A Week of Awesome Meetings in Aweil

Aweil was originally one large county that has now been divided into five.  There is Aweil North, Aweil South, Aweil East, Aweil West and Aweil Central.  The first day, we ran into the commissioner of Aweil West at our hotel.  Our logistical director, George, knows everybody, everywhere and recognized him immediately.  We had planned to meet with him anyway and he sat down so we could have the meeting right then and there. This made it easy and informal. We discussed our work plan and told him we were going to do a thorough assessment before making any decisions and would do our best to target the most needy communities.

Our next stop was the South Sudan Relief and Rehabilitation Commission (SSRRC). They work closely with the United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA). Those are the first two stops when going into new regions of this post-conflict country as an aid organization. When we arrived at SSRRC, the director was already expecting us. This seemed interesting since we’d just gotten into town. Evidently, the commissioner of Aweil West had notified him that we were coming. Word was out about Drop in the Bucket and people were excited we were there.

Next we met with UNOCHA at the UN compound. Their Italian director, Giovanni, was a no-nonsense, very serious guy, which is good because he has a major job ahead of him. These guys are dealing with a massive influx of returnees coming from the North.

Giovanni introduced us to the UNICEF director and the main person coordinating water and sanitation for the region, Patrick. He also invited us to attend the upcoming Humanitaria Coordination Meeting.

The meeting with Patrick was a great start, in terms of strategy. He gave us some school water information and was very interested in our flush toilet design. He told us that the area is prone to flooding and explained that pit latrines just don’t work here, especially for the large schools.

He also seemed impressed by the way we involve the beneficiaries in our program and even suggested that our approach could possibly be adopted across the entire sector. That was exciting. I know we have a solid program, with creative ideas and innovative approaches, but it’s always encouraging to have the more experienced people acknowledge them.

As the week progressed, we met with education and water officials for the entire region, as well as the different counties. We also introduced ourselves to other NGOs working in the area. It seemed that every door effortlessly opened for us and things were flowing along smoothly.

The Humanitarian Coordination meeting was the final stop before leaving town. The main topic of conversation was the returnee emergency. They also discussed issues such as an outbreak of Measles, strategies for food distribution, efforts to resettle those who had already arrived, and the logistics of providing adequate water and sanitation.  As we have come to expect in these types of meetings, toilets were major topic of conversation.

I then introduced our organization and described our program, saying we would be doing assessments over the next few months and would probably begin drilling wells at schools early next year. I also told them that we have a unique toilet design and explained a little about how it works. Everybody was interested in the design and thought it would be a good alternative to pit latrines for the area, which is prone to flooding.

The survey trip was a success and we planned to return to Juba the next morning.

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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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