A Home Away From Home?

Sunday afternoon we got to southern Sudan and checked into the guesthouse where we always stay. It’s basically a dozen huts with a couple of pit latrines, bathing shelters and some turkeys wandering around.

I stay in the very same hut every time so it feels familiar and when I open the window a few lizards scatter. You can see the Nile from the doorway of the hut. That’s actually where they get the water for bathing and cooking.

There is no power, cell reception or internet connection here. We buy local SIM cards for our phones hoping for some method of communication, but they are still limited in their range and are pretty much useless to us. The guesthouse does have a generator that they run for a couple of hours each night, so we can at least charge things and print if necessary.

The main tribes in this area are Madi and Acholi but most of the people I know are Dinka. Dinka are generally very tall people, who are coal black. Many of them knock out their front two teeth and cut markings into their foreheads as some sort of ritual, so it is not hard to identify them.

This area is incredibly undeveloped with no real infrastructure at all. They are still suffering from the war but there is some progress beginning. Since the last time I was here there is a big road they are building, which is a huge deal. Previously the road from the main border to the capital was tiny with huge potholes. There are still reminders of the war everywhere with burned vehicles littering the roadside and field artillery on display. We pass an NGO that is working to clean up the land minds and I notice that many of the warning signs for them are now gone.

Wilson, our driver picked us up a second spare tire for the vehicle before we left Gulu, which we tied to the top. All of the NGO trucks have two spares. You have to around here. Anything can happen on these roads.

George is our logistical director. He and Wilson are invaluable to our work. They help with everything from strategic planning and helping explain our program to schools administrators, to security and ensuring the local meals are safe to eat. I I never feel at risk with these guys. They know everybody and work to help me better understand the culture.

People here seem very eager to move forward so we get a lot of cooperation from school officials, local government and the communities.

We also get a lot of support from other aid groups who are always willing to share information with us. It’s important to try to coordinate with the other groups on the ground so we don’t waste resources and money gathering the same data or planning for the same projects. I never get any kind of feeling of competition from anybody here.

First thing Monday morning we go to the American Refugee Committee (ARC) compound to meet with the people there. The team I had previously been dealing with has been transferred to Haiti and there are two new people in charge but we communicated with them before we come and they are expecting us.

I have applications from several schools and want to discuss these areas with them and get some more info. They print some current spreadsheets with water coverage statistics and other useful information and suggest that we consider three of the school in Pajok Payam that I have applications for. All three are very large schools. One has over 1700 pupils, one has over 1400 and the third has over 900. All three schools are currently getting their water from the stream. One big problem is that the roads to this area are really, really, really bad. In fact, because the rains have started we are certain we cannot even access Pajok at this time.

After that, we met with the Payam Administrator. A payam is like a district and Magwi County has six payams in it. The Payam Administrator is a hard working man who I really like. We try to keep him informed on our work in the area. It’s good to have them aware of where we are working and when we are bringing the drilling crews into an area. They can provide any support if we ever need it for any reason.

In the afternoon we travel to two schools where we recently drilled wells. We physically monitor our projects in the beginning and then slowly rely on the Monthly Water Committee Reports to know how the projects are doing. Both projects are doing great. Once school has built a beautiful brick fence around their well, which is a good sign that they are placing a high value on it. I am also excited to learn that one of the schools had $200 in their account from the monthly water collections. It has been a struggle to get the schools and communities to collect and manage this money, which is necessary for maintenance and repairs. This area is very congested with returnees from the refugee camps in neighboring countries and based on the collections, there are really a lot of people using this water point. In Uganda we are field-testing a Village Savings and Loan project using some of the monthly water collections. I think this may be a good program to test over here next.

The head teacher from one of the schools has also been promoted to Inspector of Schools for the entire payam which is great for us because we have a good relationship with him and he can now handle collecting our Monthly Water Committee Reports from the schools.

That’s pretty much all we can pack into the day so we ask an Ethiopian cook that we know if she can make us some greens, beans and rice for dinner. Afterward we go back to the guesthouse where the ladies heat the river water for me to use for bathing and tie a bag on top as a cover to keep the heat inside. You basically take the jerry can of hot water into the bathing shelter and pour it into a basin. The bathing shelter has nails where you can hang a flashlight for some light. Then it’s pretty much you taking a “bath” looking at the stars.

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Author: Stacey Travis

Founder and Executive Director of Drop in the Bucket a water charity building water wells and sanitation systems at schools in Africa.

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