We are in Entebbe, Uganda, a stopping point on the return voyage to the US from South Sudan where Water is Basic (WiB) has drilled or refurbished over 800 water wells, a massive sum. Our team of 6 includes my 16-year-old son. We just spent a week in South Sudan working on water issues, inaugurating a radio station, supporting a preschool, meeting with various locals about the peace process there, and a variety of other activities that constitute a fraction of the long list of needs facing this recently birthed nation.
Both my life and the world look different to me than they did in 2011 before my first trip to East Africa. I harbored a serious desire to become engaged in something meaningful, and learning about WiB's impactful work personally touched me and moved me to action. Seeing pictures of the faces of those stricken with water born illness, contrasted with the exuberant faces of those whose thirst had been quenched by clean water for the first time was inspiring. Two months later, I traveled to South Sudan and witnessed the true meaning of the word "need". I will never forget the faces that strengthened my resolve to remain engaged for what has now become 6 years. There were many.
My first day on the ground I was driven to a remote, single story hospital where I saw a woman cradling her very ill 3-year-old child with a very uncertain fate. Other patients also experienced serious health issues, many from ingesting contaminated water. Outside the hospital, I played with young children whose physical appearance closely resembled the pictures we see of those impacted by serious health issues in developing countries. Back at the compound WiB calls home base, I saw the exhausted face of a woman on the compound where we stay, in a medical clinic bed struggling badly. This was the same morning she delivered heated water to our doorstep and cleaned our rooms.
We drove miles of dirt roads through equatorial forests and witnessed the faces of countless women and young girls carrying heavy containers of contaminated water on their heads for miles. I was told they do this multiple times per day to meet the daily hydration and cooking needs of their families.
Several days of immersion in this land of struggle was emotionally exhausting. Perhaps this is why to this day, the faces I relish most were those at a well opening we attended where a village experienced clean water for the first time. The villagers knew clean water would put an end to much of their suffering, and they didn’t hold back with their emotional response. This event was the capstone of the trip and enabled me to come full circle in my understanding of the impact of clean water. It gave me hope we could actually make an impact. The well freed young girls from the daily burden of finding water and enabled them to attend school. It broke the local cycle of water born illnesses that take the lives of one in 8 South Sudanese children before the age of five.
The decision to support Water is Basic hasn’t been difficult. The need is immeasurable and the immediate impact of this forward thinking and highly responsive organization is broad and deep. The cost relative to the impact is minimal. Just a little over $1000 restores a well that may not have functioned for years, and it can impact thousands of lives. Instantly.
A FEW FINAL NOTES
There is no way to venture into the deep waters of a society in great need and emerge unchanged. Paradigm, passion, worldview, and priorities all change. Desires change. Doing life without a simmering concern or action that supports those in need becomes improbable. Yes, work and the day to day continue. Yes, thoughts of those in need we have grown to love sometimes linger further in the background, as responsibilities and circumstances ebb and flow at home. But as long as the people we learn to serve, remain and the needs persist, especially once we meet them face to face, the prospect of being unchanged and uninvolved become a distant reality.
ON LIFE AROUND THE WELL
Almost equally inspiring have been the faces of communities gathering around wellheads once the well is functioning. A wellhead is something akin to our water cooler except by a multiple that is indescribable. Wells not only provide health for the body but for the community and the collective soul. Dozens of locals gather around well sites and do what locals do when they gather. In a nation ravaged by war, this is a strong first step to raising the likelihood of peace.
ON THE ROI
It's difficult to say who has been blessed more by my involvement in South Sudan, the South Sudanese or I myself. What I can say is I have learned more from those we serve than they have learned from me, and I long to acquire something they possess; contentment in the midst of the most devastating circumstances life can deliver, and faith that has moved mountains.