Sanna's Story

A blog, sharing my reason, by Sanna Lee


The seed for Lee Sisters was planted when I visited Togo and Ghana in 2014

Above photo: They are brothers, 11 and 12 years old.  Emmanuel (the kid on the right) won my heart...  I was walking alone along the beach in Lome, Togo - reflecting on my first experience in Africa.  Our mission trip was soon coming to a close and thoughts of home and the trip swirled in my mind as I walked, barefoot in the sand, sipping Coke from a glass bottle, when suddenly these two boys with smiles on their faces came bounding over the hill and into view and ran to a small section of beach near me.  Emmanuel has a cheerful demeanor, and I instantly liked him. His brother David is more reserved, shy. Emmanuel showed me his back hand-spring which he had recently mastered.  He asked if I’m going swimming and told me he’s been teaching his older brother how to swim…  As he chatted my ear off, I stood in the water, the waves lapping at my ankles.  Emmanuel slipped on my sandals which I had left on the beach.  He asked where I was from and when I was going home.  I told him I was leaving the next day to the United States, and his eyes lit up…  “Take us with you!” he said.  I laughed and explained that I’d love to, but "it isn’t possible since you would need a passport and plane tickets, and besides" I said, "I'm sure your parents wouldn't be very happy and would miss you too much!"  His smile disappeared.  His entire demeanor changed.  Emmanuel  looked at me and then, in a quiet voice he explained that his parents died in an accident and he pointed to his eye.  “This is from the accident” he said.  As I think back on it now, I wish I had hugged him and scooped him up right at that moment.  I asked him who he lives with now, “my grandmother” he answered, as he gestured at the buildings near the beach.  “So can we come with you!?” Emmanuel asked.  And again, I explained why they couldn’t.  His response?  “Ok.  Will you buy us a Coke?”  I smile just thinking of them… I will always cherish meeting these two kiddos.

Introducing Kenya

In early 2015 I had the opportunity to visit Kenya.  I was working with a group from Finland who was trying to promote tourism to East Africa and they had asked for my assistance with their marketing initiatives - so I flew to Nairobi to contribute my marketing knowledge.  I had mixed feelings about Kenya early on as I navigated a new culture. Since that first trip I have been to Kenya many times - for a variety of reasons.  Primarily to follow up on micro-loans and small investments as well as to visit friends I've made during my travels there.  And let me tell you: at this point, I have completely fallen in love with Kenya.  Each time I visit that country and return home to the USA, it takes me a while to shake off the dust and clear my head and focus back on my life here.  Somehow, Kenya, its culture and people have grabbed hold of my heart and won't let go.  I hope to make it my second home  someday. 

I have developed relationships with a few of the notable Kenyan distance runners and avidly follow the sport of athletics (running).  Thanks to generous individuals, shoe companies, running stores and others, I have been able to collect several laptops for use in an elementary school and hundreds of pairs of donated socks and shoes which I have brought to Kenya and finagled through customs and immigration (another story!).  

"Compassion is not a feeling, it's an action."

While working on a campaign to collect shoes with Gear Running - a store in Edina, MN, Olivia - one of the reps from Gear said to me in passing: "Compassion is not a feeling, it's an action."  And that was it.  It was a moment of clarity for me.  I knew I needed to pursue compassion as an action.  That quote stuck in my mind and rolled around and around.  I had a pressing desire to at least try to help so many of the people in poverty.  But hesitation lingered.  I had doubts.  My life was, is, busy.  I told myself that people don't want to be bothered and nagged about those in need.  I gave myself a million and one reasons to ignore my heart.  

And then I opened up to my sister Satu and shared my thoughts.  I wanted to try to help people in Kenya, but I was conflicted.  Satu promised to support my efforts and encouraged me not to be afraid of failure.  Her relentless optimism made me feel that, maybe, just maybe it would be possible for me to actually help at least one person in this world.  

Lee Sisters is Born

In November of 2015 I filed the Articles of Incorporation and officially started Lee Sisters Foundation.  I didn't have a clear plan or vision, other than to help the vulnerable and the needy - which happens to be the women and children.  The name was inspired by my grandpa and his brother.  My grandpa worked together with his brother in the construction industry with a company called 'Lee Bros Construction'. 

In the spring of 2016 we received our 501(c)(3) status.  Over the coming months people came forward to join our Board of Directors and the projects and causes we support came to life and here we are!  

In case you've made it this far:

You may be interested in seeing photos and reading some of my blogs journaling my travels to Africa since 2014: 

Togo & Ghana
> Elmina Castle (Ghana) 
> Kenyan Tea
> Seen & Heard: Kenya
> Kenya Has My Heart: Here's Why
> Chai & Chapati

Thank you.  Thank you for reading.  For caring.  For being here.  

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to reach out.  I'd love to hear from you!