Malaria season hits The Gambia in western Africa in July, and Kathryn Cunningham's Power Up Gambia is pushing to raise the final $150, 000 it will take to provide a hospital there with full-time electricity in time for doctors to treat this year's patients.In early January the ambitious University of Pennsylvania student from Chadds Ford returned to Sulayman Jungkung General Hospital where she had completed a summer outreach program a year and half earlier. This wasn't a casual visit. She returned as the founder of Power Up Gambia to oversee the installation of a solar powered water pump that allows the hospital to have running water 24 hours a day for the first time. It was an exciting big step, but only a first step, Cunningham said.

The hospital is one of four in The Gambia and provides care for 16, 000 poor patients per year. It is big, modern and relatively well-equipped, but, as the pre-med student realized not long after she arrived that summer, there were a myriad of problems due to lack of resources and electricity. Of paramount importance is the need for a source of reliable energy to run the equipment necessary to save lives, keep water flowing through the pipes, sterilize equipment, power microscopes and refrigerate vaccines, blood and the morgue, to name but a few.

Cunningham said after the water pump was up and operating and water was flowing through the faucets it took some time for the hospital staff to realize they no longer needed to carry huge buckets of water on their heads from one part of the hospital to the other. Water was a top priority and when it was running it completely changed the way the hospital operated. But it is only cold water. A shipment of solar water heaters has been delayed, but is expected in the spring.

Currently generators run the hospital equipment for only a few hours a day because the cost of fuel to run them is so high. Cunningham witnessed for herself patients that could have been saved, if only doctors had the necessary electricity to run tests and operate in time.

Before she left in 2006, the hospital's chief executive officer approached her. He had a dream of equipping the hospital with solar power, but had no means of making it come true. He asked her to help him make that happen from home in America.

By the fall following that summer Cunningham founded PUG with a goal of raising $300, 000. As of this month, half that amount has been raised. She is determined that the remaining $150, 000 be raised by the end of April, so the solar equipment can be in place providing electrical power 24 hours a day by the time the first malaria patient arrives in July. If that were to happen, Power Up Gambia will have met its goal a year earlier than Cunningham dared dream. "It will completely change the sanitation and the running of the hospital," she said.

It seems very possible. "I think we can do it," she said. "There's a whole new sense of momentum."

The momentum continues to grow. A year ago, Cunningham and her board members were approaching individuals, clubs and groups asking for time to make a presentation. Now, groups are seeking her out. PUG's most successful fundraising efforts have been made in private homes at Power Up parties. Hosts invite others who they think might be interested in PUG. Either Cunningham or a board member comes to the party and presents the project. Cunningham said the events are a good excuse to have a party, entertain friends and support a good cause.

School children also have become involved, raising money for PUG while PUG has raised their awareness. Since its inception PUG developed a parallel mission-education. Students in more than 25 schools, including the Kennett and Unionville schools and Upland Country Day school, are exploring West African studies units, based on PUG's efforts. Students study sustainable energy, African culture, community outreach and international healthcare.

The school programs will culminate in a spring festival-Power Up at Hagley-on April 20 at Hagley Museum and Gardens in Wilmington to celebrate Earth Day. Students from the various schools will display their work, crafts and cultural presentations. Cunningham said the event."a celebration of renewable energy" is free to the public and will include exhibits, demonstrations and hands-on activities. Cunningham also will speak about PUG and its mission. For more information on the event visit the Hagley Web site.

Also speaking at the Hagley event will be two doctors from Christiana Hospital and a doctor's assistant all of whom joined Cunningham on her trip to The Gambia in January. Cunningham said the momentum behind PUG has driven it beyond its original goal of providing just sustainable electricity to establishing a medical volunteer and education program there called Delaware Doctors for Gambia.

With the end goal in sight for PUG at Sulayman Jungkung General Hospital, Cunningham wonders where the momentum will take it next. She will graduate in the spring, get married in the summer and go to medical school in the fall. PUG will continue. There are other clinics in The Gambia and other ideas are continually being hatched. "There are a whole lot of lives you can save," she said.

For more information on Power Up at Hagley, visit the Web site www.hagley.lib.de.us. To learn more about PUG, visit the Web site www.powerupgambia.org.

UTo contact Prue Osborn, email prueosborn@aol.com

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