First Fresh Water Drilled in Alel Debarra, South Sudan

"It is only when you have been water-deprived over many years that you can know the joy of having it close to your doorstep, only a 30-minute walk away." - Sr Rita Grunke, OLSH

Three sites in South Sudan now have acess to fresh water after successful installation of water pumps with the assistance of the MSC Mission Office. Sr Rita Grunke visited the sites to see the impact that access to clean water has had in the local community. She shared with us her experiences.

"I have just returned home to our OLSH compound after spending four hours journeying among the Jur through roadless acres of grassland and forest, monitoring the progress of drilling for fresh water. Only an experienced driver like Juma is able to safely negotiate such terrain without punctured tyres," Sr Rita wrote. "Two sites are now yielding fresh, clean, cool water; though the first site required a second drilling at a location a short distance on. Women and young girls dance and sing their gratitude for a much closer, fresh, clean water source." In many communities where families do not have access to clean water, the burden is on women and girls to walk long distances to collect water. This can impact girls' schooling and can create opportunities for abuse.

Sr Rita shared details of the ceremony that accompanied the first water pumped in Alel Deberra. She wrote "The third site, Alel Deberra, was a joy to behold. Our arrival there coincided with the first water being pumped from the newly drilled borehole. Dozens of people were there rejoicing, clapping, pumping, drinking, washing faces, watering their goats, assisting little kids to drink, to wash faces and fingers. One lady led a prayer of gratitude for what had been accomplished."

The joy of having access to fresh water was shared by all in the community. Sr Rita writes "The chief, the soldier providing the security for the drillers, the administrator – all were childlike in their joy and gratitude for the water. Everyone tasted it including myself and it was crystal clear, literally so - pure, fresh, cool and delightful."

Sr Rita was thankful to those who made this clean water project possible. "The donors who so generously and continuously give to the MSC Mission Office are to be thanked profusely," she wrote, "You cannot know the joy you provide for these isolated, genuine and unsophisticated thirsty people. The story is the same for those who so generously contribute to the OLSH Overseas Aid Fund. It is only when you have been water-deprived over many years that you can know the joy of having it close to your doorstep, only a 30-minute walk away. Be Blessed."

The challenge of bringing clean water to some of South Sudan's most impoverishes communities continues. "Soon the Wounded Heroes – military personnel wounded in action but still somewhat active in taking up lighter security duties – will have their waterpoint drilled," wrote Sr Rita. "Again, sincere thanks for assistance provided for these heroes, their wives and children."

The current situation in South Sudan

These projects are part of an ongoing restoration of peace to South Sudan following years of conflict. Sr Rita shared how the political conditions have developed under the Unity Government and why projects like these need the support of external donors to be funded.

"The formation of the Unity Government, so long in the making, was finally met with much jubilation but also with equal scepticism. Jubilation because people are so war weary and desperately want peace; scepticism because there seems to be little attitudinal change among leaders where competition for top ministerial positions is so aggressive. Ministers have now been assigned and grassroots people pray for and plead to their leaders to fulfil the hopes and expectations for an established peace that will enable development."

"Prior to the formation of the Unity Government the word commonly used by many around Mapuordit in relation to life in South Sudan was “Useless”. "Leaders were termed “useless” because there was no connect with grassroots lives; roads were “useless” because lorries were overturning in huge pot holes on the highway, with drivers and supplies being delayed for weeks; land cruisers were getting stuck in unforgiving mud; governance was similarly termed “useless”; the litany went on."

"Since the return from 28 States back to the original 10 States, many upper level citizens remain “unemployed”," wrote Sr Rita. "Serious efforts are being made to find “jobs” for those now seen as redundant. Lord, let us not return to 28 States!"

Looking to the future

Despite the profound chllenges working in this climate, there are always moments of positivity. Assistance for healthcare and nutrition has been welcomed as the region prepares for the possibility of COVID-19.

"On a brighter note, Saturday 14th March saw the arrival of the annual Hospital lorry from Nairobi. It came laden with medical supplies to keep the hospital functioning well into the next 12 months," Sr Rita wrote. "Additional to medical supplies, there were 10 bicycles for our High School girls living beyond walking distance from the school – kindly provided by the Irish MSC Province. Gratitude again to those who so willingly share. Thank you to Sr Jenny Christie for organising this."

"Forty outers of famine relief biscuits were on the same lorry (4 cartons in each outer). These biscuits are true to their label … they literally provide famine relief – protein, vitamin and mineral enriched biscuits," wrote Sr Rita. "Thank you for making these available to the many who still present at the gate needing a small help between meals – and meals are a ONCE a day occurrence. Sr Wendy oversees the distribution of these biscuits."

Good nutrition and a restocking of medical supplies could not have come at a better time. South Sudan announced its first case of COVID-19 on April 5th. The country is yet to experience an outbreak but, like many of our Pacific neighbours, the country's healthcare system will struggle in the event of widespread community transmission. "The possibility of an outbreak of COVID-19 is a likely. And, as everywhere, predictions of extent and degrees of severity are unpredictable," wrote Sr Rita. "The National Government has unveiled a sketchy program of awareness regarding the virus, offering advice on how to avoid it and hopefully how to live through it. It is well known that South Sudan Health Services are not equipped to handle a crisis if such will develop."

School results "tremendously high"

Another bright note in Sr Rita's correspondence is the performance of students in their end-of-year exams. "All the Primary 8 students passed in Mapuordit. A few failed in outlying schools. The printed Senior Secondary School results indicate student performance in terms of marks scored. We all remain bewildered by the tremendously high marks received by all in all subjects."

She reminds us that the smallest things can make a difference to a child's education as she writes "Coloured T-shirts have become an added part of the official school uniform for Secondary students. Each class has its own specific colour. Hence, on T-shirt Day, there is an array of seven different colours, and the school assembly reminds me of Joseph’s multi-coloured coat. Students love the addition to the uniform!!"

25 years of OLSH in South Sudan

In thanking the donors who have supported the work of the OLSH in South Sudan, Sr Rita acknowledges how difficult these past few months have been, stating "Continued gratitude to all for your generous support made more difficult this year because of the lengthy unrelenting bushfire season and corresponding demands on more pressing needs."

This year a particularly special one for Sr Rita and others in South Sudan: "We are forever grateful in this year of 2020 which marks the 25th Anniversary of the continued presence of the OLSH Sisters in South Sudan. A celebration is being planned for the end of May. More about this then."

We will share more on these celebrations later in the year.