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Stacey's Blog

Veteran’s Day 11/11/11

The more time I spend in the field, the more I realize just how fortunate I am and how much I take for granted as a basic human right.   Most of the suffering in this region is the result of decades of war and it’s going to take some time, and international assistance, for these communities to get back on track now that the country has their independence.  The biggest issues are access to water, no roads, poor education and lack of healthcare.  People die from everyday things that should not be fatal.   The maternal mortality rate is outrageous and children under the age of five easily succumb to illnesses and die.
One day when we were in the field we saw this man and wife walking down the road, in the blazing mid-day sun, carrying their lifeless daughter (about 7 years old).   The little girl was delirious with malaria and they were walking several hours away to a clinic, so she could receive treatment.  I’ve never seen anybody with that condition.  She was imagining things that were not happening and crying out.  Her eyes were bulging out.  We gave them a ride.  When we got to the clinic, it was a thatched shack with an intravenous drip and a bed.  There was already somebody being treated, so her family had to wait.   So many kids around here die everyday of malaria and I really hope we were able to get her there in time.

Some days the task seems so enormous that I wonder if we are even making any difference at all.  It’s hard not to get discouraged when you see such suffering everywhere.  At times it feels like we are just a “drop in the ocean.”   But water is a major issue and we ARE helping with that.   We can physically see our impact and although it may seem small by comparison, it’s not small at all to the people who need it.  To them, it’s huge.
Each of the boreholes we’re going to install at the schools in Northern Bahr el Ghazal will provide water to 2500 people, but this number represents the population now. This amount will dramatically increase when the returnees come.  It’s also good that we’re focusing on schools and existing communities since pretty much everybody else is dealing with the returnee emergency.
Because of this, we were really welcomed by the other organizations.   We were given the opportunity introduce ourselves a number of times in large meetings and were asked to make a presentation on our sanitation system three times.
For all the frustration that comes from the enormity of the situation, there are these wonderful people from the international NGOs up here working so hard to help out.  They all collaborate and work well together, sharing information, resources and ideas.  I think it helps to keep everyone from going crazy!
One person helped us convert our budget to reflect the prices in the region.  Materials costs are 200% higher than in other areas we work, if they are even available at all.   We heard stories about people waiting three weeks for cement to arrive.  Most things are imported from Kenya or Uganda.
We’re also partnering with a wonderful community organization who has funding for hygiene training.  They will take on this part of our program until we get our team in place for that.  They are very experienced and know the region well.
By the last few days in Aweil, I was ready to get back to Juba.   We were up super early everyday to get to field and see just one school before they let out at midday.  It was two weeks of hot, hard work and we were dirty and exhausted.   I was literally covered in mosquito bites.
Finally, toward the end of our stay, we found another lady in town to cook for us.  She seated us at a small table outside her dilapidated shack where she served us delicious local food she cooked over an open fire.
Sitting there in the evenings, I began to realize how many homeless street children there are in Aweil Town.  I had seen several of them sleeping on shop verandas during the day but thought they were the exception.  They were not.   As we sat there each night, we met the most charming, witty, smart, dirty, young homeless street kids. They were mostly boys, but there were a few girls.  They seemed to really look out for each other.   Although their situation was super heartbreaking, they entertained us with their humorous interactions, Michael Jackson moves and made up songs. I think some of them may have, unfortunately, been a little bit tipsy from something. But most were trying to make the best of things and were just being kids. We ended up buying dinner for some of them most nights.  We’d start with two or three and then word would get around and others would start coming.  They would share plates of beans and rice and were surprisingly diligent about washing their hands before eating.  Maybe they were happy to have the opportunity to use some soap and wash up.
Although it’s hard living, exhausting work and unsanitary living conditions at times, Northern Bahr el Ghazal is one of the most needy places on the planet — and knowing the situation, we can’t turn away and leave them.  So we are just going to have to figure out a way to make things a little more bearable because we have a lot of work to do there and this is just the beginning.
We returned to Juba just in time to bid on a Land Cruiser that UNICEF was auctioning off.   We also spent the week dealing with NGO business at the ministries.
One day when we were having lunch this crazy older man came into the restaurant ranting.   He was speaking Arabic and I couldn’t tell exactly what he was saying but he seemed like an insane homeless man.  I was surprised when several other men in the restaurant not only showed him a lot of admiration, but at one point they all started engaging him in songs, which they all seemed to know. The spectacle was so interesting and it worked in calming him down.   I later learned that he was a very well respected general who had led one of the original battalions of the South Sudan revolution, in the early 1980s.   Most of the people in the café seemed to overlook him as they checked their Facebook pages and enjoyed their lunch.   Although the years of war had taken their toll on his mind, those former soldiers of the SPLA had definitely not forgotten him.   He told the men that every month when he receives his military salary he buys soda, water and beer that he pours on the grave of the late Dr. John Garang, the leader of their revolution.   It’s clear that he wishes his old friend could be here today to see how people are enjoying the freedom and liberty for which they had fought and sacrificed their entire lives.