NOTE: This is a guest blog post by Laura Ferreiro, Communications Manager with Drop in the Bucket.
While most of us are lucky enough to have clean water flowing from our taps just steps away, many people in Africa have to travel on foot for miles for this vital resource, sacrificing time and energy they could be using going to school, caring for their families and building better lives.
The water situation is especially dire in the world’s newest country, South Sudan. As it celebrates its recent independence from neighboring Sudan, it remains one of the least developed, poorest countries in the world. People have to travel for miles to find water sources, especially in Northern Bahr El Ghazal. Unfortunately, the burden of fetching water falls mainly on girls, who take on the role of water collector for their families. They are forced to miss school or drop out entirely to spend hours a day walking and waiting in line to collect water. Drop in the Bucket is one of the only aid organizations working in this region to not only alleviate the extreme water crisis, but also to help children stay in school.
Los Angeles- and Uganda-based Drop in the Bucket is opening a compound in Northern Bahr el Ghazal to build wells at local schools, construct latrines and do vital sanitation education. In addition to providing life-giving clean water, these wells add tremendous value to the schools. In fact, we have found that when we build wells at schools, enrollment doubles or triples.
Wells add value to schools
When wells are constructed in schools, girls like 14-year-old Awyti Blass are able to attend class rather than spending hours each day traveling to and from water sources. Awyti, a 7th grader at Kendiri Primary School in South Sudan, and her sisters are responsible for collecting water for their family. Before Drop in the Bucket installed a well at their school, the girls would walk at least three miles from their village to the water source, which was a shallow, hand-dug, unprotected hole in the ground. Often they would have to leave their village at 5:00 a.m. in order to reach the water source before other villagers got there and collected all of the water. If they got there too late and the water was gone for the day, the girls would then have to walk even further, causing them to be late for school or miss it all together.
Now that there is clean water on the school compound, Awyti and her sisters can stay in class. They have more time to focus on their studies, and Awyti hopes to achieve her goal of becoming a secretary.
Education is the key to success
Education is absolutely vital to the success of this new nation. Research shows that when you educate a girl in Africa, she’s three times less likely to get HIV/AIDS, have a smaller, healthier family and earn 25 percent more income (source: Camfed). A UNICEF study also shows that children who are marginalized or poor are less likely to make the transition to secondary education and are more likely to experience violence, abuse and exploitation.
Right now in South Sudan, it’s shocking that less than 3% of girls get a primary school education. Drop in the Bucket is working to change this. By constructing wells at schools it allows them to stay in class rather than spending half their day collecting water. It also enables families who had to travel from place to place to find water sources to stay in one place so their children can remain at the same school.
Drop in the Bucket currently has funding to build 20 wells in Bahr el Ghazal, but so much more needs to be done! We aim to expand our much-needed programs in this region in the coming year, and help South Sudan compete with the rest of the world by creating an environment in which young people can become educated, productive members of society rather than dropping out of school and worrying about where to get their next drink of water.
Sanitation education is crucial
Another key component of our work is sanitation education. More than 80% of diseases in developing countries are linked to poor drinking water and sanitation (source: WHO). Many of us assume that everybody knows to wash their hands after using the toilet and to avoid drinking from the same water sources where they wash their dishes and clothes. But this is far from common knowledge in South Sudan. Oftentimes people will defecate right next to open water sources, contaminating the water used for drinking. It’s vital that we educate students about proper hygiene and sanitation practices—lessons they take back to their families that help prevent typhoid, cholera, malnutrition and other maladies related to poor sanitation.
Drop in the Bucket believes that a good education is the most surefire way to break the cycle of poverty and empower the people of South Sudan and throughout sub-Saharan Africa to become leaders and entrepreneurs and take control of their future.
Visit DropintheBucket.org for more information about these programs and to find out how you can get involved. Drop in the Bucket welcomes personal contributions to fund wells and sanitation systems. Or get creative and concoct a unique fundraising campaign! Click here for a few ideas.
Also, read about our triumphs and challenges in Africa in Drop in the Bucket co-founder Stacey Travis’ blog.
Meanwhile, our friend, spokesperson and alternative rock icon Henry Rollins reminds us of how valuable a resource water is in this lighthearted video.
Photo by Deng Deng