I've been working in Africa for twenty years and in South Sudan for close to a decade...2014 was the toughest year yet.
It all started with the eruption of fighting last December, but let's be honest, this is a country that has known war since 1955 and many of us have not paid that much attention. However this time the fighting, the killing, the raping,and the hatred was not against a foreign adversary but against each other:neighbor against neighbor. When your neighbor is now thinking of killing you, it changes things, it changes everything. you can see the change in peoples eyes. This was a new kind of war, this was a new kind of fear.
December is also the beginning of dry season. That is not a coincidence for war is more about logistics than bullets and sixty percent of the "roads" here are impassable during the rainy season. It seems that just about everything here is scheduled around the rainy season.
Unfortunately, the fighting stole the dry season from Water is Basic too. Normally we really crank up our work over the four months that the roads are dry and "passable". But the insecurity limited our movements throughout the dry season last year. Then the rains came early and heavy, cutting off access to so many people in need. We fought our own war with the muddy roads and we lost; we lost engines and clutch plates, we lost opportunities and we lost patience. But 2014 is just about behind us and we are moving full speed ahead into the new year.
Let me tell you about my last few days in South Sudan.
Wednesday we rejoiced and Thursday I cried...
We began Wednesday with a short 8 mile drive towards the Congo border. Our task was to restore a well we drilled 6 years ago. Truth is not every community has what it takes to keep their committee together and this well had been down since February. It was like watching the Joffre Ballet to watch our crew of six tear apart this well and completely restore it in 8 hours. From a water hole shared with pigs and goats back to a clean fresh water took less than $2500 and 8 short hours. A community restored, hope restored, and a committee system restored. This was out 60th well restoration in the last 6 months and County commissioners from all over the country are asking us to restore wells that are sometimes 30 years old.
Thursday I cried. Why?
Because after a 10 hour drive we found the drilling crew was out of diesel, camping in the bush, chasing away snakes and yet full of joy!They had just hit water, lots of water, and while this seemed like a ridiculously remote spot to be drilling we discovered that more than 3000 people live near this new well and have been walking more than 9 miles for water. Today their burden was lifted.
This was the 35th well we have drilled in the Western Equatorial town of Mundri covering an area about 500 sq miles. Getting here is a task hard to describe. Our vehicles struggle to traverse the potholes and rivers and survived but are beaten.The effort to drill these wells is humbling. To get here today we crossed a river over which the crews have been hand carrying supplies. In some areas they have had to carry pipes and cement more than a mile...on their heads.
Today I was reminded of the power water has to changes lives. They know this here and it shows in the attention to detail, to getting this right.
Travis from Every(1)ne water in Canada decided to join me at the last minute and upon seeing this commitment and struggle immediately agreed to fund two used LandCrusier pickups for our work. They can get anywhere and are fitted with a snorkel so we can drive through deep water. He gets it and he greatly encouraged us all...so I cried. We needed this kind of encouragement going into the new year.
Today I was ashamed that I had grown discouraged and I renewed my commitment to “stay in the game.”
On behalf of the people of South Sudan let’s make this next year our most productive. They have set a goal of 150 restorations this year and 50 new wells. An aggressive goal that they will reach unless we are not able to fund their efforts. I’m determined we will not let them down
We welcome every(1)ne water to the “water team” and I welcome each one of you to find a way to stay connected to this work and committed to your part in funding water. It's basic but crucial.