basic necessities

For the last several months I have served as the interim director of a non-profit called Water is Basic - an organization that empowers Sudanese leaders to provide clean water to their people and had the honor of spending a week in Sudan with our Water is Basic field director, last fall, documenting some of the work that is being done. I have written about the trip in several places but haven't shared anything here, but today - as I was choosing which image we were going to use for the Photo of the Week (below), I felt compelled to share some of the work I did on that trip.

Tarekeka5a young girl clings to her jerry can in Tarekeka, South Sudan.

I can't explain how overwhelming the scene in Tarekeka was when we arrived, late in the day on the 9th of November. It was late in the wet season & everywhere we went, people were making preparations for the dry season, with its oppressive heat & lack of crops.

I had read reports of the Dinka cattle herders that raided a Mundari village in early October. The disputes over grazing lands led to the Dinka burning the Mundari village to the ground, displacing them all. But reading reports can't prepare you for seeing 24,000 refugees.

The trip from Yei to Tarekeka took 8 dusty hours and when we arrived the low sun dappled through the leaves of banyan & mango trees on the bank of the Nile, and if not for the circumstances, the scene would have been idyllic.

Tarekeka4sunrise over the Nile & a woman scarred with traditional Mundari decoration

Tarekeka1the White Nile serves as both water source & recreation spot for the people of Tarekeka

Thousands of internally displaced sat beneath the low hanging banyans and seemed to inhabit every nook & cranny in the tiny Nile town, living in schools, government offices & every available public space; in most cases, their shelter simply a mosquito net. The scene was beyond comprehension & their presence had disrupted village life, closing schools & causing tension.

Everywhere I went, this was the story - shortage leading to conflict.

Tarekeka3a local cattle herder surveys the drilling project on the land given to the refugees.

The crush of children, desperate for something to fill their bellies was unbelievable. The pleas of mothers for a bit of candy for their babies were heart breaking. I had come with a truck full of aid and for the first time, as I stood in the midst of them, the scope of 24,000 displaced people hit me. Five tons of maize couldn't feed them all, not even for a day. The four bore holes Water is Basic is drilling will double the number of operable wells in the region - but a single bore hole can only effectively serve 2,000.

Sudan, I learned, isn't a place for the easily discouraged.

Tarekeka2a young boy slips into a new shirt provided by WiB donors.

Tarekeka6a Mundari man hands out some candy brought by someone from the local church.

Which brings me back to that young girl and her yellow jerry can. I was in the midst of a crush of humanity, most of which hadn't eaten anything in at least a week. Out of the corner of my eye I saw her running toward a man passing out candy, so I dropped to my knees as she flashed by as quickly as the shutter opened.
It the moment came and went before I could even process what happened. But, of all the images I captured in Sudan, none convey - with such raw honesty - the desperate situation of so many in Sudan. Despite the hunger & lack of shelter, one need takes precedence & is worth hanging onto with all the strength you can muster - water. Think about that the next time you turn on the faucet to brush your teeth or grab a bottle out of the refrigerator - and let it move you to take action.