Water is Sacred and Holy in South Sudan

The following essay was written by WFSS Compound Manager Abraham Majur.

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Since time in memorial, South Sudanese beliefs, norms, and values have considered water to be sacred. A "water point" as referred to in this narrative includes: pools, rivers, hand pumps/boreholes, hand dug wells, swamp, and lakes, among others.

Holiness of Water Points and Water

The South Sudanese Dinka traditionalists believe that God resides around water points, and that water is “god.” Water has a spirit that can curse people if evil things are done at Water Points. In earlier days, Dinka elders advised young people to avoid going to rivers, swamps, pools, hand pumps/hand dug wells at late hours of the night and early mornings. Elders told that late at night, the spirits and ghosts gather along river and in swamps at those hours.

This perception has protected water points for a long time in South Sudan, even during the two wars of Sudan.

When Dinkas are making their traditional sacrifices to their “gods” the Spearmasters or Sectional/Clan elders first give water to animals to be sacrificed. The notion is that the animal will urinate and there would be enough blood. They consider this as a sign of acceptance of their sacrifice by their “gods” and ancestors. During sacrifices amongst Dinkas when animal meat is consumed, clan elders would spray young people and clan members with water, which they believe it has blessing for their “gods” and ancestors.According to the Dinka tradition, you cannot kill anything while drinking at a water point, be it wild or domestic animals/birds. Even at points of conflict, a defected enemy would not be denied access to a water point or killed while drinking. Killing enemies while they’re drinking water is believed to attract a curse on the doer and his family in present and future. 

Traditions and Stories About Water Points

There are a good number of tribes and sections of Dinka clans who sacrifice for sacred Water Points, usually to rivers and other specific Water Points in their respective localities. For example, in Yirol East, currently part of Eastern Lakes State, a section called Dhiem of Ador offers sacrifices to Lake Shambe and Ajiek sacrifices to River Payii. There are many others but those are a few examples.

From left to right: Abraham (author), and Associate Country Directors  AJ  and  A ter

From left to right: Abraham (author), and Associate Country Directors AJ and Ater

Water for South Sudan's Wells

WFSS has drilled over 300 wells, and none of the wells have been reported vandalized or destroyed by any parties (government or rebel forces).

We are assured of the protection of the wells by users and local authorities in those respective areas.

In this regard our donors and supporters should know that their efforts, talents, resources, and time are not at waste but in service of local communities in South Sudan who have been disadvantaged by two wars of Sudan for years and current conflict.

WFSS - A Rochester Story

WFSS Founder Salva Dut and the late John Turner, WFSS's first COO

WFSS Founder Salva Dut and the late John Turner, WFSS's first COO

While many know of Salva Dut's journey as a former "Lost Boy" of Sudan, and his subsequent founding of Water for South Sudan, not as many know another part of the story-- how Rochester, New York, Salva's adopted US home, played a pivotal role in the founding of this nonprofit.

It was the Rochester, NY community, and friends that Salva made there, that helped establish what was then Water for Sudan as a US 501c3 nonprofit organization.

Read more about how Salva's time in Rochester, (including working at Wegmans!), helped start an effort that has been transforming lives in South Sudan since 2005.

WFSS & Sustainability Goals- Working Toward a Better Future

This is another post in our continuing series of Water Wednesday blog posts by students at the Center for Service Learning and Civic Engagement at St. John Fisher College in Rochester, NY.

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Water is a universal need that is also a scarce resource. Unfortunately, this need increases with every day and the world needs to find a way to make water accessible to everyone who needs it. Torgny Holmgren, Executive Director of the Swedish International Water Institute (SIWI), told a panel discussion on water and the landscape approach, “There is an increasing demand and competition for water resources, so we need to be more efficient in the way we allocate water.”  

This is where the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals come in. Although Goal 6, Ensure access to water and sanitation for all, and the other Sustainable Development Goals have been met with a great amount of positivity, there are some who are not as sure of the impact that these goals will have on the world.

One such person is David Kuria, author of Sustainable Development Goals: Another Wasteful Venture for Kenya? Kuria, in his article, is wary of placing focus on global change. He suggests that “instead of prescribing a broad set of 17 goals for the world, we should instead be guided by a country’s own development priorities.” In his opinion, each country should make its own priorities because making generalizations about what needs to be fixed in the world may leave out some of the needs of different countries.

While this is a valid concern and countries should make sure that they are meeting the needs of their people, the Sustainable Development Goals are a much-needed stepping stone towards ending issues such as poverty, hunger, and lack of access to clean water. These goals, and other organizations that have the same objectives, encourage all who have the capability to change people’s lives. For the goals to be reached, all need to do their part: governments, the private sector, civil society and the people of the world. 

Water for South Sudan (WFSS) is committed to transforming lives by providing access to fresh water and hygiene education, and has been on the ground in South Sudan since 2005. Bringing access and education to those in need in remote villages, we are making a difference and helping people take a step towards a better future. 

As of August, 2015, WFSS has drilled 259 wells. Hygiene education has been a part of our work since 2014, and plans are underway to begin researching sanitation solutions in the areas in which we drill. The new season is set to begin in January, 2016. Goals include visiting 40 new villages to install wells and provide hygiene education, and launching a new pilot project which plans to rehabilitate the cement platforms of 20 older wells. 

Walking for Water or Walking to School— Water's Impact on Education

Here is another post in our continuing series of Water Wednesday blog posts by students at the Center for Service Learning and Civic Engagement at St. John Fisher College in Rochester, NY.

The water crisis in South Sudan plays a large role in the lack of education available for school-aged children. South Sudanese who do not have access to clean water—about 68%—have to leave their villages and move for six months out of the year in order to find water. Thus, schools are not able to be sustained, so they are not built. In addition, many children’s parents succumb to diseases such as HIV/AIDS. This leaves these children as orphans and therefore responsible for finding work. They now have to provide for themselves and their siblings instead of seeking the opportunity to obtain an education. In Sudan and South Sudan combined, there are about 2 million orphaned children.     

The lack of access to clean water, however, especially affects girls. Girls are responsible for finding water for their families for up to eight hours per day. Thus, these girls cannot even attend school if there is a school in their village. If these girls are orphans, they also cannot find ways to provide for themselves because they are so busy trying to find water. If girls do attend school, they often have to drop out once they reach puberty if their schools do not have clean-water access. This is because they do not have use of proper toilets to take care of hygiene issues. Only 33% of South Sudanese girls attend school, and a mere 16% of girls ages 15 and older are literate.

This is a problem that Water for South Sudan (WFSS) works to remedy. One of WFSS’ missions is to raise money to drill clean-water wells in South Sudan so that more children can have the opportunity to go to school. If children and young people have clean water and can go to school, their opportunities for advancement are significantly increased. Thus, they can sustain a livelihood.

If you would like to learn more about Water for South Sudan and what they do, please visit WFSS website page detailing The Need in South Sudan.  or donate now here

Preventing Water Contamination

Water contamination is a universal issue that affects millions of people worldwide. In the US the issue was thrust into the spotlight over the controversy surrounding hydraulic fracking. The pumping of chemicals such as benzene near, or in some cases directly above, the ground water supply did not sit well with some Americans. In addition, a variety of viral videos and public accounts, most notably 2010’s Gasland, shed light on what effects these chemicals could have on the water supply. Videos showing tap water that burst into flames upon contact with a lighter showed the consequences of some of America’s pursuit of natural resources.

However, the USA is not the only country affected by water contamination. In fact, many countries throughout the world face problems that are perhaps more severe than those caused by hydraulic fracking. Diseases such as cholera, typhoid and dysentery are all caused by water pollution. Sadly, South Sudan is not immune to such disease. In fact, much more of South Sudan’s population is at risk for water contamination than is the United States’. IRIN News reports that South Sudan has a water contamination problem that is two-fold. Not only is some of its drinking water contaminated, but the methods used to transport the water are often unsafe. Tankers that have been exposed to deadly diarrheal diseases are often reused and carry infected water into largely populated areas. In fact, CCN recently reported an outbreak of cholera in a crowded military barrack that result in around 200 deaths of armed personnel within South Sudan. Additional reports showed contamination of water wells in Unity State by nearby oil fields. Clearly, this is a problem that has large implications and a number of disastrous outcomes for a country that is already affected in a number of ways.

Water for South Sudan (WFSS) is committed to drilling new wells and providing greater access to a clean water supply. WFSS takes great care in the installation of wells to avoid contamination of the water source. In 2015 WFSS surveyed a large statistical sampling of wells which showed all to be in good operating order. WFSS also found that some of the cement platforms are in need of repair. They will launch a pilot platform rehabilitation team in 2016 to begin to address this issue, and to also continue to preserve the good quality of the water source for wells.

 In addition, as the number of clean drinking wells increases, communities will have more access to fresh water, and this in turn will limit the need for transport vehicles that can become contaminated. Joining with WFSS we can make a difference and stop the spread of harmful diseases.