Notes from South Sudan: Traveling Back

I felt very at home during our two weeks in South Sudan. I was keenly aware that we all live under the same sky, and the same sun and moon shine down on us, wherever we live. I was especially moved to realize that children are children, all over the world. One day, sitting outside in our compound, I heard village children playing. If I closed my eyes I could have been on my back porch, hearing neighborhood children laughing, yelling and playing.

But time had begun to hang on me a bit, I missed my family, and I was ready to go home. We traveled back to Juba and the delights of a shower with running water, and air conditioning. A cold beer also helped. We had re-entered civilization and were soon heading home.

The trip home took 27 hours, and even longer for me to re-adjust. I took a hot shower immediately. I slept deeply the first night. But I didn’t know how to make sense of my trip. I also brought with me some kind of stomach distress, which made the re-entry a bit more difficult.

I thought often about the women in South Sudan – mothers like myself—and thought about how hard their lives are, even with access to water. They still walk for water, although those in villages with wells get to carry clean water home for their families. Some children have access to school, but not the education that we are so fortunate to have. Health improves, but people can still get malaria fairly easily. One of our country directors and one of our cooks had malaria while we were there. Life improves, but it is still a challenge in South Sudan.

After about a week back home I started to feel like myself again. After about two weeks I gained a deeper appreciation of our work. Water for South Sudan does transform lives. But life in the newest country on earth will not drastically change overnight, or this year, or decade. Change will come slowly. I am so proud of our work, and the thousands of supporters who enable it, helping to water the seeds of change in South Sudan. And we’re doing it, one drop at a time.

 Children stand near a market in Wau.

Children stand near a market in Wau.

Read previous posts in this series: Transforming Lives and Traveling to the Field

 WFSS team concludes a successful trip to South Sudan! From left to right: Anne, Salva, Lynn, Glenn and AJ.

WFSS team concludes a successful trip to South Sudan! From left to right: Anne, Salva, Lynn, Glenn and AJ.

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.

Notes from South Sudan: Serving Schools

The following is the third in a series of blog posts, entitled "Notes from South Sudan", by Lynn Malooly, Executive Director of Water for South Sudan. She and several other WFSS team members traveled to South Sudan in Spring, 2018. Look for more stories in the coming months.

 zogolona school students give a warm welcome to wfss team

zogolona school students give a warm welcome to wfss team

A highlight in our visit to Wau, also home to the WFSS Operations Center, was our visit to the Zogolona Primary School, serving approximately 800 students in grades one through eight. The WFSS Board approved a sanitation project as part of our 2014-17 “Watering the Seeds of Change” Capital Campaign. After much research, Zogolona was chosen as the recipient of our pilot school latrine project. The initial step required bringing water to the school, and WFSS installed the first well of the 2017-18 season at the school in December. Ground-breaking for the latrine began in January and is expected to be completed at the end of May.

 8th grade students hope to be able to continue their studies in high school

8th grade students hope to be able to continue their studies in high school

We enjoyed a warm and enthusiastic welcome from the entire school community, along with visiting dignitaries from the local government. Witnessing the streams of children coming out to meet us was so moving. Knowing that these students now have access to water during their school day warmed out hearts and helped us see the real impact of our work.  

Garang John, the deputy principal shared his thoughts, and enthusiasm for our work. “We can now eat the sweet fruit of water which is life itself.  WFSS has done a great job. Keep up the spirit of what you have done. You will be in the history of Zogolona Primary School.  The community will stand strongly for fundraising to support the latrine for the future.”

 

 the Finished latrine building was handed over to the school in june

the Finished latrine building was handed over to the school in june

The state of Zogolona school, like most in South Sudan, is in need of improvement. Small classrooms in the very basic, hand-built buildings are filled to over-flowing, and some classes even meet “under the trees.” Access to a latrine will change the educational experience for every student. Most schools in South Sudan do not have latrines. When students need to relieve themselves they walk up to 30 minutes away to find a private place. The new latrine will eliminate that absence from learning, and especially enable girls to stay in school.

After additional meetings in Wau, we would be heading out into the field, away from civilization, and into the heart of South Sudan to meet the people we serve in the remote villages.

Read previous posts in this series: World Water Day in Juba and Coming Home to Wau.

 

Notes from South Sudan: Coming Home to Wau

 Board president glenn M. Balch, jr., lynn malooly, salva dut and board member anne turner

Board president glenn M. Balch, jr., lynn malooly, salva dut and board member anne turner

The following is the second in a series of blog posts, entitled "Notes from South Sudan", by Lynn Malooly (left), Executive Director of Water for South Sudan. She and several other WFSS team members traveled to South Sudan in March 2018. Look for more stories from her in the coming months.

After a few days in the capital city of Juba we flew to Wau, the second largest city in South Sudan, and our travels took us deeper into the country.  With a population of about 150,000, Wau was unlike any city I had ever seen. Many residents live in simple mud and grass huts. The main roads are dirt and as we drove we navigated around pot holes, cows, goats, and people. People walk everywhere, and a lucky few get around by bicycle. Our local team met us at the airport and faces came alive as I met, in person for the first time, some of our local managers. We were also met with the heat. Salva reminded us over and over to wear our hats and stay hydrated. He told us that we needed to sweat—it was our bodies’ way to keep cool, and stave off heatstroke. And so we sweated… all the time.  Water bottles became our constant companions.

 WFSS cooks Alic and Becky in their soon to be old kitchen.

WFSS cooks Alic and Becky in their soon to be old kitchen.

We came home to the WFSS compound in Wau, the heart of our work in South Sudan and were delighted to meet more of our team. The compound was a busy scene, filled with vehicles, equipment and team members, including the compound dog, Blessing. We sat down to the first of many home-cooked meals, all served outside.

We were impressed with the hard work of the entire WFSS team, but especially our cooks. The women toil every day, making breakfast, lunch and dinner for all of our team members. A small shack serves as their kitchen where they prepare meals, which they then cook outside over charcoal and wood fires on the ground. When we expressed our admiration, Salva told us that when there is a job opening, often 100 women will line up outside our compound. WFSS is a very desirable job opportunity, especially for women. Those of us who have the luxury of cooking in the US urged our team to move the construction of a simple new kitchen to a high priority item.

While there, US Operations Support Coordinator Gary Prok assisted the team as they brought our first drilling rig back online. This small rig can now be used as back-up, for local drilling, and as a training rig for team members ready to learn and grow. We witnessed the administrative work of our team, working in small offices, with just ceiling fans to move the hot air around. We also experienced the internet in South Sudan—a miracle that it’s there, and certainly not the lightning speed we were used to back home.

We spent four days in the compound, including numerous meetings under the shade of trees in the 100+ degree heat, reviewing operations and job descriptions, and planning for the future.

 WFSS compound at sunset

WFSS compound at sunset

 country directors aj and lion with operations support coordinator gary prok

country directors aj and lion with operations support coordinator gary prok

Next up, we would travel into the field, to witness the work of WFSS.

Notes from South Sudan: World Water Day in Juba

 Glenn, Lynn, and Anne with university students in Juba, South Sudan.

Glenn, Lynn, and Anne with university students in Juba, South Sudan.

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The following is a first in a series of blog posts, entitled "Notes from South Sudan", by Lynn Malooly (left), Executive Director of Water for South Sudan. She and several other WFSS team members traveled to South Sudan in March 2018. Look for more stories from her in the coming months.


I have had the honor of working at Water for South Sudan for the past eight years. In that time, I handled hundreds of photos from our work and always loved seeing photos of wells, and those who use them. I saw photos of people, village and landscapes, and our team drilling and repairing wells. But all that I saw was two-dimensional.

They say that a picture is worth a thousand words. I have seen hundreds of pictures of our work in South Sudan and have been so moved by the dramatic images. But if a picture is worth a thousand words, then seeing South Sudan in person is nothing short of life-changing.

When I traveled to South Sudan this past March our work, and people, became fully three-dimensional for me. I was able to experience the sights, sounds, smells and sun-soaked heat of South Sudan. Our mission came alive for me.

 Munuki Rotary Club

Munuki Rotary Club

Our trip began with a three-hour drive from Rochester to Toronto before our 12 ½ hour flight to Addis Ababa. Our traveling crew included WFSS Board President Glenn M. Balch, Jr., Board member Anne Turner, and Operations Support Coordinator Gary Prok. Once in Addis Ababa we had time for an Ethiopian coffee in the airport before another short flight to Juba, the capital of South Sudan. We walked off the plane and were met a short distance away by WFSS Founder Salva Dut. We were interviewed by a local TV station and we shared our excitement about being in South Sudan. We talked about our work and outline for our visit, including plans to see a well being drilled.

In Juba, we attended a meeting of the Rotary Club of Munuki, held in an open air hut, and heard about their work – offering scholarships, assisting with Hepatitis B vaccinations, and planting trees. They are also looking at a borehole project near Juba. Glenn, a life-long Rotarian and past District Governor, shared his enthusiasm and support for their projects.

Lynn w Juba students - WWD.JPG

They say that a picture is worth a thousand words. I have seen hundreds of pictures of our work in South Sudan and have been so moved by the dramatic images. But if a picture is worth a thousand words, then seeing South Sudan in person is nothing short of life-changing.


We had the happy occasion to celebrate World Water Day in Juba on March 22. Our day started at the Tulip Inn in Juba, where we met local university students, all sporting their new WFSS t-shirts. They told us of their studies, including computer science and agriculture studies, and future plans. Their dedication and enthusiasm inspired us and was very encouraging for the future of South Sudan.

The celebration for World Water Day, and National Nile Day, took place at the Nyakuron Cultural Center. Local government officials and ministers spoke on the importance of water, and several elementary school students also spoke. The students asked a few water-themed riddles, including: “I come from the family of water, but if I go back to water I die.  Who am I?” This one completely stumped the audience (see answer below).

Glenn and I were invited to say a few words on our work and thanked everyone for their attention to the issue of access to clean water. We were invited to be in many photos to mark the day.

The Juba portion of our trip was eye-opening and energizing. We would soon leave the comforts of our hotel and travel deeper into the country, to meet our team and see the work we do.

 


Answer to riddle: Ice!

Local Leadership Drives our Team in South Sudan

 WFSS Team at the start of the 2017 season

WFSS Team at the start of the 2017 season

Water for South Sudan (WFSS), established in 2003, has been working in South Sudan since 2005.  The safety and security of our team has been our number one priority since the beginning.

 

As of May, 2017 we have now drilled 304 wells, provided hygiene education to over 150,000 trainers, and have rehabilitated and repaired many wells-- our wells, and those drilled by others. This year we will pilot a school sanitation project. Our team is safe, secure, and planning for the future.

 

WFSS Led by Local Staff in South Sudan

Our team has been able to stay safe through our years of operation, and they remain safe today. Our US office is in constant contact with our South Sudan team, and receives daily security updates. Our team has many precautions in place to ensure their safety, as well as appropriate contingency and evacuation plans should they ever be needed.

One reason for our continued success, and ability to stay engaged, is our on-the-ground leadership team, started by our Founder, Salva Dut, and now continued by our Country Directors, Ater Thiep and Ajang Agok. They, along with our management team, support staff and seasonal employees are all South Sudanese. Our in-country team is able to connect with local and national government offices, and also monitor security issues.  They understand the culture, language and lifestyle of the country well and are guardedly hopeful about ongoing peace dialogues in the country.

Team Members and Their Families Safe in Wau

 wfss country director, and former "lost boy," ater akol thiep.

wfss country director, and former "lost boy," ater akol thiep.

Mathew Akuar Akuar, our Hygiene Manager and Assistant Drilling Manager reports that his family is in Wau, the second largest city in South Sudan, and home to our operations center. He notes, "My family feels safe in Wau. There is no fear and business people are running their work normally."

Country Director Ater Akol Thiep agrees. He notes that Wau is currently one of the safest area in South Sudan, given its strategic location, and that the national dialogue initiative between the government and rebels is being held in Wau, and "that is why my brothers, sisters, and cousins are staying here with me."

Thiep further explains, "WFSS donors need to understand that the WFSS team values their lives and equipment very much, and if the security situation is not good, it will be their responsibility to stop work and evacuate our staff and equipment immediately to safety.

"But now we really feel good about the situation in South Sudan in general and Wau area in particular. Now over twenty NGO's (non-governmental organizations) are still operating in Wau and none of them have asked for evaluation because they know that the situation here is normal. But we also know that there are some parts in the country which are not safe, and we will try to avoid those areas until we are sure of the safety."                                                                                 


Water, Sanitation, Hygiene is the First Step in Development

 WFSS Founder Salva Dut

WFSS Founder Salva Dut

We remain hopeful that the young nation of South Sudan can grow and develop. Bringing access to fresh water, hygiene education and sanitation can be a huge first step. Once villages have a stable source of water they can look to next steps, which include establishing local markets, health clinics and schools. Education is vitally important if South Sudan is to grow and develop.

WFSS Founder Salva Dut explains, "The main key for a peaceful South Sudan is to educate the next generation.  Young people understand the meaning of the peace. Providing education helps to keep watering the elements to ensure our future. Keeping young people healthy by providing clean drinking water is the first step."

Hope for the future

Salva explains that he is still hopeful for the future of South Sudan, and, as a dual US-South Sudanese citizen, he reaches into his US history for reasons why.

"The United States went through many wars and Americans were still hopeful and didn't give up. They went through the Civil War, World War II, Vietnam and others, and America today has prosperity. The civil war of South Sudan will stop some day and the people there will be living in peace and happiness."

 

Planning for 2017-18 Season

Our team has spent the summer debriefing on the past season, and planning for the next one. Plans include drilling up to 40 new wells, rehabilitating 40-50 older wells, providing hygiene education training in every village we visit, and constructing a pilot sanitation project in a school. 

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