As the 2016 season comes to a close, our work continues to make a significant impact in the lives of hundreds of thousands of South Sudanese, with a new total of 275 wells drilled since 2005.
2015 Well Evaluation Survey Shaped 2016 Planning and Drilling Operations Improvement
The 2016 drilling, hygiene and rehabilitation season was significantly impacted by our first ever well evaluation survey. In February and March of 2015, WFSS Board Member Angelique Stevens and WFSS Field Operations Manager Ater Akol Thiep visited 80 wells, including some of the earliest wells drilled in 2005. Using a rigorously designed survey process, they inspected well platforms, tested water quality, and interviewed villagers on their well use and more.
The survey’s data confirmed that even the earliest WFSS wells remain in good working order and are producing clean water. The well evaluation also affirmed that our process of training villagers in well maintenance and care is key to keeping clean water flowing. Wells that did experience mechanical breakdowns were repaired in a matter of days, providing minimal interruption to clean water access. However, the survey also provided insights into overall well technical design that need improvement for longer-term sustainability.
The current well platform and drainage design is not unique to WFSS but is common to most drilled wells in South Sudan and other developing countries. Our Operations Team has seized the opportunity to improve on this common design in order to insure longer-term sustainability of both the well itself and, perhaps most important, the quality of the water being pumped.
What We Learned and What’s Changing
The 2015 well visits revealed that the cement platforms around wells showed signs of erosion over time. Such erosion can be caused by animals, constant access by large numbers of people, soil differences, water run-off and the climate’s impact. Consistency of the cement mix and application can also affect the life of the platform.
Our Operations Team began working to develop a more robust and sustainable well platform design. WFSS Board member John De Seyn traveled to several US water conferences to network and research well designs. Together with US Director of Operations and Board member Don Fairman, they worked through the summer and fall of 2015 to develop a plan for strengthening the concrete composition of the well, and the design of the platform. They determined that the channel leading from the pump to the drinking pool for animals could be lengthened from 10 to 30 feet, and instead of a concrete channel could be replaced by a steel pipe, thus eliminating the potential for concrete erosion.
Together with our South Sudan Operations Team, they also determined that enlisting the help of villagers to construct fencing around the well head would better protect the well and prevent any animal traffic near the pump or drainage channel.
Finally, in looking at the entire drilling process, our Operations Team also discovered better ways to seal the well, including refilling the borehole with dirt removed in the drilling process. A more robust sealing process ensures that WFSS wells will continue to protect the aquifer that provides water to our wells.
“We know that we have a much better process now,” says US Operations Director and Board member Don Fairman. “Greater sustainability of our wells means that in the long run we’ll be able to help even more people as our wells last longer and have fewer breakdowns.”
2016 Season Nearing End as Rains Begin
WFSS drills during the dry season, which typically runs from late November or early December until late April or early May. This year it appears that the rains are starting earlier, so our drilling team is beginning to wind down.
This season’s drilling was delayed from our usual December/January start as we finalized well redesign, tested and piloted those changes. It was further slowed by delays from suppliers. But that didn’t stop our South Sudan team who took advantage of the delayed start time by repairing 20 wells drilled by other organizations in and around Wau, where our compound is located.
Once underway, this year’s drilling took place in three steps: drilling, finishing and sealing. The team started drilling in February, and were able to drill 16 boreholes as they awaited supplies. As of this writing the team has sealed 11 boreholes, and will begin sealing and finishing the remaining as time and weather conditions allow.
While we didn’t reach our usual number of wells drilled this season, the lessons learned, the improved well platform and drainage design which will be used by WFSS will have a significant impact on future wells, and wells we’ll retrofit with the new design and water quality protections. As we continue to learn and improve, we’ll be sharing our knowledge with other water drilling operations as well as the South Sudanese Ministry which oversees water access and management.
Hygiene Education Continues
The WFSS Hygiene Education Team, inaugurated in 2014 and led by Mathew Akuar, traveled with the drilling team to conduct hygiene assessment, education and training in each village which received a well. The team trains eight people in every village (four men and four women) who can then train others. The training process includes identifying local hygiene issues and empowering locals to determine which issues they would like to improve in their communities. As the trainees share their knowledge with others in their community, they are able to help extend the impact of clean water.
The hygiene team is also involved in our sustainability efforts, and will work to help educate villagers on the importance of maintaining the well and constructing fencing to protect it. Future WFSS evaluations will include how well villages continue their hygiene training and practices.
Planning for Next Season
As one drilling season ends, planning for the next one begins. WFSS will continue improving the technical sustainability of wells which also is key to protecting the aquifer which supplies them.
As we look ahead, our well redesign and retrofitting is in place. We have unwavering attention on developing our South Sudanese team’s skills and talent. We’re seeking to expand our collaborations with other NGOs. And the numbers of people who contribute time, money and skills to our now 12 year old organization continues to grow and amaze.
With all this momentum, our mission of partnering with the people of South Sudan to empower and transform their lives is stronger than ever.
Thank you from Salva and our South Sudan and US leadership and staff for helping make that possible.
A Conversation with Salva and Linda Sue livestream presentation on Friday, March 18th was a resounding success! 272 schools from around the world, via Youtube, watched Salva Dut and Linda Sue Park discuss Water for South Sudan’s impact on South Sudan and how WFSS is bringing access to clean water and hygiene education in the world's newest country.
Linda Sue Park is the New York Times bestselling author of A Long Walk to Water, which is about Salva’s journey as a Lost Boy through Sub-Saharan Africa to America. Salva Dut is the Founder and Executive Director for East African Operations of WFSS. Together they answered students’ questions about the impact of A Long Walk to Water on WFSS, how WFSS drills and maintains wells, and what lessons Salva and Linda Sue could teach the students about how to become better global citizens.
About 350 people came to Monroe Community College (MCC) in Rochester, NY to attend the presentation. This group included three Greater Rochester area schools: Spry Middle School in Webster, Watkins Glen Middle School, and Oliver Middle School in Brockport. In addition, Avon Middle School, which won MCC’s Walk for Water challenge in the fall of 2015,, got to spend one-on-one time with Salva and Linda Sue before the livestream presentation.
The livestream presentation was hosted by MCC’s Holocaust, Genocide, and Human Rights Project. MCC's strong alliance with WFSS includes significant fundraising through their annual Walk for Water challenge and other efforts that have totaled more than $50,000 since 2007. Salva is also an MCC alumni and member of the MCC Hall of Fame.
Thank you to our hosts at MCC for making this world-wide event possible, and to all who participated in our livestream presentation! You are helping WFSS make a big difference. You may watch the livestream presentation here.
Local Leadership Drives Results in South Sudan
WFSS began under the leadership of Salva Dut, WFSS Founder and now Executive Director for East Africa Operations. He continues to lead and inspire, along with his colleagues, Ater Akol “Lion” Thiep and Ajang Abraham “AJ” Agok. The trio are all former “Lost Boys” of Sudan who returned to their homeland from the US. Working with our new Operations Center Manager, Abraham Majur Laam, our leadership team in South Sudan is able to accomplish all that they do because they know the people, languages and customs of those we serve.
That local connection and our broad base of support enables us to help people take charge of their lives in some of the most remote villages in the world’s newest nation. Providing access to safe water and hygiene education helps develop people, and enables all, especially women and girls, to have healthier lives and brighter futures.
WFSS always works closely with villagers, involving them in every step of the process because, once they’re drilled, WFSS wells belong to the villages. Our WFSS team trains villagers to maintain the wells and do simple repairs, and also connects them to state and regional supply and repair chains for larger issues.
Thanks to the support of friends around the world, we’ve been able to drill over 260 water wells since 2005, providing access to fresh water to over a quarter million people. Since 2014 we have also been providing hygiene education in every village that gets a well. Our Hygiene Team trains eight men and eight women in each village. These trainers can then train others in identifying hygiene practices in need of improvement, and help identify hygiene solutions that will help extend the impact of clean water.
But it’s not just about the numbers. We’re also committed to having our work lead to long-term sustainability in a very poor and vulnerable country.
2016 and Beyond: Innovations and Improvements Bringing Greater Sustainability
The 2016 well drilling and hygiene education work began in February. We’re pleased to report that 10 boreholes are drilled, and each village we visited also received hygiene training. Our teams will continue drilling wells and providing hygiene education through the rest of the dry season. The drilling team was also able to repair seven other wells near the WFSS compound in Wau. This year we are also making significant progress with our focus on improving our processes to increase the quality and long-term sustainability of our water work.
In 2015, WFSS conducted our first-ever formal evaluation of wells. That work is an example of our commitment to continuously improve every aspect of what we do. Based on a large statistical sampling of water quality from WFSS wells drilled as far back as 2005, the results revealed that all of our wells were functioning and continuing to produce clean, safe water. But that’s not all we discovered. The survey found that, for these older wells, the cement platforms around the well head pumps were not holding up as well as they might. As a result, our Operations Team in the US and South Sudan has embarked on a rigorous process to improve this part of the well drilling process. The team, aided by other technical experts in hydrology and construction, researched how to improve the cement and sealing of the well, as well as the overall design for the well platform.
Our Operations Team has had to delay the start of drilling to do research, reconfigure the well platform design and finishing process, source new materials and parts, and test new procedures. Now, as more of the new materials and equipment are arriving our drilling and hygiene teams will work until the rainy season comes, which is usually the beginning of May.
For these reasons, the total number of wells drilled and activated this season may not be as high as in the last three years. But this reflects our carefully considered decision to use what we’ve learned to improve, and even innovate how wells are drilled in South Sudan. We’re confident that, based on the work we’ve done, we’re laying down an even stronger foundation for even greater results for the people we serve in the years ahead.
“Water for South Sudan has always strived for high quality processes and results,” says WFSS Board President, Glenn M. Balch, Jr. “While we always want to be serving more people, we also want to ensure that the wells we leave behind will be long-lasting and sustainable.”
Water for South Sudan (WFSS), congratulates author Linda Sue Park on the amazing milestone of selling over one million copies of her New York Times Best Seller A Long Walk to Water. The book, which has been on the best seller list for more than a year, is based on the life of WFSS Founder Salva Dut, one of the “Lost Boys” of Sudan, and brings authentic images of conflict, environmental challenges, and survival into focus for young readers.
To celebrate the book’s impact, the publisher, global learning company Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH) is marking the milestone by making a $15,000 donation to WFSS which will fund the drilling and installation of a new well in South Sudan. This source will provide fresh, accessible water to at least one thousand South Sudanese and allow children (especially girls) to attend school, rather than spending their days walking to and from the nearest well. HMH is also launching a matching gift campaign for employees in order to raise an additional $15,000 to furnish another well.
"I'm thrilled to have reached this milestone, and so grateful to all the readers who have been inspired by Salva's story,” said award-winning author Linda Sue Park, whose recent TEDx talk – Can a Children’s Book Change the World? – explores the power that reading can hold in a young person’s life. “There are now hundreds of wells in South Sudan that have been sponsored by readers of the book, and I'm deeply moved that HMH is adding to that number.”
First published in 2010 and now a modern classroom classic, A Long Walk to Water recounts Salva’s journey as an eleven-year-old boy being forced from his village by rebels, traveling through hundreds of miles of dangerous terrain patrolled by armed soldiers, leading a group of young boys to safety first in Ethiopia, then in Kenya, and eventually relocating to the United States. This incredible true story is told in alternating sections with the fictional story of Nya, a young girl living in a contemporary Sudanese village that is forever changed when a well is drilled for its community.
"Water for South Sudan joins in celebrating Linda Sue Park's "million-million" accomplishment: selling over 1 million copies of A Long Walk to Water, which have also generated more than $1 million in donations to our nonprofit organization," said Lynn Malooly, Executive Director, Water for South Sudan.
“The HMH community is happy to be able to honor Salva and Linda Sue, and all those they have inspired, with our contributions to Water for South Sudan,” said Ellen Archer, President, HMH Trade Publishing. “By bringing safe, clean water sources to communities, WFSS provides multiple gifts to those it serves, including expanded access to education and opportunities for children to thrive. We’re proud that A Long Walk to Water is a part of this larger story and that it continues to touch readers’ lives.”
Join us for a livestream presentation, A Conversation with Salva and Linda Sue on Friday, March 18 at 12 noon, EST.
WFSS Founder Salva Dut and Newbery Award-winning author Linda Sue Park will talk about the story behind A Long Walk to Water and the success of WFSS in bringing access to water in South Sudan.
The talk is available to all, but you must pre-register to get the link for the talk. Please send an email with your name, and, if applicable, your school's name and address to SalvaLindaSue@waterforsouthsudan.org. You will need an internet connection and access to YouTube to watch the talk.
Linda Sue Park is the Newbery-Award-winning author of A Long Walk to Water, which tells the true story of WFSS Founder Salva Dut, and his journey as a "Lost Boy" of Sudan. Linda Sue traveled to Boston in November to present at TEDxBeaconStreet. Her talk, "Can A Children's Book Change the World?" was inspiring and captivating.
In her talk she shared her life-long love of books and of finding hope in books as a young reader. She also related how her book, A Long Walk to Water, has inspired students around the world to raise funds for Water for South Sudan (WFSS). Since the book was published in 2010, students, their families, and school communities have raised over $1 million for WFSS.
Can a children's book change the world? Watch this talk to see! And then share Linda Sue's talk with your friends and families.
WFSS team visits 80 wells
In February, 2015 WFSS conducted its first formal evaluation of some of our oldest wells. Board member Angelique Stevens traveled from Rochester, NY to South Sudan to conduct the evaluation with WFSS Field Operations Manager Ater Akol “Lion” Thiep. The initial plan of the well evaluation was to visit 20-25 wells.
In February and March, the evaluation team was able to evaluate 80 wells. The survey focused on six major areas: well identification; maintenance; well use patterns; water quality; functionality; and, sanitation and hygiene.
The team visited a sampling of wells that had been drilled between 2005 and 2013 and found that the wells, by and large, were working. Even though 60 percent of the wells visited had broken down one or more times, we learned that we had given the villages enough training to either fix the wells themselves, or find someone who could fix them, making the villages who received wells truly self-sustaining. Another thing we learned is that E. coli and coliform levels in all the wells tested were within safe drinking limits.
One of the most important things we learned from the evaluation is that there is never enough water. When a well is drilled in a village, word gets around. In some villages the wells had a queue of 60 or more jerry cans, waiting to be filled. Animals, especially cows and goats, are drawn to the well site for water. All of this traffic causes wear and tear on the well’s platform base and drinking trough.
Consequently, some of the recommendations that came out of the evaluation were to:
- implement a small platform rehabilitation team for the 2016 season
- rehabilitate the platforms and drainage channels
- improve platform design and construction, and
- enhance our already robust training programs to include platform lifespan maintenance and best practices.
Finally, we have established a Monitoring and Evaluation Committee as part of our permanent Board structure. WFSS will continue to have a strong assessment program that allows us to learn and grow as we move into the future.
Read the full report here.
To read more about the 2015 well evaluation trip, you can also read Angelique's South Sudan blog.