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10th anniversary Sara Walker Fun Run to be held Sept. 22

The Sara Walker Foundation's annual 5K and 2K runs will celebrate unprecedented advances for the Blessings Hospital in Malawi thanks to the foundation and Lipscomb.

Janel Shoun-Smith | 615.966.7078  | 

Basketball Team in Malawi

The members of the women's basketball team are just one of five Lipscomb groups who have served the people of Malawi thanks to funds raised at the annual 5K run.

The Nashvillle-based Sara Walker Foundation will celebrate the 10th anniversary of its annual Sara Walker Run and Kids Fun Run this month, as well as celebrating unprecedented advances for the Blessings Hospital in Malawi that is supported by the foundation.

Founded by members of the Brentwood Hills Church of Christ who knew Sara Walker (’00), a Lipscomb alumna and local physical therapist who died of cancer in 2012, the Sara Walker Foundation will hold its annual fundraising run on the Lipscomb campus on Sunday, Sept. 22, at 10 a.m.

The fundraising event supports advancements for Blessings Hospital and Mtendere Orphanage in Lumbadzi, Malawi, both through purchasing equipment and funding mission teams from Lipscomb University to provide volunteer service and humanitarian and evangelical support.

Malawi Mission Nursing

Lipscomb nursing and pharmacy students serve in Malawi each year.

This May, four mission teams, the most ever, traveled to Malawi and the team from the Raymond B. Jones College of Engineering’s Peugeot Center for Engineering Service in Developing Communities made life-saving changes at the hospital by installing a 6,000 watt solar array, allowing the hospital to have a more consistent, reliable power source, which translates into more effective ICU care and blood transfusions, said Jenni Whitefield (’96), a surgical nurse at Centennial Hospital and Brentwood Hills church member who was inspired by Walker’s spiritual and health journey to start the foundation.

This year’s run, to start in front of Allen Arena, will include a worship service and a cookout after the run to celebrate the organization’s 10th event. Cost to participate is $35 for adults and $15 for children and students.


Malawi Engineering Mission

A team from the Peugeot Center of the engineering college visited for the first time in May installing systems to help with reliable power.

Mobile units and solar power help cure malaria patients

During its existence, the Sara Walker Foundation has purchased two mobile clinics, run out of Land Rovers®, allowing the hospital to reach more patients. One was provided in 2014 and the second this year. The foundation funds all medication, equipment and staff needed to run the mobile units every day of the year, said Whitefield, a clinical adjunct instructor in Lipscomb’s nursing program and board member of the foundation.

The hospital serves a geographic region of about 400 square miles, and 85 percent of the Malawian population do not own even a bicycle, said David Elrod, dean of the engineering college who led the team of students who installed the solar array this past May.

The mobile units have allowed the hospital to take care to the patients, greatly increasing the number of patients who can be treated in the early stages of malaria, said Whitefield. Malaria patients’ lives can be saved with a simple finger prick and $1 worth of medicine if the disease is caught in time. 

Malawi Mobile Unit

The Sara Walker Foundation has funded two mobile clinics to allow more patients to be served.

“All you have to do is just get to the people,” which is where the Land Rovers® come in, she said.

The new solar array is crucial in saving the lives of patients in the last stages of malaria, who require a blood transfusion, said Whitefield. 

Because the power grid in Lumbadzi is extremely unpredictable, cutting out 20 to 30 times per week, the hospital was unable to reliably store blood at a constant cold temperature. So patients who may have walked for days to get to the hospital, would have to wait longer to have blood brought in for the transfusion.

The solar array provides a reliable power back-up for a refrigerator to store blood and vaccines as well as for critical equipment and patient monitors in the ICU unit. Having blood immediately on hand will save thousands more lives, Whitefield said.

In addition, the solar array will also save money, as it costs $500-$600 a month for diesel fuel for the back-up generator, which still often didn’t last long enough to save blood supplies, she said. The cost for a one-night stay for a patient is less than $5, said Elrod. To run the generator on diesel power for one night would equal the cost of 30 patients spending the night at the hospital, he said.

malawi Solar Panels

The engineering team installed a 6,000 watt solar power array to allow for reliable blood storage for transfusions.

Engineering is latest college to join the effort

Funded in part by the Sara Walker Foundation, six 2018-19 Lipscomb students, Elrod and alumnus David Black (’17) participated in the 12-day engineering mission trip to Malawi this past May. Three of the students were engineering majors.

The team installed 20 solar panels, ten on each side of the hospital roof, so they can catch sun and generate power during all daylight hours, Elrod said. A battery bank charged by the panels during the day provides power through the night.

The students on the team helped with the planning the design and determining the best way to acquire the needed parts and equipment within budget, Elrod said. Even so, for engineers, the situation on the ground is always different from expectations.

Once they arrived, Elrod realized that the hospital not only needed power for their well pump, but also to run medical equipment in the five-bed ICU, to power the blood bank and other critical lab equipment. So the project was revised on site to take all those valuable improvements into account as well, he said.

Malawi Orphanage Mission

The Lipscomb womens' basketball team came to Malawi to serve the Mtendere Orphanage at the same time the mission team worked at the Blessings Hospital.

Next year, Lipscomb’s engineering team plans to rehabilitate the hospital’s water system to provide a reliable water source for the hospital’s operation and to install more solar panels to cover additional electrical needs at both the hospital and orphanage.

Elrod said he was struck by “the hospitality and appreciation shown by the people there. They were extraordinarily thankful for things we take for granted—for them it could mean the difference between life and death.”

The Malawi trip was the sixth mission trip for the College of Engineering in the 2018-19 school year.

The engineering college is the fifth and latest Lipscomb group to visit Lumbadzi. A team from the College of Pharmacy & Health Sciences, involving nursing and pharmacy students and led by Whitefield, began serving the hospital in 2013. 

The College of Education began sending a team to work with orphans at the adjoining Mtendere Christian Academy the next year. The women’s volleyball team has served at the orphanage in years’ past and the women’s basketball team served at the orphanage this past May.

The Sara Walker Kids for Kids Fun Run also supports a home for girls in Ghana called Pearl House and the work of a physical therapy school in Haiti.


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