On to Magwi

The next morning we leave for Magwi County, which is about four hours away and is the headquarters for the six payams in the county. We meet with the education officials to discuss the applications we have. They also offer to give us a current list of schools and their enrollment to use for cross-referencing. But since they have no copiers or computers, he has to handwrite the list. We give him some time to do that and go visit the new commissioner for the county.

We also run into the Minister of Roads for Southern Sudan who is in the field with an entourage of people. The Minister of Roads insists that we stay at his guesthouse, which he says is the best one in Magwi. The cost is $10 per night. It is a strip of small rooms with only a small bed and a plastic chair inside. It doesn’t feel particularly clean. The manager tells me to use the VIP pit latrine and based on their condition, I cannot imagine what the other one is like. For dinner we go to the town center, and see if someone can make us some food. They have beans and rice – and I see some box wine, which I decide to have a glass of to help me sleep. I am guessing I may need some help sleeping in this place.

At dinner that night they are blaring music from a generator at the place next to us. The CD that we’ve been listening to for the past two weeks comes on blaring through the streets of Magwi!!! I truly feel like I’m being Punk’d.

I try to get a receipt for dinner but they bring a blank receipt. Apparently nobody there knows how to write so they just brought it blank.

When we get back to the guesthouse, the Minister of Roads is there with his whole entourage. They are staying there and so are some people from a couple of other NGOs. The place is full. These people don’t heat the water so after taking a cold bath in river water I try to duck into my room for the night, but the Minister of Roads sees me and wants to sit and talk. He tries to convince me that he needs a well for his guesthouse. I tell him if he gives me a road to Pajok we will drill for him. Neither of us win!!

The next morning the guys wake me up. The hotel has made is tea and chappati. I brought some peanut butter from Kampala so we eat it with the chappati. George tells a crazy story about something jumping on his face in the night. He says he could feel the feet running on him and jumped to but it was gone. We all guess that it was a rat!!! YUCK!!

Today is Wednesday and we are heading Pageri Payam to survey some schools there. We connect with someone from the payam education office who travels with us. That is how we generally do things. WE either get with someone from the education or water office who shows us to the locations. Then we buy them lunch and give them $10 to $20 for their “telephone airtime.” We end up giving people money for “telephone airtime” often but it helps us get the job done.

One school has over 500 pupils who are studying in huts and under trees and also has is also a medical center next to it, with no water for at least 2 kilometers. I put that one pretty high on the list.

We have one last night at the Magwi guesthouse and I cannot wait to get back to my hut in Nimule. I worry that I won’t be able to sleep after hearing the rat story but I’m so tired from the field that I’m out in no time. It rains hard all night.

Thursday we are scheduled to travel with the guy who gave us the hand written list of schools to an area called Owinikubul, where there are a couple of very large schools. One of them has over 1700 enrolled. These school administrators seem happy to go into the field with us because it gives them an opportunity to collect data on their schools. These guys have no vehicles, no computers and no cell reception so it is difficult for them to keep up with things. The road is terrible and Owinikubul is very far. Because of the rain, the mud is thick. We pass one older Land Crusier that is stuck and has been abandoned. Despite a number of tricky spots, we make it there. Wilson is an incredible driver who really knows these roads. In Uganda our crews drill all year, but in Sudan they go on hiatus from July to November because of the rains. But I need to have a plan in place when drilling starts again and I was hoping I could get some scouting in before the rains got very bad.

Owinikubul is like most of the other schools. Classes meet under trees and in huts. One box of chalk is shared by all of the teachers who lean their black boards up against the trees. There are very few supplies. One box of staples but no stapler. The kids often sit on large cans with USAID or some other NGO logo on the side. There are a few UNICEF booklets that the kids use for writing paper. Most kids have no shoes and play during lunch break because there is no food at the school or their homes.

Most of the villagers in these regions rely on radio for their connection to the world but in most of southern Sudan there isn’t even radio communication. These villages are completely cut off from the rest of the world.

Because of the rain, many of the pupils at Owinikubul did not come to school today. A few of the teachers are also absent and attendance had not even been taken for the day. The head teacher was not expecting this surprise visit from the education office and was running around very nervous trying to get the attendance sheet. In his panic he stepped on the end of a hoe that was on the floor of the office, causing it to fly up and slam me on the side of the head. Tried to act like it didn’t hurt but my eyes were watering too much to hide.

The secondary schools in Southern Sudan are so small. We really try to help the secondary schools because they are so important. These regions will never progress if getting a 7th grade education is considered sufficient. But the two secondary schools we visited each had only about 25 pupils – and about 6 girls at each. We have certain criteria for our school selection and those numbers are just not high enough. It’s sad though. I’m going to keep monitoring these schools and see if the numbers begin increase. Usually when a school gets a well or toilets it can help increase the enrollment. The toilet problem is also a big problem for most of the schools we visited. One secondary school had no toilets at all. In fact, we passed a teen girl on the way to the school who was most likely looking for a private spot to go to the bathroom. A few minutes after we arrived at the school we saw her returning to class.

Toilets are a bit more difficult to find funding for. People clearly see in the importance of water but toilets just aren’t sexy. But suffering isn’t sexy either.

Get back to Nimule and after a week in Magwi this guesthouse is looking very nice. I desperately need a real bath. At least tonight the ladies will heat the river water for me. Tomorrow it’s back to running water – happy day!!

I sit outside to go over the information I’ve gathered to figure out the plan and a bird flies over and poops on my water coverage spreadsheet. I think that is supposed to be good luck.

That night George learns his wife has typhoid and two of his daughters have malaria. It’s a good thing we’re heading back to Uganda.

On the way back to Gulu our brakes start giving us trouble so we have to stop several times on the way home and add brake fluid to the truck. On Sunday we put it in the shop it get it in good shape for the week ahead. We have a full week of work in Lira, Gulu and Amuru districts of northern Uganda.

Luckily I have convinced Wilson to change the CD – we are listening to a gospel crusade of some sort.


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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