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South Sudan Trip Summary

Well we are now back in Australia safe and sound. Unfortunately we didn’t have internet access in South Sudan as we had thought we would. So thanks to Mum for updating the Timpir blog after each phone call I had with her while we were over there. As a substitute I’m now going to post a detailed blog to summarise the trip.

So on February 1st, Kuol, Akon and I departed Adelaide and travelled to Kampala, Uganda via Perth and Johannesburg. Peter, the current Timpir chairperson, also left Adelaide on February 1st and travelled via Dubai and Addis Ababa to Kampala. We all arrived in Uganda on Thursday February 2nd.

After a much-needed sleep at the Lodge in Kampala we drove into Kampala city first thing on Feb 3rd to try and obtain visas for South Sudan. After a few hours and meeting with about 4 different people (with Akon managing to charm everybody she met) we had our visas by about midday. We then raced off to the Air Uganda office to book our flights to Juba which we accomplished by about 1pm. We dashed back to the Lodge to pack our things and scoff down a quick lunch before driving out to Entebbe airport where we boarded a flight for Juba at 4pm. A quick 1 hour flight later there we were in South Sudan at Juba International Airport. We were picked up from the airport and dropped at the South Sudan Hotel 2 where we then spent 2 days (3 nights) trying to arrange flights to Aweil. We were eventually helped by the friend of a friend to obtain seats on a Kush Air flight to Aweil on Monday February 6th.

Enjoying Ethiopian lunch on the Nile in Juba
Enjoying Ethiopian lunch on the Nile in Juba
The Timpir crew after lunch on the Nile in Juba.
The Timpir crew after lunch on the Nile in Juba.
A boatload of returnees coming to Juba along the Nile
A boatload of returnees coming to Juba along the Nile
Akon resting on the luggage while waiting at Juba airport for flights to Aweil
Akon resting on the luggage while waiting at Juba airport for flights to Aweil

It was an early flight to Aweil, so we found ourselves at the relatively new Aweil airport at about 11am, which gave us time to do a bit of shopping in Aweil market before driving the 2.5 hour bumpy ride out to Wäramoth in the hire car that Kuol’s brother Piooth had arranged for us.

After landing at the new Aweil airport
After landing at the new Aweil airport

We arrived at Kuol’s family homestead at about dusk on February 6th and set up our tent (minus the flysheet) which we had taken over in 2008. Unfortunately the chickens had destroyed the flysheet so Kuol utilised some local material to make sure that all and sundry couldn’t see into the tent.

Our tent in the background of Kuol's family compound
Our tent in the background of Kuol’s family compound

The next few days were spent in Wäramoth acclimatising to the about 40 degree heat. Kuol’s family held a welcome party for which a cow was slaughtered and many friends and relatives from the surrounding villages came to welcome us. Unfortunately Peter was out of action for the welcome party as he had picked up giardia from a meal he ate on a day trip to the main local town, Ariath, the previous day.

Cooking the cow at the welcome party
Cooking the cow at the welcome party

On Friday February 10th a meeting was held with many of the parents of students at Wäramoth Primary School. In addition members of the school committee and teachers, as well as Peter, Kuol and myself attended the meeting which went for several hours. During the meeting we listened to many of the parents, committee members and teachers talk about things they were satisfied with at the school, things they were dissatisfied with, things that were being done well and things that could be improved. During the meeting we were able to gain a very good insight into how Wäramoth Primary School has been operating over the past 4 years and plan with the community which directions the school should take in 2012 and into the future.

A mother and school committee member talks at the Wäramoth School meeting
A mother and school committee member talks at the Wäramoth School meeting
Horse and cart in 2012
Wäramoth school horse and cart donated by Timpir
Wäramoth Primary School classroom (it's currently the long 4 month summer break so the classroom is disused at the moment)
Wäramoth Primary School classroom (it’s currently the long 4 month summer break so the classroom is disused at the moment)
School blackboards at Wäramoth
School blackboards at Wäramoth. These were donated in the 2009 Timpir Christmas gift program. Similar boards have been ordered for Mabok as part of the 2011 Christmas gifts

After the school meeting in which the topic of the bricks made for the school was raised several times, Peter, Kuol and I decided it was time to take action. The bricks were made by community members in 2010 and were made on the banks of a river about 30 minutes walk from the school. Timpir made a horse and cart available to the community to facilitate the moving of the bricks from the site where they were made to the school location, but for a number of reasons primarily relating to local community politics, this was never done. On Saturday February 11th, Kuol rallied a group of volunteers and Peter, Kuol, Akon and I drove out to the brick site with the group where they began preparing the bricks to be moved.

One of the piles of bricks made by the community
One of the piles of bricks made by the community
Peter working with the other volunteers to prepare the bricks for moving
Peter working with the other volunteers to prepare the bricks for moving
Akon pitched in!
Akon pitched in!
Loading the bricks onto the Wäramoth community cart
Loading the bricks onto the Wäramoth community cart

On Sunday February 12, the Timpir group drove back to Aweil town where we made ourselves comfortable at the South Sudan Hotel in Aweil for 3 nights. We had hoped to shop for resources for Mabok Primary School on Monday 13th, but due to sanctions on Sudan (which South Sudan is as yet undifferentiated from) we were not able to use the Timpir visa card with the money required to purchase the resources. Instead we contacted Mum and Dad and then had to wait until the money was wired over from a money sending office in Adelaide to one in Aweil which did not happen until the morning of the 14th.

The 14th (Valentines Day) was a hectic day. First thing in the morning we went to see Yel who has been making the 10 wheelchairs commissioned by Timpir for 10 people in Mabok region with mobility disorders. We were hoping that the wheelchairs were going to be ready in time for us to take to the people in Mabok when we went there, but unfortunately due to skirmishes on the north-south border, the trucks carrying the remaining materials needed to complete the chairs had not made it to Aweil from north Sudan.

The wheelchair frames
The wheelchair frames
Yel, the wheelchair maker
Yel, the wheelchair maker

Yel is himself the user of a wheelchair and he constructs wheelchairs for others from his home where he has basic welding and metal work materials. All the remaining materials have since arrived from the north, so Yel is currently working to complete the 10 chairs so that they can be taken to the recipients in Mabok.

After seeing the wheelchairs, we then went to collect the Timpir money from the money sending office. On our way to the money sending office we drove passed Dut who had received a wheelchair from Timpir in 2008 and stopped to talk to him. While he chair is in need of some repairs it is still serving him well.

Dut in his wheelchair
Dut in his wheelchair

We then made some very quick shopping for resources including 2 very large saucepans for cooking school meals at Mabok, 4 jerry cans for collecting water, a number of text books and exercise books and various stationery. Then the car headed off for Mabok, a very bumpy 2.5 hours east of Aweil.

On our way to Mabok we stopped off in the main town of the area, Tiaralieet, where some of the people who are going to receive wheelchairs had gathered. Unfortunately we were much later in getting there than we had initially planned, so some of the intended recipients had already returned to their homes. When their mode of transport is crawling through dirt that bakes in the hot sun, it was understandable that they didn’t want to wait around until the hottest part of the day for our arrival. However we did get to meet and talk with 3 of the people who will receive chairs.

Finally at about 2pm we made it to Mabok Primary School and our arrival brought tears to my eyes. As our car drove in to the school grounds one of the classrooms erupted in song, colour and movement as a large group of women who had been patiently waiting in the shade for our arrival leapt up and started singing, dancing and ululating. The people of the Mabok community had waited for most of the day for our arrival, many without having eaten or drunk anything for the entire day. But they so desperately wanted to meet us and talk with us, they were willing to withstand the wait.

The Mabok community meeting was started almost as soon as we arrived and was very well attended by parents, community elders, teachers and students. During the meeting it became very clear that while the community greatly valued our support with Mabok Primary School, the most pressing issue was a severe lack of water in the region. Currently women walk for two hours each way to the nearest bore hole. After fetching 20 litres of water (the most a woman can carry on her head at once) she then walks for another 2 hours back to Mabok where the water is only just enough for her family to drink and cook meals for the day. One elderly lady showed us where the hair had worn off her head from carrying water. Another elderly man said he had not bathed for several weeks because of lack of water. They emphasised that the difficulties in accessing water meant that many students and teachers go through a whole day at school without drinking. I was quite overwhelmed by the absolute desperation of a community with such a scarcity of water. The Timpir group assured the community that we would do our best to try and find a more sustainable means of water access for the community.

The headmaster of Mabok (who is employed by the Government of South Sudan) updated us about the school describing how despite the difficulties with a lack of water and resources, over 400 students had completed the academic year in 2011. He was very thankful for Timpir’s support through paying the salaries of 2 teachers during 2011, and emphasised that while there are 2 teacher at Mabok paid by the government and 2 teachers paid by Timpir, there are a further 7 teachers who volunteer at the school to ensure that all 400 students are able to learn. He also thanked Timpir for their financial assistance which enabled the community to build a further 5 classrooms for the 2012 year, but said that due to the lack of water in the region they are waiting for the wet season before they will be able to construct the walls of the classrooms which need to be done with mud. Community members also strongly requested that some time in the future they would greatly like a school building made with bricks and a zinc roof so that it does not require as frequent labour intensive maintenance as the traditionally built classrooms.

Students at Mabok Primary School
Students at Mabok Primary School
Students at Mabok
Students sit in one of the classrooms which the Mabok community constructed with Timpir’s financial support
Students play at Mabok
Students play soccer at Mabok Primary following the school meeting, the headmaster in walking in the foreground

At about 4.30pm we left Mabok and started the long, arduous journey back to Aweil. We were joined by a goat which was given to us by the Mabok community as a sign of their appreciation for our support. Had we arrived earlier in the day, the community would have slaughtered the goat and cooked it as a welcome and thank you meal. Unfortunately on our way back to Aweil our car broke down and we were all quite apprehensive with the idea of spending the night in the bushland of South Sudan with no food, no water and 7 people and a goat to fit in the back of a landcruiser all night (we couldn’t sleep outside because of hyenas and other wild animals). Luckily a car came past and gave Kuol, Peter, Akon and I a lift back to Aweil. But Kuol’s brother, Piooth, the driver of the car, Mou, and a very helpful Mabok local, Ngor, who lives and works in Aweil but volunteers to assist Timpir in helping the Mabok people and had joined us for the day, spent the night in the back of the landcruiser with the goat.

At 6am on the 15th when it was still pitch black, Kuol loaded a jerry can of fuel into a rickshaw and traveled the hideously bumpy 25km journey to the broken down car (one of the fuel tanks was dodgy) and recovered the car, Piooth, Mou, Ngor and the goat. When they had returned to Aweil and all eaten a good meal (having not eaten the previous day) we did a bit more shopping in Aweil market including purchasing 200 mosquito nets with money donated by Insight. We then drove back to Wäramoth.

The next few days were spent in Wäramoth having meetings with the teachers from Wäramoth Primary School and a meeting with the school committee. At the school committee meeting the mosquito nets donated by Insight were given to the committee. We have learnt from the Timpir Christmas Gift programs of 2007 and 2008 that it is best not to give people things for nothing as this creates a welfare mentality that is detrimental to development. So instead the school committee members (9 people from a variety of clans and regions surrounding Wäramoth) were given instructions to distribute mosquito nets as ‘payment’ to those who volunteer in the community in any capacity such as maintaining the school buildings, carting bricks from the river site to the school, cooking for the children during school term etc.

In addition, the school committee will also be responsible for facilitating a new Timpir project, a donkey and plough micro-loan. One of the major things that struck us on this visit was the starved look of many people in the villages. In 2011, following the successful independence of South Sudan, many people returned to the villages from north Sudan where they had lived for decades. On their return they had to clear trees, build houses and farm land that they had not farmed for twenty or more years. On top of this in 2011 there were bad rains across the region which resulted in poor harvests. So while harvest only took place in November and usually by February people still have ample food supplies and are looking relatively healthy, this year people are already hungry and there is a clear sense that things will only get worse as the year draws on until the next harvest in November 2012. The number of people who are facing starvation is staggering and this is a famine that most of the world is unaware of.

Timpir is only a small development organisation that is not equipped to take on the sort of relief that will be necessary to stave of the famine. However, with our development caps on and through conversation and partnership with local community members a scheme was devised to try and reduce the labour intensiveness of cultivation and increase the outputs for a number of local families. It was decided that Timpir would provide the finance for the community to purchase 10 donkeys and ploughs (approximately $400 per set). We purchase 5 ploughs and 1 donkey while in Wäramoth and the balance of the money was left with the school committee to purchase the remaining 5 ploughs and 9 donkeys. These donkeys and ploughs will be given to families in need as determined by the school committee in each of the 10 ‘ suburbs’ which surround Wäramoth. They will be given on a micro-loan basis where the $400 will be repaid to Timpir through selling a small portion of each years harvest over the next 3-4 years. Timpir will then be able to use this money to continue supporting additional families. It is also envisaged that some other more wealthy families in the area will see this farming technique and purchase their own donkeys and ploughs to assist with their farming.

Car outside school
The car we hired during our stay in Aweil and surrounds outside of Wäramoth Primary School
A donkey
A donkey purchase for the donkey and plough micro-loan scheme
200 mosquito nets
200 mosquito nets purchased with donation from Insight
Ploughs
Ploughs purchased for donkey and plough micro-loan scheme

On Saturday February 18th the Timpir group bade goodbye to Kuol’s family who had accommodated us and drove back to Aweil. Unfortunately we were not able to stay in the South Sudan Hotel as it was hosting peace talks between Dinka Malual and Misseriya elders to try and put an end to fighting along the border regions. We stayed in a neighbouring hotel, then spent Sunday trying to find flights. It became clear that we were not going to be able to fly out of Aweil in time, so we drove for 3 hours to Wau where we stayed the night.

Early Monday morning we went to Wau airport where we were told there was an 8am flight to Juba. At the airport we were told that flight was cancelled. We drove to the airline office in Wau town only to be told that airline had sent all its aircraft to Ethiopia for maintenance and repairs. There were no airlines scheduled to fly from Wau to Juba until Wednesday, the day after we were due back in Kampala. On only option was to get a UN flight, which after much tooing and frowing we eventually managed to get. At about 2pm we flew out of Wau and landed in Juba, where we made our way once again to the South Sudan Hotel. After a night there were flew back on a morning flight to Uganda.

On Wednesday 22nd, Peter departed for a Gorilla safari in Uganda. Kuol, Akon and I flew out to South Africa on the 23rd. And now sadly we are all back to normal old life in various parts of South Australia finding it hard to imagine that only 2 weeks ago we were hurtling around the villages of South Sudan!

Faces of Sudan 3: Deng

Deng
Deng

I met Deng at the Pamat market after having walked for an hour and a half to purchase goats for Timpir’s Christmas Gift Program. While we were waiting for sale of the goats to start, Deng would follow us around the market. Each time we stood up, he would stand up and follow us. Each time we sat down, he would sit down on the ground with his legs to the side and pull his gown over his legs. For the entire day, I didn’t see him smile once. He had the saddest eyes that looked as if they had seen things that no child should have to see. We could not work out what was wrong with Deng as he was not asking for money as some other children do and would not talk with us.

One time, when Deng sat down, I caught a glimpse of his calf before he pulled his gown over it. What I saw was grotesque. Deng had an infected wound on his calf, larger than my fist. There was a mass of flies sitting in the wound which is why he was so intent on covering it with his gown. I suddenly thought of what every person from a Western society would, where are the antiseptic and bandages? I knew I had some back in the village where we were staying, but that was an hour and a half walk away, and by the time a went there and back again, Deng would be long gone. So we wandered around the market looking for things that we could use as antiseptic or bandages, but found absolutely nothing. People said that there was a clinic in the town, but it was rarely open. So we went there with the hope of finding someone, but it was devoid of life and resources.

Then I had a brainwave… what about alcohol!? We bought a bottle of the potent local alcohol and I poured that onto Deng’s wound. He didn’t flinch. It occurred to me that the nerves were probably damaged. Then I thought, well what can I do now? I don’t know where he lives, and he doesn’t know that place where I’m staying so I can’t provide any follow-up treatment. I’ve got nothing to use as a bandage. I had the equivalent of about $2, so I gave it to him and asked if he knew where the closest hospital was (about 4 hours walk away) he said ‘No.’ There was no way I could give him directions to the hospital or to come to our village, so with that I left him feeling defeated, helpless and useless. I had done the best that I could under the circumstances, but situations like this reminded me just how much I take access to health care for granted.

Faces of Sudan 2: Mel Magol’s family

In South Sudan there are stories of people and families that show the desperation and hardships of life. The story of Mel Magol’s family is one of these.

Mel and Amoi's family
Mel and Amoi’s family

I had been conducting registrations for students at Wäramoth Primary School for approximately a week when one late afternoon, while I was sitting outside my tent, a lady and her two young sons came to see us. All three family members looked emaciated, as if they had just been released from a Nazi concentration camp. I was shocked, while everyone in South Sudan is thin, this family was starved.

The mother, whose name is Aliok, told me that she had walked for over two hours with her two sons because she wanted to register them for the school. I asked why she did not want them to attend a school closer to their home. She then explained that their home is actually in Wäramoth and they intend to return to live in Wäramoth, but they have not been able to re-construct their home there since returning to South Sudan in 2007. We started talking, with the help of Kuol’s translation, and this is her story.

Aliok fled to Khartoum, in the north of Sudan, with her mother, father and siblings during the 20 year long civil war. While she was there, she met and married her husband, Mel Magol. Mel had been a soldier fighting for the Sudan Peoples Liberation Army (SPLA), the rebel faction fighting for the people of South Sudan. After several years of fighting, Mel had decided to go and live in Khartoum where he met Aliok. Over the next 16 years they had four children, two girls and two boys.

In 2007, Mel decided to take his family home to their village in Wäramoth , South Sudan, as there was now peace. They returned in February 2007, a very difficult time of the year for the agarian people of Wäramoth . Most of their food supplies have finished, and they are desperately waiting for the rains to begin in June. Mel and his family had nothing to bring with them from Khartoum to re-start their lives in South Sudan, so they started with nothing.

Mel worked tirelessly for the next few months clearing land that had over-grown during the war for his family to sew their crops of sorghum when the rains came and starting to rebuild their house. He built a strong base for one house out of bricks that he made himself. While he was working, the family was getting thinner and thinner as there was nothing to eat. The children were getting sick. Mel eventually decided in about May that he would have to return to Khartoum to try and find work so that he could send money for his wife and children to buy food. He started the long journey back to Khartoum, but along the way, his emaciated body was overcome with sickness and he died.

This left Aliok to look after their four children alone. In Dinka culture, the brother of the husband must take care of the wife, so Aliok moved to live with Mel’s younger brother. However, Mel’s younger brother had his own family and had only recently returned to live in the South himself. There was a permanant shortage of food for everyone in the two families.

The billy goat
The billy goat

When we met Aliok and her children in February 2008, they had been suffering terribly for a year. While Aliok wanted to return to the house that her husband had started building in Wäramoth, she didn’t have any men that could complete the building of the house and finish clearing her land so that crops could be sewn.

Mel Mel Magol
Mel Mel Magol

Timpir gave Aliok and her family a

Amoi Mel Magol
Amoi Mel Magol

female goat through the Christmas gift program, to begin their herd. Additionally we gave them a male goat which Aliok will kill and cook as ‘payment’ for local men to come and finish building her house and clearing her land in time for cultivation in June. They will need all the help that Timpir can give them for many years to come.

Faces of Sudan 1: Dut Akol

In 2007, when I went to Wäramoth for the first time, I met Dut. This was what I wrote about Dut after returning from Sudan in 2007:

Dut Akol
Dut Akol

Dut attends Wäramoth Primary School, where he is an above average student. The difference between Dut and the other students at the school is that every day he drags himself for over a kilometre on his hands and knees to get to school and at the end of a long day, he drags himself for over a kilometre to get home again. Dut has severe atrophy of his legs, though it is not known what this is caused by. This means that he is not able to walk. He has never been able to attend a medical facility to receive any type of treatment. Timpir hopes that with the support of our donors, we will be able to provide Dut with a means to transport himself to school. A normal wheelchair will not suffice in the sandy conditions of South Sudan, so we are endeavouring to find an alternative.

When travelling to South Sudan again in 2008, I had one major goal, to find transport for Dut. Over the past year I had many fantastic suggestions from Timpir supporters of ways of finding transport for Dut. When we passed through Aweil, a large town in Bahr el Ghazal state, on our way to Wäramoth, we found a man pedalling a hand wheeled tricycle. We stopped him and asked where he got his tricycle from, thinking that it may be an option for Dut. He told us that there was another disabled man who had his own tricycle, but he was also now building tricycles for other people with disabilities. This was fantastic news as we knew that we would be coming back to Aweil, so we planned to bring Dut with us to have a tricycle constructed for him.

However, when we arrived in Wäramoth, we could not find Dut. It turned out he had been carried to another village, Ariath, about 3 hours walk away to attend a wedding with his family. Eventually his family came back to Wäramoth, but without Dut as they could not find a way to transport him.

As our time in Wäramoth was drawing to a close, I was giving up hope of seeing Dut and taking him with us to Aweil to have his tricycle constructed. However, the day before we were leaving Wäramoth, Dut arrived from Ariath on the back of a relative’s bike. We talked with his family about our plan to take Dut with us to Aweil to have a tricycle constructed, and the wholeheartedly agreed. The next day, we set off for Ariath. Dut, me and the luggage sat on the back of three bikes while Kuol, the headmaster of Wäramoth PS and another strong local young man pedalled the hour and a half to Ariath over sandy tracks.

Dut Akol in the Ute
Dut Akol in the Ute

Once we got to Ariath, we then had to find transport to get to Aweil which is about 2 days walk away. I ran in to an old friend, Nyibol Aleu, who is now the governor of Aweil North, the area that we were residing in. She very generously lent us her car and driver to get to Aweil, a four hour drive away. Dut bumped along in the back of the ute and his excitement was evident.

Unfortunately we had to leave Aweil two days later to travel back to Australia, so we were not able to see him receive his tricycle. But we left him in that capable hands of Kuot Akech, the headmaster of Wäramoth PS, who later reported to us that he had travelled back to Wäramoth with Dut once his tricycle had been made. Kuot told us by phone that Dut has found a new lease on life. For the first time since Dut was a very small child he has the freedom to move wherever he wants independently of other people!