significantly and/or prevent it from healing. And according to my physical therapist, this is a common occurrence for those of us with desk jobs.
Image source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Musculi_coli_base.svg

So what does the computer have to do with a person's neck muscles? As it turns out, the positioning of each item in your workstation setup can make a major difference!

For example, when the keyboard or mouse is too high, you will have a tendency to raise your shoulders in order to use them. The keyboard and mouse should be at a level that allows your arms to stay down and your elbows to bend at approximately a ninety-degree angle. This is typically accomplished with the use of a keyboard tray; having the keyboard or mouse up on your desk surface is generally not recommended. 

Image source: http://www.ergostoreonline.com/how-to-
Additionally, if the computer screen is too low (as often is the case with a laptop placed on a desk surface), you may strain your muscles looking down all day. If the screen is too high, you may cantilever your neck out as you look up to read. My physical therapist recommends having the top of the computer screen at eye-brow level, so that you are looking straight to read the top line of text or very slightly down to read the rest of the screen. Most monitors can be adjusted to fit the right height, or if a laptop is your only option, consider getting a stand to raise it to the right eye level.

Similarly, if the arm rests of your chair are too high, they can force your neck muscles into that upward shrugging position, or if they are too low, you may have a tendency to lean against one arm (again resulting in a shrugging neck position on one side, which uses those trapezius muscles). Next thing you know, you will end up in hypertrophied trapezius land with me!

If you have neck or back pain, you should of course consult your doctor. He or she may recommend various tests, exercises, therapies, or medications to meet your specific needs. However, I can guarantee that if you work with computers with any regularity, your doctor will also tell you to fix your setup as part of the healing process. At the very least, there is no harm to be done in making sure your work station is ergonomic. Your employer may have ergonomic consultants already available to assist you, or you can read more about what makes a workstation ergonomic online!

Image source: http://coachvilaca.blogspot.com/
And remember to be conscious of keeping those upper trapezius muscles down and relaxed! Even the best setup will not necessarily help if you continue to lean forward in your chair, place your elbows on your desk, hunch your back, or keep up all of those other pesky sitting habits that I am working so hard to kick!

I hope to have good news about my neck pain after correcting my computer setup and working hard on my other back/core muscles in physical therapy for the next few weeks. I am thankful that I am getting back on the right track with my new ergonomic positioning. Best of luck to all in your own ergonomic adventures, and feel free to share any tips you have learned!

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Cyber Bullying: Beyond the Edges of the Computer Screen

I mentioned cyber bullying briefly in my last post on teen dating violence. Coincidentally, I have seen a number of articles on bullying since then, so I want to add my thoughts with a bit more depth to the bullying conversation.

One of the particularly challenging aspects of bullying today is cyber-bullying, in part because it was not even around when many of the parents of today attended school. For the sake of this discussion, I will more broadly define cyber bullying as harassment or humiliation involving the use of modern technologies, such as cell phones (including text messages, photos, or phone calls) or computers (including email, websites, or social media).

In particular, I want to address one of the main themes I have seen in the comments after the bullying articles I have read lately. Many adults have responded to this outcry against bullying with comments about America "going soft." These posters say things like, "students need to hit bullies back," and simply "shut off the computer." One poster, who called himself or herself "Pork Earmarks" went so far as to respond to someone's personal testimony about cyber bullying by saying, "You can't be cyberbullied. Period." This skeptical individual continued to explain that comments made on facebook are not worth anything, because they are not verbal and may not even be sent directly to the individual being insulted; therefore, in this person's opinion, they are not part of "real life."

Image source: http://cyberbullying.us/2007_charts/cyberbullying_how_victims_felt_2007.JPG

There are so many things that immediately jump out at me when I read comments like this. Here are a few:
  • The first is that I believe responses like this one are most likely to be made by those who did not grow up with the pervasive influence of technology in their childhoods and who do not understand how far-reaching its effects can be. A lot has changed in the last twenty years. The online world becomes increasingly intertwined with "the real world" with every day that passes. As you may know from previous posts, I do advocate for keeping oneself away from sites that trigger negativity (and I practice this personally). But when it comes to bullying, many individuals, both child and adult, who have experienced cyber-harassment will know that simply turning off the machine will not fix everything. This can be true even if the bully is a complete stranger and may be even more true if the cyber bully is a person also known personally outside of the cyber experience.
  • Secondly, comments like the one above perpetuate the myth that verbal and emotional abuse are not truly hurtful. This person erroneously assumes that because someone is not being physically assaulted, there is no damage done. Remarks made in writing or online, as well as those delivered in person, can cut to the heart emotionally, elicit genuine fear in the victim, and leave a lasting psychological imprint. Get with the times and acknowledge that verbal abuse is real abuse.
  • Thirdly, for those who advocate physical retaliation against bullies, even though I am not a proponent of violence, I am not going to say that there is categorically no instance where that can work. But at the very least, I can name many situations where it is not effective. First of all, if the identity of the online harasser is unknown, there is no one to attack. Furthermore, bullies often prey on those who they perceive as weaker and therefore unable to fight back (or they may work in packs). Additionally, even if further cyber activity is halted by punching a bully in the school hallways, the genius of the internet is that once something is put out there, it usually cannot be taken back. If an embarrassing photo is circulating the internet, for example, even if the original photo is taken down, copies of that image can continue multiplying through cyberspace and are nearly impossible to track and remove. Once the damage is done, it can continue indefinitely. Furthermore, as stated in point two, physically assaulting a bully to prevent future attacks does not remove the ongoing psychological effects of past verbal abuse or rumors circulating the school.
  • Additionally, the social experiences of children and teens are extremely important and formative, and young brains are simply not wired to handle pressures the same way as adult brains. Asking a twelve year old to respond to bullying as if their sense of self was as developed as that of a forty-two year old simply does not make sense or align with the real experiences of that child.
  • Beyond that, even adults handle social challenges in a variety of ways, depending on personality and life experience. I know that I personally would love to shrug off every naysayer I meet, and I have worked hard to develop a thicker skin over the years, but even so, I have had tremendously damaging and emotional interactions with people who took hurtful comments too far (both in person and through email). In general, I think that suggesting every single person should be able to "ignore" harassment in the same way one person does shows a profound lack of empathy for those who experience the world differently than the individual prescribing this course of action.
Image source: http://cyberbullying.us/2010_charts/cyberbullying_gender_2010.jpg

Image source: http://cyberbullying.us/2007_charts/cyberbullying_gender_victimization_2007.JPG

Even as an adult, I notice that I encounter negative and what I would call "bullying" remarks in the comment threads of reputable news organizations on a near daily basis. This tells me that bullying behavior is a pervasive part of our online culture. Luckily, I have a more mature hold on my feelings and greater security in my relationships than I did when I was 14, and perhaps more importantly, I don't have to go to school the next day with the posters of these insulting remarks. But especially for children and teens who have to face their online tormentors in person, the bullying doesn't stop at the edge of the computer screen.

I remember in high school (ten+ years ago), one of my best friends received an email containing song lyrics from another girl, with really mean words and phrases highlighted in bold. Sure, my friend was able to delete the email, but those words were etched in her mind, and she still had to see the sender every day in class and on her sports team. I also dated an extremely nice guy who was called a "fag" on internet message boards by "popular" people he barely knew. Of course, he was confident that his friends all loved him, and he generally did not have to hang out with the jerks around school, but it was still emotionally hurtful and personally shocking to know that those messages were being broadcast about him. I myself was the subject of speculation about my sexual experiences as a freshman in high school, because, as one person put it, "What else would you be doing when you go to someone's house after school?" I was also criticized behind my back for being open about my Christian faith throughout high school. Sure, those things didn't change the reality of who I was or what I did, but they still hurt. And truth be told, my twelve year old self probably made some comments through AOL instant messenger that were more hurtful than I ever would have said in person.

As prevalent as these behaviors were when the internet was just gaining popularity in my teen years, unfortunately, these types of experiences are becoming even more common today. My family got our first home computer when I was in middle school; flip phones were the new cool thing to get when I started driving as a teenager (yep, my first cell phone at 16); and facebook only came out during my senior year of high school and required a college email address to join at that time. Students today have smart phones, internet access, social media profiles, etc. available to them nearly all the time and from a very young age. Even if your child doesn't have those things, chances are, a number of their peers do. The below chart of teen technology usage is based on a 2010 study of over 4000 teenagers in the southern United States. A 2011 Pew Research study showed that 95% of teenagers use the internet and a full 80% of those online participated in social media sites. These numbers continue to rise rapidly, as has the switch in the last two years from standard cell phones to smart phones, which provide 24/7 internet access (with more than half of cell phones in the U.S. being smart phones as of May 2012). All that is to say, these 2010 numbers are a good guide post and show the prevalent use of technology among teens, but keep in mind that almost all of the below values are undoubtedly markedly higher today in 2013.

Image source: http://www.cyberbullying.us/2010_charts/teen_tech_use_2010.jpg
In many of the articles I have seen this week, students tell stories of other students creating fake profile pages on social media sites, where they use the pages to spread lies or make malicious comments. This is a completely new form of bullying that very few parents today would have experienced. In these instances, the victim does not even have to be involved with an online presence at all, yet rumors and negativity can follow the student to school in ways beyond their control. Telling the victim of this type of bullying to simply "keep away from the computer" is like telling your child to just "cover their ears" when a bully is insulting them in person. Sure, the sound will be a lot quieter, but it doesn't change the child's internal knowledge that someone is hurling insults his or her way and that other peers are well aware of what is being said.

Image source: http://www.callnerds.com/what-is-cyber-bullying/

As you can see from the above charts, studies differ on the exact frequency of cyber bullying experiences. Yet all paint the picture that cyber bullying is all too common. The growth of cyber bullying has added many new layers to the childhood social experience, enabling attackers to spread gossip, inappropriate pictures, and threats to a much wider audience than in past. Cyber bullying can also help attackers maintain a level of anonymity not previously available, and even when not anonymous, technology can provide a certain "distance" from the comments being made (since the bully doesn't have to directly confront the victim to his or her face.) The psychological scars of cyber harassment are just as real as those that come from being slammed against a locker, and I am truly alarmed by the lack of understanding around the effects of verbal/emotional abuse in our culture.

Let's start a conversation about bullying where we come to the table acknowledging that our childhood experiences were different than those of children today. Let's listen and show empathy for the experiences of those who have been victimized and those who have bullied others (often the same children). Then we may have a real chance at understanding what cyber bullying is doing in our schools today.

For more information on teen internet usage, check out the Pew Research Center. For more information on cyber bullying, visit the websites of the Cyber Bullying Research Center or STOP Cyberbullying.