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Taking The Road Less Traveled

By Suzie Robinson

Give or take a kilometer or two, our family traversed 8,157 miles for the chance to see, with our own eyes, a well drilled by the Water is Basic team. What we saw will change us forever.

Honestly, the well looked like most of the ones we’ve all seen on the WIB website, in an email or on a Facebook post over the years. You know, several villagers gathered around the pump; a dozen or so yellow jerry cans contrasting the wet, orange dirt, and precious little ones awestruck by the gushing water. Don’t get me wrong, this is a beautiful picture (so keep ‘em coming), and a constant reminder of why each of us — you, me, donors around the world — stay in the game. Only now, for our family, the pictures were real. We could see, hear, smell and feel the reality they represent.  

The SUV was at maximum capacity with seven Americans plus the South Sudanese translator, Akeem, as we bumped, bobbled, zigged and zagged our way down the orange dirt “roads” for more than an hour into the bush. As we entered the Ayakaka “Boma” (community), we were warmly greeted with smiling faces. The eldest man guided us to a shady place to park.

South Sudan Map 1280x700

After the introductions, we learned that while our visit was indeed a surprise, the family considered it an honor to have us come to their village. Patrubas, the well committee chairman, Lino, the vice chairman and two women on the committee — Charity and Alfreda — were very eager to show us their new well. The women and children gathered around as we each got a turn to pump the water — a sight I can only imagine made them chuckle on the inside.

Next, we asked what impact the new well was having, compared to using a water hole a few hundred yards behind their mud huts. (You know, besides the obvious — close access to clean drinking water, less time collecting water and more time for school or farming, better health, and so much more.) Charity rubbed her right hand up and down over the top of her left arm and said, “My skin. The clean water helps my skin.” Apparently, they develop severe rashes and often infections from open wounds exposed to filthy, disease-ridden water. Imagine that for a moment: you need to bathe to keep clean, but the only water you have to wash is actually causing great harm to the very skin you’re trying to protect.

We were curious about the water source they had used for drinking and bathing as recently as six weeks before the well was installed. Being the polite hosts, they agreed to walk us down, but only after they presented us with a gift. A gift? For us? From a family who is lucky to eat one meal a day to a group of Americans who could eat five or six meals a day if we wanted? But they insisted, and our hearts began to break.

Patrubas sent a young girl into the tall grass with a long piece of rope and apologized they did not have time to prepare a meal this late in the day. (Yes, how discourteous of them not to predict an SUV full of Americans would drop by their village unannounced that day.) She returned with a black and white male goat lassoed by the rope, presenting it to Dee, a fellow IBCer and long-time supporter of Water is Basic with whom we had the privilege of traveling. Steve Roese, WIB President, observed our gut-wrenched faces, yet was intimately familiar with their culture and customs. For our sake, he gently attempted to decline their unfathomable generosity. They politely stood their ground, and the goat was prepped to travel with us.

We walked behind some mud huts to see the water hole they had used before the well was drilled. As I stepped closer to get a better look at the cesspool (the only word remotely close to what was at my feet), I literally shuddered at the thought of touching it. How DID they not only touch it, but bathe with it and drink it? I immediately lifted a prayer of thanksgiving for clean water.

When we returned to the well, Patrubas’ wife, Rejoice (one of six women on the well committee) had returned from a meeting. We visited with them both and realized it was past lunchtime. We’d probably disrupted enough of their day, we thought. As we loaded up and said goodbye to our newfound friends, we made sure our gift was as comfortable as possible in the narrow space behind the third row of seats. And, just in case we forgot about the extra passenger for a few minutes, the hearty bleats reminded us each time we hit a pothole. What a ride!

Left: Dee is presented with a goat, the gift from Patrubas and his family for the new well. Top: Original water source for Patrubas and his family. Bottom: Water Well Committee: 12 members, 6 are men and 6 are women (left to right) Chairman Patrubas, wife Rejoice, Vice Chairman Lino, Charity and Alfreda.

We’ve been home for a few days now, and each of us has contemplated all we have to be thankful for — peace, clean water, air conditioning, three meals a day, schools, hospitals, grocery stores, our health, family, friends and paved roads. And, we’re thankful for you, IBC family. 

You enable the Water is Basic crew to go into remote villages and bring life-saving, life-changing clean water to people like Patrubas and his community. The water team navigates treacherous paths, rainy seasons, petrol shortages, extreme drought and the numerous uncertainties of war. They can do this because you care.

From our family to yours, thank you for empowering the people of South Sudan in the fight for clean water. Because, dear brothers and sisters, they need to be reminded that we care about them — especially those living beyond the road less traveled.

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