Strong Women Around Here!

Can’t get any sleep these days.  These roosters are driving me crazy with their crack-of-dawn wake-up calls.   I hope someone catches this one around here and cooks it soon.   I’m a vegetarian, but enough is enough.

Today we are traveling from Kajo Keji County to Magwi County, South Sudan.  We assessed the schools there last year and are looking for a new crew to drill for us.   My friend Charles is the Water and Sanitation Field Coordinator for American Refugee Committee and he is introducing me to the team that does their drilling.  We are thinking we may be able to negotiate a rate for projects together, if we hire the crew to drill for both of us at the same time in specific areas.  That saves on fuel and logistical costs.

The meeting is actually scheduled for tomorrow because they are all still in the field.   We make use of the extra time to follow up on two schools we worked with last year, Kololo Primary School and Stars of Hope Primary School.  I’m so happy to see that both projects are being managed very well.

At Kololo PS, I first meet with a male teacher because the head teacher is at a meeting.  This guy tells me that there is a problem with the well and the water is sometimes brown.  I am very disappointed to hear this.  We work so hard to prepare these communities for situations like this, so they know what to do and can either fix it or bring someone in to make the repairs.  I set a time to meet with the head teacher.  When we arrive, she is there with 10 women from the Water Management Committee. They tell me the well was fixed last month and is working very well.  They show me their records for collections from the water users and also where they paid $200 for the repairs.  They have a very detailed list of everything they paid.  They even tracked all the costs of feeding the crew ($1 for cooking oil, 50 cents for onions, etc.).   They also paid for the local pump mechanic to be on-site during the repairs so he could learn what to do in the future if there are any similar problems.

I am so happy with this successful meeting!!   This is what it’s all about.  These wells are going to break down at some point.  Too many people use them, ALL THE TIME.  So getting these communities to take responsibility and collect money from the water users for repairs is a HUGE part of our job.  It is also the most difficult to enforce, especially in some of these remote regions.  That’s another reason we focus on schools.   It gives the school a lot of the responsibility for managing and maintaining the well, along with the community.

I should have known not to listen to that man telling me the well was broken.   Men around here know nothing about the condition of the wells.  They don’t go near them.   It’s the women who deal with the water, always.

It’s interesting to me that water seems to be the heaviest thing that people handle on a daily basis, but it’s always the women and girls carrying it long distances.   There may be something that I’m not seeing here but it really seems so unfair to me.

I know you can’t change everything.  You can’t address every issue.  But bridging this gap between women and men seems crucial for progress and equality.

If you know me, you know I’m deeply interested in the issue of female drop out rate in these schools.  I’ve blogged about it a lot.  Educating girls has not been a priority in these cultures.  Teaching girls domestic duties and getting them married has always taken precedence.

I tell the young girls I personally know that unless they want to be in the village carrying water, firewood and digging they need to stay in school.  I do think an educated girl is less likely to be relegated to that kind of lifestyle.  Education also has to be embraced by the society, if these regions are ever going to advance and be able to sustain themselves, without aid interventions.   And that’s really the goal.

It is becoming very clear that providing water and sanitation facilities at schools is part of the solution.   Life is very difficult for adolescent girls around here.  Just this past weekend I was at our headquarters and one of the young neighboring girls came over to George, who was sitting with me.  She knelt down and started talking to him very quietly.  After a while, he pulled out some shillings and gave them to her. When I asked, he said she was asking if he could give her some money to buy her and her sister some sanitary pads so they could go to school during their monthly period.  Evidently, this girl’s father had been killed in the war and it was just her mom now.  Providing food alone is probably difficult enough.  Most people are primarily concerned with feeding the family.  Anything else is extra.  But this is also because the parents are usually uneducated.

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In this region the female drop out rate after 5th grade is staggering but they are trying to change that. Things sometimes change slowly around here but these days this issue seems to be gaining momentum.   In South Sudan just this month the government passed a law making it a crime to have sex with an underage girl.  The sentence is 25 years in prison and they have already arrested around 50 men to set an example.  They understand that they have to stop early pregnancy and educate these girls, for the future of the country.  They are getting serious and it is great to see.

At the end of the day, I receive a text from John saying we are possibly getting some new solar pumps.  I’m generally nervous about the concept of installing something as tempting as a solar panel in these remote areas because they are sure to be stolen.  Thieves in these areas steal the taps off of faucets.  They will definitely take something as valuable as a solar panel.   I then think about the head teacher from Kinyiba Girl’s School and it occurs to me that girl’s schools are a perfect setting for these.  Security is always tight to protect the girls, so the panels would also be safe.  It would also be a great means of distributing water to the toilets.

The issues are complicated and I certainly don’t have all the answers.  But finding a way to keep kids healthy and in school seems crucial.    And girls do return to the schools when there is water and decent sanitation.   We have documented proof of that.

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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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