I’m used to crying whenever my plane takes off from Yei South Sudan with emotions and thoughts whirling around my head and heart- I’m used to it now. I mean these are my people, my friends. They have suffered for years, most from the day they were born, through agonizing war, unspeakable atrocities, and middle of the night deaths of children, parents and friends. A good week is a week where a meal is eaten once daily. A good year, where enough funds were available for everyone to attend school, whether under a mango tree or a scorching hot corrugated roof.
For generations we have used the term “Local Yokel” to disparage the one who has stayed close to home, hands deep in hard work, untraveled, a “Local Yokel”. However I find it interesting that whenever tough times come, when life takes a turn for the worse in a community it is the Local Yokel who turns up ready to serve, who has ideas on turning things around, who is fully prepared to link arms on behalf of the community.
We see it when forest fires rage out of control, when flood waters rise or when miners are stuck far beneath the earth’s surface.
When the dream of drilling for water was birthed inside the weathered hearts and minds of Local Yokels in South Sudan, many said they could never accomplish what they dreamed of. Imagine three generations of war torn, malnourished, up rooted, uneducated South Sudanese developing and leading their own water organization with a goal of giving everyone in their country clean water?
Preposterous, certifiable, irresponsible!
We drilled our first borehole in July of 2008 and quickly expanded our territory as we mastered logistics and reporting. I wish we could tell you we have solved the problem but it would be untrue.
In spite of our efforts and the efforts of so many others the needs have never been higher as half the population faces severe hunger, millions are displaced and peace is a mirage in this parched desert of reasonable leaders. Some organizations have given up but not these Local Yokels! This is home and since they have seen hard times before they are not deterred. We are received well reports every week even as South Sudan seems to be spinning out of control.
I am pleading with you to request the report we just received. Look into the faces and listen to their pleas. Know that this is a country that has prayed for years to one day join the Third World and now because of egos, greed and hatred they are moving even deeper into a place known by few countries in our world. Inflation is rampant, food is scarce, sickness a constant burden and water hard to find.
Our web site says we are empowering the world in the fight for clean water; maybe we should change that to Empowering People, Families, Hopes and Dreams through the “fight for clean water”.
Right now we are doing everything we can to raise as many funds as we can. We can restore a well every day and soon with our new Land Cruisers, we can double that output…. all we need is you and your sphere of influence to stay in the game with these LOCAL YOKELS and us!
I’m in the air again and want you to come along with me, this could be an historic trip for our work in South Sudan and Africa in general.
Let me explain.
By now I hope you are all as adept as I am at explaining the uniqueness of our birth and structure. We are truly an indigenous organization. "A local solution to a local problem”. Water is Basic is the brainchild of the Sudanese religious leaders who gathered in 2006 and worked as a team, a unified team, to come up with a plan that they could implement to bring restoration and hope to their war torn country.
Nine years later they have installed 500 new wells and restored another 76, bringing restoration and hope through water to over 1,000,000 of their fellow country men, women and children.
One million is a lot of lives saved but that still leaves millions more thirsty and few places to which they can turn. That is why I am on this "one week whirlwind trip to Africa”: one night on American Airlines, one night in Uganda, one night in South Sudan, one night in Rwanda, one night in The DRC, one night in Burundi and then a final night on British Airways before returning home. The Rwanda, Congo, Burundi part is to hopefully break an impasse on our WiB consulting project bringing water to the 30,000 people of Kibumba, DRC. The government is demanding high taxes, which is simply not ok. However, it’s this dip into Juba, South Sudan that I want you know about today.
The U.S. office of Water is Basic is really an awareness and funding engine with just me full-time and some truly amazing folks giving of their skills part time (Michele in Portland, Abbey and Susanna in Dallas, ChurchBiz in Austin, as well as a faithful board). Then there are all of our faithful volunteer water warriors who raise the banner and raise a lot of money...that would be you!
So why am I on route to South Sudan? My high school friend and WiB supporter from New Hampshire and fellow water warrior, Frank reached out to Catholic Relief Services (CRS) to see if we might partner together in South Sudan. CRS has a major water department and has been faithfully involved in South Sudan since long before peace came. Now they are looking to work more closely with local solutions. Within days of Frank's email I found myself on a conference call with CRS in Juba and their Baltimore headquarters. A week later I was sitting at a small Himalayan restaurant in Baltimore with CRS's water director Vanessa Tobin...a true water hero. We hit it off immediately.
Vanessa has been leading water solutions for more than 30 years, since long before water became the big emphasis it is now. She knows more about water crises than anyone I have ever met and she is passionate about local solutions. Hence why we hit it off.
It was Vanessa who insisted I get on a plane ASAP and meet with the staff in Juba. Bishop Taban and I meet with them tomorrow to discuss partnering together in South Sudan to bring lasting water solutions more quickly to the people of South Sudan. CRS's network, staff and influence partnered with Water is Basic's local solutions, sounds like as good a combination as we have seen since chocolate and peanut butter!
These are very tough times in South Sudan with 1,500,000 displaced people, thousands dead and nearly 40% of the population in deep food insecurity. The recent internal fighting has chased many organizations away, caused donors to move too easier countries and left all of us exhausted and sometimes discouraged. It's good to discuss linking arms with some of the faithful who simply will not give up on this country.
I take off from London grateful to have so many friends of our work supporting us by raising awareness, investing funds and prayers and simply staying in the game. We are just $5,000 away from funding our two Land Cruiser pick-ups and launching our two "special forces" well restoration teams. With a decade of hard won experience and respect, we are prepared to move ahead in South Sudan. With you and our new partners who knows what the next decade will yield?
Stay tuned for updates as we move boldly forward...together.
BTW we will gladly show you where your IRS tax refund can do some wonderful good.
The heat comes in waves and the dust never seems to go away as we stand next to a well that has been broken for TWO YEARS. I notice Florence near by and ask if we can talk to her. Florence turns out to be smart, gregarious, resilient and a just a bit ticked off.
You see she has given up the opportunities that a 25 year old South Sudanese refugee has in neighboring Uganda to come home and care for her widowed mother and all of the children of both of her two dead brothers. To add misery-to-misery she is now trekking more than a mile away to the polluted Yei River for water to keep everyone alive…after she boils the water of course.
1) It takes $3.75 to give one person clean water in South Sudan
2) Things are really bad for half of the population there right now
3) 4,000,000 people are about to experience severe hunger
4) 1,300,000 are displaced
5) Typhoid and cholera are killing children
You can give $3.75/month and save a life every month.
BUT...that is just a drop in the bucket, right?
You could get your friends and family to give $3.75 a month...and now you are really doing something. Get 29 folks to commit and you are responsible for someone getting water every single day!
EVEN BETTER: Everyone who commits to give monthly will be eligible to win 2 free round-trip Southwest Airlines tickets to anywhere they fly.
BETTER YET: You can create your own giving page as an individual or as an organization.
EVEN BETTER YET: The person who raises up the most people wins a free all expense paid trip to South Sudan to meet the people they have partnered with.
We are all tired of the big problems in the world. Only when we work together, everyone doing what they can, will we make difference.
Find out more by texting WATER to 71777.
Welcome to the new Water is Basic website! We are excited to share this new design and layout with our visitors. If you have any questions about the new format, please feel free to contact us via the Contact Page. Thank you for visiting!
Two weeks ago, I traveled to Hong Kong for The Justice Conference Asia. While there, I gave a talk called “Go Local and Go Home,” in which I described our work in South Sudan and shared a few of the lessons we have learned along the way. Mainly, I focused on the importance of shifting control of sustainability projects away from foreigners and toward local people. I wasn’t sure how this would go over in a room full of folks who work across the globe to right injustices, but the response was overwhelmingly positive and the audience enthusiastically asked question after question.
Honestly, the best apologetic for empowering local folks is our current situation. As the global news agencies have reported, many parts of South Sudan are chaotic and dangerous. The work we are doing today is as difficult as it has ever been. But, because Water Is Basic is ultimately a South Sudanese project, we haven’t let up a bit. That’s right -- we’re still drilling wells with the same intentionality we always have, in spite of the uncertainty and turmoil.
On my most recent visit with Bishop Taban, we talked through the potential need for new rigs. As many of you know, we raised over $30,000 in April with the idea of buying a new drilling rig. Bishop Taban was blown away by the generosity of WiB’s donors, but responded with a simple, “No thank you.” Instead, he asked us to commit the funds raised through PureCharity towards renovating our compressors and main trucks.
The local answer was simple -- we can still get a lot more out of this equipment and we are committed to getting water to desperate people, now!
Six years ago, this kind of on the ground local decision-making would not have been possible. Today, we see more and more responsibility residing where it should -- the folks on the ground. As much as we care, they will always care more. As much as we learn about their country, they will know it more intimately. This was our goal all along and seeing the results is a great encouragement.
More than 1,000,000 people have been displaced in South Sudan in the last six months. As a result, we are seeing conflicts erupt around water points as more and more people try to access limited clean water sources. Again, I am amazed at the wisdom of our friends in South Sudan. Instead of taking a well-deserved break while our compressors were being renovated, our crews decided to answer the requests of local officials and repair very old wells in high-population areas. As more and more displaced people arrive, they are finding newly restored, working water wells instead of rusted out pipes. Two thousand dollars is all it takes to refurbish a well and the local officials have identified 21 for us to get to as soon as possible. We have completed six so far.
Water remains an urgent, basic need in South Sudan. For only $3.75, you can give someone the gift of life. It may not seem like much to you, but water is basic to preventing disease, providing education, and building a nation. Our friends are desperate for help, and we believe that clean water provides a foundation for an empowered, self-sustaining community. If you haven’t donated in awhile, please consider giving clean water today. Try a multiple of $3.75 and know exactly how many folks you are giving life to. For those of you who donate regularly, thanks for your continued, life-giving gift.
We are unbelievably proud and excited that our Director in South Sudan, Bishop Elias Taban, received a 2013 Clinton Global Citizen Award last night. Essence covers the event well:
During the 2013 Clinton Global Citizen Awards in New York City, hundreds of people gathered to honor men and women whose work and advocacy contributed to the social change within their respective communities, and the world.
The Clinton Global Initiative, which was founded in 2005 as a way to bring leaders together to brainstorm and create solutions to the world’s most difficult problems, has taken a moment each year to emphasize community involvement through the awards ceremony.
One of this year’s honorees, National Bishop Elias Taban of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, stepped on the stage to share his personal story that was both heartbreaking and inspiring. Born during the civil war in Sudan, his mother left her village and ran to the forest where she lived with her newborn for three days, hiding from the brutality that would soon follow.
A few years later, Taban was recruited as a child soldier where he witnessed the worst of poverty, war and disease. Taban was later able to move forward with this life, enrolling in school and studying both theology and civil engineering before going to work for the people of both South Sudan and Uganda as a religious leader.
A man of great conviction, Taban addressed guests at the awards ceremony last night, “Today, to be honored here with this great award, is a miracle from God to the nation of the people of Southern Sudan and Africa at large.”
"So what do you think? Can we create a film for Water is Basic?" My question edged on overconfidence.
"I don't think so." Steve Roese, director of the organization, had the look of a man burned by false promises too many times.
I was shocked. Why wouldn't the executive director of a non-profit want a documentary that highlighted its quest to bring fresh water to the population of South Sudan? Studying Steve's doubtful eyes, I began to mentally retrace my quest to complete this short documentary.
A year before, I dined at a local café with friends Joel Smith and Jason Wendel while we dreamed of making a film together.
Joel, a self-taught videographer, ran a successful business creating promotional videos for church services. Talented but creatively bored, Joel had always wanted to try his hand at a short film.
My travel buddy Jason Wendel owned a small web design company. As a fellow movie buff, we spent years fantasizing what it would take to make our own film. Up to today, there were lots of ideas but no follow through.
In my early 20s, I had the opportunity to fulfill a dream and attend the Victor Duncan Film School. This one-year intensive program taught me the basics I needed to start experimenting with visual storytelling. It also helped me realize my niche was writing and producing unique stories. I wrote and produced some video shorts, developed a few audio productions, produced a small Celtic play showcased in festivals and on stages in Ireland, the U.S. and Canada, and I authored two award-winning books. But 20 years later, I still had not created the short film I dreamed of producing.
When Joel proposed we do a film together, my immediate response was to come up with a hundred reasons why it would not work. But then I realized this was my chance of seeing my dream come to pass.
"I'm in. Let's make a film."
For the next year we casually passed ideas back and forth but nothing grabbed hold of our artistic curiosity. Although we were all busy with obligations and forced to shove our dream to the side, we never let each other off the hook. The three of us kept mining ideas, hoping to eventually hit pay dirt—or in this case, pay water. In September of 2009 Water is Basic revealed itself to be the treasure we had been seeking.
Steve Roese had gone to South Sudan to help facilitate a weeklong assembly of community leaders to discuss the most vital needs of a people who had suffered 56 years of civil war and religious persecution. Increased education, medical aid, business training, food supply, and community building were all raised, but one need outweighed all of these. Of the 9 million South Sudanese, 90% had no access to clean water and 80% of hospital visits were caused by waterborne-illnesses. Every day, the average family spent 6 hours finding and preparing water to drink. Without clean water nothing else mattered. Water was basic to survival.
Water is Basic was born from this meeting.
Partnering with Sudanese leadership, Irving Bible Church bought a drilling rig and raised the capital to help fund a Sudanese-run company to dig bore holes. Within a few years, WiB became an independent and stunningly successful non-profit and I knew there was a worldwide story to tell.
We would create a short documentary featuring a true account of 12-year old child who spent the majority of his or her day collecting water. Like countless South Sudanese children, the child was deprived of an education because most of the day, every day, was spent carrying 40 pounds of water the miles between the run-off spot that served as the village’s water source and home. That one child would represent a billion people on our planet who had no access to clean water. At the same time, we would record WiB digging a bore hole in that child's village, giving us the unique opportunity to see his or her life changed immediately. We knew this film would work and this was the story I pitched to Steve.
Although Steve’s “I don’t think so” reply temporarily stunned me, I was not ready to give up.
"What if the film cost WiB zero dollars? We'll produce a film funded by outside folks who believe in WiB. And Joel, Jason and I will give all of our talent for free. There will be no financial risk." Steve had no more arguments and the deal was made. By that November, we were on our way to Sudan to shoot our documentary.
Before I left his office I gave Steve one last promise. "By the way, this documentary will be so good it will be in film festivals across the United States."
Steve looked at me and laughed. "Let's just complete a film."