Week one in Aweil really involved a lot of logistical meetings and strategic planning. But week two we needed to travel deep into the villages, talk to the women and really assess the water situation for ourselves.
The Aweil East Education Office was happy to see us and had collected a ton of applications from schools. Although we had to verify the data ourselves, from the information they provided the need is extreme. One lady who runs a small business preparing tea outside the education office talked to us about the daily struggle for water. She said women in the villages are really suffering. In many areas there is absolutely no water at all in the dry season. She said it is common for one jerrycan to serve an entire family for the whole day.
Although this lady is from Aweil East, she suggested we really consider working in Aweil North, also. That area borders Darfur and most of the aid organizations have been avoiding working there due to past security concerns. Even though it’s a very isolated area, the security situation has definitely improved so we decided to make it a priority to investigate Aweil North first.
Although these are very populated areas, they are extremely remote with no roads to the villages and no phone network. The world has no idea what is going on there. Any statistics we get are just estimates so we will share the data we collect with the other NGOs in order to help gather some accurate figures.
I spend half the year in this region and I’ve seen a lot of places but the living conditions in these villages are the worst I’ve seen yet. The people have NO WATER. We heard stories about monkeys attacking women in the deep villages for their water. It’s the end of the rainy season and the rivers and swamps are all drying up. So soon it will all be gone until April. After that people travel around looking for water during those months. They move their houses, kids and everything. School lets out in mid-December and doesn’t start back until April, so people can travel with their families looking for water. They are not even thinking about clean water, this is about finding any water at all. Right now they are drinking from swamps and dirty puddles but soon those will be gone.
Our entire team is extremely troubled by the situation. The women are affected the most, as the burden of collecting water falls solely on them and the girls. More than ever our entire team is dedicated to helping the women and girls in this country. One of our team members is from this region and remembers his mom walking 6 hours a day for water, and honestly, not much has changed.
These conditions are due to the decades of war but things are peaceful now and people are hopeful for the future. For South Sudan to have a real shot at a future, its children need to be able to go to school. Only by getting children educated can countries move out of poverty and break the cycle of dependence.
The children are really suffering. Education for girls is not even an option right now because they are being forced to help their mothers search for water. The kids who are enrolled in school only go half-day because it’s so hot and without access to water children regularly pass out in class due to heat and extreme dehydration.
When I asked one head teacher about latrines, the children started nervously giggling at his answer that they just go into the bush. Open defecation is the norm, rather than the exception, in these villages and at the schools.
We also noticed that two classes share one blackboard. One side will have the lesson for 5th grade and the other for 6th. They pass the chalkboard back and forth between the classes. One class literally sits under the tree and waits patiently until the other teacher finishes his point and passes the board back. These classes are outdoors, as there are no actual buildings or rooms at their school.
I wonder how these children are ever going to be able to compete with the rest of the world. No matter how bright, naturally talented or motivated they are, with these limitations their future seems bleak.