It’s a beautiful morning in Duk Payuel. From my tent I see a cleaning woman bending to sweep the dirt near the dining hall with a broom made of local grasses. Just beyond the tent, Tom breaks up dirt mounds in his garden with a spade. He brought kale seeds to Duk. Now people are growing and eating it.
I’m working out a plan with Tom and Joh Deng about the best way to distribute the seeds contributed by Shotwell Floral in Fargo. They gave me 35 pounds of corn, beans, and many varieties of vegetables. We are at the tail end of a much-too-rainy season, so the new growing season begins in the spring. And more seeds would be welcomed.
This morning I dragged two duffle bags from the stifling container to the shade to sort panties by size for the distribution Sunday morning. This caused quite a stir on the compound. First one of the cleaning women came by and asked for some. I let her pick one out. Soon, other cleaners and cooks arrived. We settled on two pair each. My neat piles were disrupted as the women pawed through them like at a sidewalk sale, seeking the most desirable color and the closest size. Then Rebecca, the Sudanese midwife, put a stop to it because a patient stopped by, though they aren’t supposed to come into this part of the compound. Rebecca was afraid all the clinic patients would come. We decided to give this woman her panties, but Rebecca told her to keep mum.
Later that afternoon, Gideon, the son of 90-year-old Gideon, who I remembered well from our last visit, arrived to talk with Joh and me. Gideon works for IRD, International Relief Development. They built the school here and have done some construction for the clinic. Some of the construction has developed problems with cracking and shifting. Apparently the ratio of sand and concrete wasn’t ideal. This part of the world is challenging to build in even if you have all the correct materials.
Gideon and Joh are concerned about the situation of forced marriage for many girls in the village. Keeping girls in school longer helps prevent this. And educated families are less likely to marry their daughters off for a few cows. Gideon encouraged us to move forward with our project to help female orphans, and offered assistance and suggestions to help us achieve our goal.
Along with the school teachers, they will help to assess the situation, identify a target group of orphaned girls between the ages of 13 and 15 (those most at risk of forced marriage), who are also living with caretakers who neglect them. They believe that if we educate these girls through secondary school and encourage them to learn a trade or go for additional schooling, that they will become leaders of women in the area, and will be better parents to their own children. This type of change will help bring about change in the community as a whole. There has never been a boarding school for girls in Duk County, and there is no secondary school in the county, either. ASAH would set a standard here that could be adopted in other areas.
JDF (John Dau Foundation—the clinic) and IRD will work with the Duk Payuel Community Improvement Agency to assist us on the ground in reconfirming the land previously assigned to us. Gideon will arrange a meeting for me with the chiefs as a courtesy and to elicit their support. With the help of teaching staff, they will be cautious and selective in selecting the students and staff. We would need matrons to provide counseling and oversight of the girls, a pastor to act as principal, teachers, cooks, and cleaners. In addition we would need to fence the area and provide security guards, who could perform other duties as well. They advised the purchase of a 7-ton truck to transport materials and supplies as renting transportation greatly increases the cost of these items. With a truck, we would need a driver/mechanic. This individual could also provide other mechanical assistance for a generator, grinding mill, and so on. Currently, the only grinding mill in the village is a hand mill in use at the school. But it is a small mill, not suited for large-scale use. A fuel-operated mill could also provide ground grain at a charge to people in the village. The principal would control the use of the truck and also rent it out when it is not needed. Currently the only vehicle in the village is the JDF utility vehicle.
They advised that we begin with tukuls to house the girls and Gideon invited me to visit his tukul on Sunday to see the construction and comfort of such housing. This would be affordable, perhaps 500 Sudanese lbs—about $2000? I’m not sure of the exchange rate. The school could be a tin hut to begin with. We would need latrines and shower facilities, a kitchen, and clothes-washing area. And a fence. There is already a bore hold with clean (tested) water on site.
The girls would need uniforms. Joh recommended they be white, to teach them to care for white clothing—a terrific challenge in a place like this. ASAH will work together with Gideon and Joh to develop a budget for the facilities, for salaries, and supplies.
As I relate this, I may not be expressing the reality of the marginalized life here. There is not enough food. Many don’t have clothing. Education is respected, but some illiterate parents don’t understand the value for their children. There are few jobs. Some families care for cattle, but a small herd of a few cows isn’t sufficient to support their lives easily. They are aid dependent, but the groups working here are trying to help them move toward self-sufficiency over the longer term. The village is very peaceful now. I am safe walking around throughout—as long as I’m willing to walk through the water. On the outskirts of the village one evening, a villager spotted a lion! The water has kept them somewhat safer from the Muerle, an unfriendly, uncivilized neighboring tribe suffering from venereal diseases that have caused sterility for a great number of young men and women. Thus they kidnap children, and it isn’t safe for children to go outside the village.
Gideon and Joh stressed that their preeminent concern was for the safety of these girls in a school that offered protection and education and a chance for them to eventually improve the lives of others in the village. Much as we export educated young people from North Dakota, here, with few jobs, and the low pay of jobs like teaching, some educated members move on to greener pastures. Others, like Gideon and Joh and the others here working in the clinic, gave up more lucrative positions in Juba to return home and help their community develop.
This is Joseph Akol Makeer’s dream, and ASAH will work hard this winter to realize that dream for at least twenty-five orphaned girls. The key to success is efficiency, effectiveness, and close control over the operations. The school will follow the Kenyan curriculum, which allows for three month-long holidays—December, April and August. Those girls who have a safe situation with their extended family caretakers could return home during the holidays. Girls who don’t have an appropriate place to return would be cared for at the ASAH compound.
Gideon asked me to return in March. He will arrange meetings in Juba with the larger NGOs working in Sudan and suggested the IRD will dedicate 25% of their committee men to support us here on the ground. For money transfer, we need to establish a bank account in Juba, the capitol of Southern Sudan, at the Kenya Commercial Bank. The money can be transferred from the US and picked up in Bor, the capitol of Jonglei State, which is closer to the village than Juba.
The larger NGOs provide support for smaller NGOs. For example, we can ask World Food Program (WFP) for food supplies; UNICEF for school supplies (though currently IRD has sufficient supplies to get us started) and possibly furniture—beds, mattresses, etc.; seeds, from POA (?); UNHCR for sustainability of a generator; UNDP (?). Eventually, we could work with extension workers to start a garden at the school as well.
We would need beds, mattresses, sheets, a simple cabinet for the girls to store clothing and supplies, tables, chairs, bathing kits, a generator, and solar panels, a grinding mill, small tools, wheelbarrows, pangas (scythes), and building materials. Some items are needed immediately, some can be added as funds allow. The tukuls can be built of local materials, except for the corner posts and posts to support the thatch, which must be transported from Bor.
Tomorrow I will visit Gideon’s tukul.