Sunday mornings are busy at ASAH. The girls are up early, fussing, and giggling, and singing and getting ready to go to prayers at the Episcopalian Church, the only church in the village. The church is an enormous tukul. Several hundred people can easily fit inside. Massive metal columns hold the tremendous thatched roof that reaches 20′ (or more?) at the center.
Congregants bring their own chairs. The girls carried a few with them. Two or more will crowd into one plastic chair, their tiny thin bottoms don’t take up much space. Prayers begin at eight and go until 10. I attend sometimes, but usually not for the full service. It’s all in Dinka, and even the hymns are unfamiliar in both word and tune. But it’s wonderful to experience the fellowship. I’m warmly welcomed, and often led to the front to sit on the platform with the pastors and elders and lay leaders, usually next to Gideon, the oldest member of the village – more than ninety years old now. He’s walks with but is healthy. Had more than 40 children with four or five wives. More than 20 survived the war, but a good number did not.
But this was no day of rest for me. Manyok and I had work to do: updating job descriptions, policies and procedures for staff. Though I will be here more than two weeks, the time flies.
When the girls returned it was time for compound cleanup, which Daruka organized at my request. Skinny little Debra Akon, age 12, manned a wheelbarrow and the gaggle of ASAH girls with Daruka leading combed the compound for discarded soap boxes, toilet paper wrappers, old cement bags, random pieces of wire, palm fronds, broken branches, bits of plastic detritus. Four wheelbarrow loads full. The old garbage pit was flooded, so we started a new one, and set the trash ablaze. The air was calm. The flames crackled and the smoke licked the air above.
Much of Africa has been civilized quickly to a modern throw-away culture without the infrastructure and education to deal with the garbage culture now produces. And even when things are used many times in many ways, beyond the life we might give it in the US, it may one day just be left to die on the ground somewhere the little bit of life it has left may take centuries to expire.
I’ve walked on paths in Kiberra slum in Kenya that are built of trash. People set up shop on ground that has give to it when you walk. Layers upon layers of plastic bags and discarded clothing, paper, food and packaging.
How do we keep that from happening here? We train our girls and staff not to drop things on the ground and to pick up trash they see instead of leaving it for someone else. We help our girls and staff care about the place they live and work and go to school, to have pride in it, to want to show it off to visitors. And they will teach someone else one day.