Notes from South Sudan: Transforming Lives

WFSS well near Wau.

WFSS well near Wau.

Life changes everywhere we drill, including at the WFSS compound. When the current compound was constructed, WFSS drilled a well for compound use, and invited nearby villagers to use it. A village has sprung up around our compound, drawn, in part, by access to fresh water.

I watched young girls come to fill up their cans, sometimes going airborne as they worked the hand pump. The well is a short distance from their huts, and their mothers know they can send them to a safe place to get water.

As we drove through Wau, Salva pointed out several WFSS wells in use. We hopped out at two wells to meet the people using the wells, and to discover who had sponsored them. I was delighted to stop at the first well and discover it was sponsored by a donor from Rochester, NY to whom I had recently spoken.

Lynn at “her well” near Wau.

Lynn at “her well” near Wau.

We then stopped at another well and began to brush away the debris to see whose name was on the well. Letters began to appear – L – Y –N –N…. I began to jump up and down as I yelled, “This is my well!!!”

The team had a few “extra” wells in 2013 with no additional sponsor names, so they dedicated them to two board members, and me. I had not thought about this well again until we came upon it. It was an absolute joy to see my name in the cement, and to meet the women who use the well. The interconnection of life, water, and WFSS came full circle for me.

People around the world support our work. Salva came half-way across the world to start his new life in America, and has gone back, to help his people. And now I too got to go half-way around the world, to see the life-saving impact of clean water.

 

Notes from South Sudan: Traveling to the Field

Jerry cans at WFSS well in Aweil.

Jerry cans at WFSS well in Aweil.

Leaving the WFSS compound in Wau, and its relative comforts, we embarked on a journey to witness the work that our founder Salva Dut started 15 years ago, work that inspires our supporters across the US and around the world.

After a four and a half-hour ride on uneven, rough and rutted roads, never traveling more than 40 mph, we arrived at our campsite in Aweil State. The drilling team had chosen a site under a large tree, not far from a new WFSS well so that the cooks would have access to fresh water as the drilling and hygiene teams were working.

There were long lines of jerry cans at the newly installed well, and we met women whose lives have been changed by closer access to fresh water. There were many smiles among those waiting to fill their cans. One woman shared, “We used to go to another well, far away. It used to be hard to cook and wash. Now, with a well, it is easy—we just bring a can and fill it up. It’s so great. With dirt it is hard to take a bath. Now the children are so clean. The well is helping them so much.”

New well sponsored by University of Notre Dame class of 1984.

New well sponsored by University of Notre Dame class of 1984.

We were thrilled to travel the short distance from our campsite to the drilling site. We watched as villagers young and old gathered around to observe the transformation of their village. We watched the noisy work of our drilling rig and compressor as the teams installed pipes and blew out the dirt and dirty water that is the by-product of drilling.

Field work is hard and dirty work. The heat was often overwhelming for us. But no one complains. Villagers gathered each day to watch. We continued with our administrative “meetings under the trees” as the well was constructed, trying to make the most of our time.

Board President Glenn Balch with village deputy chief.

Board President Glenn Balch with village deputy chief.

I had an extra interest in this well as I was personally involved in the fundraising that sponsored it. My University of Notre Dame class raised enough money to have our name inscribed on the well. My heart was full to overflowing as I watched the WFSS complete their work, and then was able to stand with the villagers beside their new well.  I was overjoyed to stand in the photos with our banner, and the villagers who will use the well.

The deputy village chief, Tong Yel, was also overjoyed. He told us over and over that we would be blessed for bringing this well. “We appreciate those who helped us get clean water. Our children will have a better life. I wish generations to come would see you. The community would not have enough to purchase a well. We wish they had more to show their appreciation. God be with you and bless you.”

Leaving the field, we knew that lives would be changed, and we were changed as well, but the need continues. There are still many villages waiting for wells. Our team works with local leaders to determine well placement, but we cannot provide a well to every village. Our team must often share the hard news that we cannot provide a well this season. But this season we know that 49 villages did receive new wells, as WFSS helped to water the seeds of change in South Sudan. Being there to witness the watering was nothing short of spectacular.

Our New "Iron Giraffe": WFSS Finalizes Drilling Rig Purchase

Funding a new “Iron Giraffe” to replace our tired drilling rig was at the forefront of WFSS’s Watering the Seeds of Change Capital Campaign, which raised $1.2 million for the drilling rig and other needed vehicles and drilling equipment and for technical training for our staff in South Sudan. The estimated cost of the drilling rig was $500,000. Through the Iron Giraffe Challenge, students across the world raised $511,166 for the new drilling rig – an astounding 42 percent of all campaign funds.

With the funding secured, WFSS’s operations team began their due diligence to find the drilling rig best suited to our needs at the best cost. The team worked tirelessly – working with our drilling team to pinpoint what is needed in a new rig, attending conferences to learn about the latest technology, and talking with drilling rig manufacturers about specs. PAT-drill was ultimately chosen as the vendor.

Meet our new “Iron Giraffe” – the PAT-drill 501.

Meet our new “Iron Giraffe” – the PAT-drill 501.

Promotion of appropriate technology (PAT) is PAT-drill’s mission. They were very knowledgeable about the environment and conditions in South Sudan and were able to offer great advice on what is working best for their other clients drilling in South Sudan. PAT-drill designs and builds their rigs in Bankok, Thailand. They have a sales and service office in South Sudan where our team will have access to technical support. PAT-drill keeps their equipment lightweight – making it cheaper to buy, easier to transport, and less costly to operate.

As a result of the operations team’s rigorous process of identifying and choosing a vendor we came in way under the anticipated $500,000 budget. We are actually purchasing two drilling rigs at a cost of just under $400,000! We have ordered a large rig mounted on a truck, our new “Iron Giraffe,” and a smaller rig mounted on a trailer. The small rig will be used as back up for the large rig and for training our staff–The additional money raised for the rig will purchase vehicles needed for our new rehabilitation team, launched in 2017.

Salva, the Board of Directors, and our teams in the U.S. and South Sudan are grateful to everyone who contributed to the capital campaign, especially all of the teachers and students who worked so hard to help us to fund a new “Iron Giraffe.” You are making a difference to people in isolated villages who without a well would not have safe water.

Water is Sacred and Holy in South Sudan

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

DCP_2216.jpg

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 Plans for Drilling, Rehab, Hygiene and Sanitation Projects in 2018

WFSS finished the 2016-17 season with a new total of 304 wells drilled since 2005. Planning for the next season began soon after. Starting with a review of the successes and challenges of the past season, our South Sudan Leadership Council, with support from the Rochester-based Operations Committee, began developing their plan for the upcoming season.

The team assessed and repaired vehicles and equipment as needed; they then prepared supply lists for all that is needed to drill new wells, rehabilitate older wells and provide hygiene education. Our Country Director Ater Akol Thiep is currently in Kampala, Uganda, purchasing pumps, pipes, casings and cement, and all the other supplies that we are unable to source in South Sudan. This is just one of the challenges we face, operating in the newest country in the world.

The WFSS team is in the final stages of preparation for the 2018 season, with plans to drill up to 40 new wells, rehabilitate up to 50 older wells, and bring hygiene education training to every village we visit.

Sanitation Project Plans

In addition, our team in South Sudan has been researching effective and sustainable sanitation solutions for South Sudan, with plans to install a pilot latrine project in a school. While the need for clean water often takes center stage, the lack of proper sanitation facilities in South Sudan is also a severe problem.

The United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals include Goal #6: Ensure access to water and sanitation for all. As UN Water reports, the benefits of having access to an improved drinking water source can only be fully realized when there is also access to improved sanitation and adherence to good hygiene practices. Beyond the immediate, obvious advantages of people being hydrated and healthier, access to water, sanitation and hygiene – known collectively as WASH – has profound wider socio-economic impacts, particularly for women and girls.

WFSS is looking to engage in this sector, and is working with local NGOs (non-governmental organizations) in South Sudan to understand the problem and implement workable solutions.

Thank you to our friends and supporters across the US and around the world, who enable our work. We could not do it without you, and we are deeply grateful for your support.

WFSS Completes 2017 Season-- 304 Wells Drilled Since 2005

WFSS DRILLING TEAM COMPLETES THE FIRST WELL OF THE 2017 SEASON IN Lith Angui VILLAGE IN WAU STATE.

WFSS DRILLING TEAM COMPLETES THE FIRST WELL OF THE 2017 SEASON IN Lith Angui VILLAGE IN WAU STATE.

The WFSS team completed another successful season, overcoming numerous challenges, as is the norm when operating in South Sudan, the newest country in the world.

The team reached the amazing milestone of drilling the 300th well for the nonprofit. The final tally at the end of the season was a total of 304 wells drilled since 2005.

Our new rehabilitation team was launched this year, in response to our 2015 well evaluation survey which found a number of the oldest wells had erosion and breakages in the cement platforms and drainage channels around the well. The team set a goal to repair 20 of the oldest wells. Their work went so well, and progressed much more quickly than anticipated, and they were able to rehab 31 of the oldest wells.

Both teams used new procedures in drilling new wells and repairing older ones: using a stronger mixture of cement, regrading the platform around the well to encourage run-off away from the well, and constructing longer drainage channels away from the well.

As soon as the team finished the season, they brought the teams and equipment back to our compound in Wau and began the assessment process on the season, and reviewed all mechanical needs.

Read more about the 2017 season here.

2017 Season Begins! New Wells, Rehabbed Wells & Hygiene Education

The WFSS team with the first new well of the 2017 season.

The WFSS team with the first new well of the 2017 season.

The months of planning and preparation are finally behind us and the 2017 season has officially begun. The drilling team has begun drilling wells; the rehab team has begun rehabilitating some of our oldest wells; and our two hygiene education teams are working alongside them both, helping to improve hygiene practices.

The drilling team plans to drill up to 40 new wells. They have begun in Waubaai County, in the new Wau State and will also drill in Kuac North County, in the new Gogrial State, to deliver on their promise to the county commissioner and village chiefs last season, when we did not have enough time to drill wells there. This year's drilling will focus on schools and new county and payam headquarters.

Our new rehab team will work on repairing some of our oldest wells, drilled as far back as 2005, in Alabek County, in the new Tonj State.

Hygiene Education Continues & Expands

As we have done since 2014, the WFSS Hygiene Education Team will travel alongside the drilling team. New this year is a second hygiene education team, to travel with the rehab team. In every village our hygiene teams train eight people (four men and four women). Our hygiene educators work as facilitators, and invite community participation to help groups identify issues of importance, and problems to work on; identify possible solutions; select appropriate options; develop an implementation plan; and, evaluate the outcome of the plan. Three main areas of education often focus on hand-washing, keeping clean water clean, and safe disposal of stools.

Since 2014 the WFSS Hygiene Team has brought hygiene education training to over 100 villages, training over 800 villagers who are then equipped to train others in their villages, which then continues to expand the impact of clean water.

New WFSS Leadership Council

The ever-challenging climate in which we operate, including a lack of basic infrastructure, and logistics challenges, require creative thinking and dedication, which are supplied by our team in South Sudan, and our Operations support in the US.

New this year is our Leadership Council in South Sudan, led by Country Director Ater Akol Thiep and Assistant Country Director AJ Agok. We created the council, made up of our six managers in South Sudan, to help oversee operations on the ground.

Operations are still overseen by US Director of Operations Don Fairman, but we are moving towards even greater local control in South Sudan. Our team in South Sudan knows the people, language, customs, and land in which they operate, and often know best how to address the many issues that arise.

As WFSS continues our work in bringing access to clean water and hygiene education, we are also researching ways to bring access to sanitation (toilets and latrines) to those we serve. In 2017, we will continue gathering information on how we might best expand into this area, possibly collaborating with others.

In other good news, we have already been able to purchase two trucks and a crew vehicle with funds raised from our Watering the Seeds of Change capital campaign. Next up is the process to begin ordering our new drilling rig.

Thanks to our supporters across the US, and around the world, WFSS is able to continue our work, transforming lives in South Sudan. We look forward to bringing access to clean water and hygiene education to even more people this year. WFSS has now drilled 283 wells since 2005, and we look forward to reaching our next milestone of 300 wells.

Drilling Team Preparing for 2014-15 Season

The Water for South Sudan team is hard at work preparing for its 10th drilling season.  The team was recently in Kampala, Uganda, buying supplies for the drilling season. They have also been doing repairs and procuring parts for the drilling rig and support vehicles.

Soon they will begin meeting with local county officials to begin the assessment process that will determine the areas in which we drill. Then, once again, more fresh water will begin to flow in South Sudan.