The primary purpose of our efforts here in Gulu is to provide the training for marginalized youths who spent much or even most of their lives in the IDP camps created during the Joseph Kony and LRA violence of 1986 to 2009. Our objective is not to find water or repair hand pumps, but to train the students to do so. Being practical in nature, though, the training involves field surveys and field repairs. Myself and my 3 IsraAID colleagues do not choose the sites, as it is up to the students to identify the village (usually their own), identify the problem (broken pump, additional well needed, etc.), organize or identify the community contribution (labor, cash, food, etc.), and direct us to the location (always an adventure!).
Things do not always go as planned. On Tuesday, one of the students, Kagwar, took us on a long drive to a small village in the Omoro District, south of Gulu. Other than the handle having been removed (i.e., likely stolen), the hand pump worked fine, and was located a mere 15 m from a crystal clear alternative water source flowing from a carefully constructed and protected boxed in spring. Before we could become too irritated, though, he said there was another broken pump nearby.
Abili village, in fact, was not so near, but the pump was definitely broken, and the area was certainly high need- 50 households depended on the well, and the only alternative water source was a cloudy puddle that seeped out of a clay wall. The well had been drilled in 2005 or so while almost the entire village had been interned in a nearby IDP camp with thousands of Acholi. The well had not functioned since 2008.
The history of the site was given to us by a very articulate and gracious woman, Joyce, who lived only 50 m or so from the well. Besides the history of the well, she voluntarily told us her own story including 12 children, a widow from HIV, kids lost to HIV, and the challenges of raising a family while living with HIV. The reality, though, is that even in small, impoverished villages, those who acknowledge and directly address HIV can receive drugs, health care, and carry on.
The site was well suited for a geophysical survey. The need for a functioning well was there. And the pump assembly was a mess, with pipe lost in the hole, the downhole pump cylinder needing to be fished, the chain that connects the handle to the pump rods missing, etc. It was a disaster, exactly what the students need to see. Unfortunately, the missing piece was that the village pump maintenance committee had no money, and was completely unprepared to make any contribution of any kind. 3 riser pipes, a pump handle, 3 rods (that connect the handle to the piston in the downhole cylinder), a cylinder (the downhole assembly of pistons and valves that pushes the water to surface)...it all adds up to about 650,000 Uganda Shillings or $200 or so.
Fortunately for me, I just find the water. It is these community mobilization efforts that are completely unfathomable, as well as stressful. Resty, the IsraAID Ugandan field coordinator, did all the negotiations with the LC1 (the community leader), and she is no pushover at all. But given we were there, and the story of the village and what we could see with our own eyes, she decided to carry on. Not an easy decision, but probably the only one. The class had carried out two geophysical surveys on their own, repaired the pump, and shock chlorinated the well before we returned to town. Though Resty and I felt a bit duped, the class was buzzed from a job well done, and we certainly could not have simply walked away from such a wretched situation.
On Wednesday, September 28, we spent the morning in the classroom, or rather a large tent. The Acholi pump mechanic and driller spoke to the class about the business aspects of pump repair and drilling, specifically, preparing Bills of Quantities. If you ever wanted to know how to say “6-inch slotted, thick walled PVC well casing” in Acholi, or to know the cost of galvanized pipe in Kampala versus Gulu, this was not a talk to be missed!
I went over the results and interpretations of our geophysical surveys to date. The technique of 1D resistivity soundings was developed in 1916 by Frank Wenner at the United States Geological Survey, and I may have a Nile Special beer tonight to celebrate the centennial anniversary. Though the method has become somewhat obsolete over the last 20 years in much of the world, it is actually remarkably effective in Northern Uganda for identifying aquifers. And unfortunately, I am old enough to have used and taught the technique extensively.
In the afternoon, we carried out surveys and hand pump repair at the nearby main campus of the University of Gulu, which in fact is short of water. I was grateful to have a day without a long, bone jarring drive to another remote location.
But on Thursday, one of our students guided us to his distant village of Oboo, in what I was told is the “famous” Lamogi County. We headed north on the road to Juba in South Sudan, and in the direction of where, according to this week's numbers from UNHCR, 400,000 refugees have crossed into Uganda. I was surprised to see only a few UNHCR supply trucks heading in the same direction. IsraAID staff just returned form a "needs assessment" of the camps in the Adjumani area. Medical care, food, educational resources, housing, and trauma counseling are all, of course, in desperate need. What struck me in their photos were the long lines of empty 5 gallon jerry cans neatly lined up near large, black, and obviously chronically empty 5,000 liter water tanks - obviously empty as there were no people filling the containers. We are expecting in our water exploration class next week a few WASH staff from NGOs working in the water supply sector at the camps.
There are no road signs to Oboo, and I doubt if you will find Lamogi on a map. According to the LC1 (Local Council) who introduced the village to us while the students and the one mzungu, me, stood around the faulty hand pump, it was here in 1911 that the Lamogi, armed with only bows and spears, successfully fought the British. And it was only when the British used gas to asphyxiate the Lamogi fighters who were hiding in the nearby Guru Guru caves, that the British gained the upper hand. And so I learned that perhaps the Germans do not have the dubious claim of having been the first to use chemical weapons in World War I, though all Ugandan students learn of the Lamogi Rebellion.
Well, the students quickly pounded out two geophysical surveys entirely on their own. And the water well was in need of far more parts than we had been lead to believe, or had brought. So, instead of returning early to Gulu, I walked the long path to the alternate water source the village was using, and got a bit of a Heritage Park-like tour of Acholi village life! Check out the photos
I am now in Gulu, northern Uganda. What is it like? I can only compare it to Kakuma and the Turkana desert. The previous issue of the Bradt Uganda Guide says "travel in the vicinity of Gulu, Lira, and other areas north of the NIle is highly risky, if not downright suicidal..." Gulu is from where Zika and the evil hemorrhagic sibling of Ebola, the Marburg virus, sprang from. There are diseases here like "Nodding Sickness" that are already epidemic and of unknown origin, yet are unheard of outside of Uganda and even outside of Northern Uganda. The Acholi people here suffered under Idi Amin, and then they were brutalized by Joseph Kony and the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) from 1986 until 2009. To "protect" the population from Kony, the current President, Yoweri Museveni, moved 90+ % of the population to internally dispaced persons (IDP) camps where they were decimated by malaria and HIV, culturally undermined, and were an even more easily targeted population for Kony as well as the Ugandan army.
What's it like here compared to Kakuma? The town and area are much closer to Ubud in Bali than anything in the Turkana. Fresh fruit and vegetables in the largest produce market I have seen anywhere in Africa, kind people, a strong culture, lush vegetation, cafes, restaurants, badminton matches at the Luo Guest House on Sunday nights, an indigenous architecture, anywhere worth getting to (including the University of Gulu where I teach) is a pleasant bicycle commute, every meal begins with a passion fruit/papaya/banana/avocado smoothie, fesh fish from the Nile or any of the many nearby lakes,,....it is not so bad here. But the Gulu district is very poor, with youth in particular lacking employment opportunities, and much of the energy of village life is engaged in hauling water.
Last November I helped teach a course to about 50 Acholi young men and women on hand pump repair, manual water well drilling, gorundwater, and water exploration. The hand pump repair business has continued, partly due to the chronic failure of NGO installed hand pumps in Uganda, partly due to the excellent training course IsraAID put on, and partly due to the hand pump repair kit donated by WorleyParsons to the IsraAID students. And the students know how to drill, and have been making a business of drilling new wells. However, some dry holes have been drilled, and that makes for unhappy villagers. So I have come back to Gulu with geophysical equipment, donated by ABEM of Sweden, that will be left here, and I will be putting all my efforts into training the Acholi students on planning, executing, and interpreting water exploration programs here in the Gulu area. This week I will be training the 50 students of IsraAID's classes 5 and 6; next week I will work with the 100 or so students of classes 1 through 4. At the same time, Polycarp, a local Acholi master hand pump mechanic, will be carrying on with the hand pump repair training, and learning a bit of geophysical water exploration himself.
Unfortunately for everyone, including my class, my drone was confiscated at the airport, though I hardly consider myself a security risk...but sorry, there will be no air photos of the wonderful vernacular village architecture of Acholi Land.
The morning started well enough, as all 5 of us from IsraAID drove out to Chief Alfred Kapoko's home in Kalobeyei to present and explain our Kalobeyei water exploration report. The Turkana hamlet of Kalobeyei (not to be confused with the nearby Refugee Camp of Kalobeyei) is a 25 km or so drive over a heavily cratered, but asphalted road. Despite living in a very remote Turkana community, Chief Kapoko seemed to absorb the significance and required action items coming out of our work. Together he patiently and attentively went through the Kalobeyei section of the report figure by figure, map by map.
We then drove back east toward the new Camp of Kalobeyei. The conditions are extremely challenging. With most of the vegetation, including the trees, being bulldozed away, crowds of people huddled under the few remaining trees searching for shade in the oppressive heat that characterizes the end of the dry season. The homes are wall tents with tin roofs, family size solar ovens. Gardens and food production are encouraged here, though with no protection from the wind or sun, and very limited water; gardening even in Alberta has its advantages.
We parked innocuously about 500 m west of the Camp. As part of siting a water well is making a good map of the exploration area, in previous classes I have taught the class to GPS the proposed well site with a mobile phone, photograph the site from the ground, make a drawing, and photograph the site from the air. In previous classes we used kites to very inexpensively, and with great fun, carry out our low altitude and high resolution aerial photography. Of course it is now the age of drones - after all, Eye in the Sky takes place in Kenya - and the vast open area 15 km or so from the Kakuma air strip seemed to be a good location to safely do a test flight. Besides simply creating site photos for documentation purposes, the drone photographs can be used for creating digital elevation models to plan drainage, counting latrines, planning roads, identifying impassable roads after major rain events, monitoring bank erosion during flash floods, monitoring garden developments and vegetation regeneration, monitoring illegal wood scavenging, etc.
Anyways, after taking photographs at about 100 m altitude for a mere 15 minutes or so, I brought the drone home, assuming no one had been aware of the flight. Following the drone came every child from Kalobeyei, as well as the police. At issue was not the drone flight or the photographs, but the pandemonium and accompanying stampede. As I bent down to remove the propellers from the craft, I was enveloped by the mob of barefoot, would be geographers and geomatics scientists. I was feeling a rush of empathy with Melissa and Gabby from Clowns Without Borders. Even with the crowd, we still might have made our getaway had it not been for the monster thorns puncturing a front tire, and the misfortune of not having a spare tire. For three hours the Israeli IsraAID staff, Gal and Nimrod, expertly took charge of the situation and entertained the children with games, songs, juggling, and juggling instruction. While the drone episode was entirely my doing, our office field coordinator smoothed out the situation with the police. All in all, hanging out in the broiling mid day sun provided a genuine Kalobeyei experience.
There is no better way to end an epic mid-day misadventure than injera, goat meat, hot chili peppers, and coffee at the Kakuma Refugee Camp's most famous restaurant, Franco's. Besides the life sized Jennifer Lopez photo, the thick mud plastered floor, the complete absence of any straight lines to the structure, the continuous stream of Ethiopian dance music, and especially the fragrant Eithiopian coffee all lend a certainty of authenticity that you are in Ethiopia, and not in the Ethiopian Market of the Kakuma Refugee Camp. A bit of shopping at a few of the Congolese fabric shops, followed by a walk back to my room, and an evening run into the desert all made for a great way to spend my only Saturday in my 2 weeks in Kakuma. Electric Avenue in Calgary is going to feel oh so dull!
Some days it is not too difficult to draw the connection between cappuccinos and croissants in Vilnius in Lithuania, and chai mendazi (tea and fried bread) in Kakuma, or to do away with the euphemisms, to compare the Nazi extermination pits in the Ponary Forest where 70,000 Jews were shot in groups of 10, buried, and burned in 1941 through 1944, to what is still presently ongoing in numerous conflicts in this area. Of course I just meet the few fortunate ones, those lucky enough to survive, and get away, and make it to the Kenyan border, and still possessed with enough presence of mind to be able to tell a small part of their story. Sunday, while waiting for our spare tire to magically roll out of the Turkana desert, a young man, Abbas, walked up to us from the Camp. He spoke no Swahili, but excellent English. He was a school teacher in Darfur, that other conflict in Sudan that fell off the news years ago, but never went away. Government soldiers came to his village on horseback, pressing him to join the army. He refused, wanting only to continue teaching and learning. They shot him point blank in the mouth. At this juncture in the story he removed his upper, false teeth, and then turned around to show the bullet exit point in his neck.
Coming back to Kakuma for the fourth time seems to have allowed the refugees I meet to be more at ease to tell me their stories. Despite having done training in 2015 in Gulu, in northern Uganda, no person had ever actually explicitly clearly talked about being a child soldier for Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). It was always someone else’s story. On Monday, one of my students from Uganda, Ouma, spoke matter-of-factly about being a 14 year old guerilla fighter with Kony’s LRA in the village areas of Acholi land, only to take the first opportunity of escape when his guerilla band was bombed, chaos ensued, and he ran, and ran…. Last night, over a 10% Danish beer at Catherine’s (it is a 1 minute walk from my bed, so no driving was involved), Shema, a philosophy major and aid worker in the Camp, told about fleeing Rwanda as a child with his father, a military officer, and his two body guards, taking 12 hours to navigate, cajole, and threaten their way through the many Hutu roadblocks that the Hutu had set up to prevent any Tutsi or suspected Tutsi from fleeing Kigali. This morning, while driving back from the field, one of my Burundian students, Richard, showed me an image of his brother. Though an officer in the military, he had been imprisoned for speaking out against the government. Today, he had escaped prison and crossed the border into Rwanda, with the photo being that of a free man.
Continuing on a positive note, yesterday, Nimrod from IsraAID and myself met with the head of UNHCR WASH. He had only complimentar comments about the technical value of our January exploration program. Based on our results, three productive wells have been drilled in the northern portion of the Camp. These wells are relatively close to Kalobeyei, and will likely replace the water trucking that is presently sustaining Kalobeyei. Our targets near Kalobeyei will be drilled to supply the host Turkana community.
Yesterday morning, before the groundwater class, we were also asked to take a bit of movie footage over the primary school in Kakuma 4 from our drone. For those staff working and volunteering at the school, the phrase of never have so few done so much for so many with so little held more true. With the sun pounding down on the treeless school yard, 20 kids waiting in line for the single slide, a dozen sharing the seesaw, and an annoying UAV buzzing in the distance, I was astounded by the good will and good natured behaviour manifested in a setting more reminiscent of a nursery in the not so futuristic Mad Max movie. So harsh is the landscape, and so intent are the children to take advantage of any opportunity or game or piece of sporting equipment, that even the best quality soccer ball does not last more than a week of being kicked around all day. Gal, the other half of the Israeli couple that forms the entire expat contingent of IsraAID in Kakuma, has clearly played a massively positive role at the school and with the kids. Check it out from the air! And next time you see a tree, hug it!
Friday, September 16, 2016 in Kakuma
Last night by chance, I met and had a Tusker with the aid worker who was responsible for one of IsraAID's best female students, Rose, dropping out of the November 2015 groundwater geophysics course. Elvis, a Kenyan, runs Youth Development Services here in Kakuma, for the Lutheran World Federation, aka LWF. Sure, that includes a music studio, a soccer league, encouraging artists and would be musicians, and even youth workshops with Clowns Without Borders. It also included putting together an Olympic team in a place where youth have no shoes and facilities of any sort, and where opportunities simply do not exist. It was a 4 year methodical process of teasing latent talent out of the Camp.
Rose was one of the 5 Kakuma athletes, all middle distance runners, and all from South Sudan, who comprised the 10 person Refugee Olympic Team. From the millions of other refugees in camps in Africa and elsewhere, people here are filled with pride and hope that half came from Kakuma, and ALL the track athletes came from Kakuma. The NGO FilmAid set up massive screens at 2 locations in the Camp, with large canopies so some events could be watched live even in the bright sun of late afternoon. Tens of thousands watched.
The 5 athletes flew back to Kakuma to a hero's welcome. A huge crowd greeted them at the air strip with singing and traditional dancing....living proof that there is a way out of here. And while the 5 runners did return, they are now being sponsored to train in Nairobi to become professional track athletes.
Rose was very good, but there have been other outstanding female South Sudanese students in the IsraAID WASH - WAter, Sanitation, and Hygiene - classes. Besides being tall, thin, and dramatic looking, they all seem possessed of smarts, a strong work ethic, and a no nonsense approach to everything. Today I ate a great lunch - njira, rice, cabbage, and goat-with Anna. One of the superstars in the class. Her father was killed in the second Sudan civil war, and her mother carried her out of Sudan to Kakuma in 1994 when she was age 2. Besides great math and science skills, she speaks English, Swahili, Acholi, Arabic, and likely at least one other language of Sudan. Her mother died of disease here in the Camp, and she has since lived with her now 65 year old grandmother. The grandmother collects and carries water for the household so Anna can work on a hygiene promotion team in the morning, and attend the groundwater class in the afternoon. She has had countless interviews for resettlement, with no success. I don't get it as not only does she have all the attributes to succeed, but one of the great failures of resettlement of the Lost Boys of Sudan was not resettling Lost Girls to supplement the social package. Meanwhile, according to today's BBC news, about 300 South Sudanese a week are coming into Kenya fleeing the latest conflict, with far more South Sudanese fleeing into Uganda, Ethiopia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
I have always wondered why I rarely see runners in the evening when I usually head out into the desert. Elvis said the 6:00 PM curfew keeps them in Camp in the evening. Also, when you are living on one meal a day, and that meal is in the evening, you do not want to miss it. Since there is no electricity in the Camp, and people are hungry and tired, the evening meal is usually not delayed. Most of the runners head out at dawn. Too bad for them, as it was an inspiring scene this evening seeing the full moon rising over Laga Tarach, the Turkana manyata homes, and the Acacia trees of the Turkana Desert. For a moment I thought I was in Africa!
Myself and 2 Israeli colleagues with IsraAID finished the evening with a walk into Kakuma town, nyama choma - roasted goat meat - and beers, all outside of course under a clear sky and a harvest moon. Tomorrow it is a visit to the Chief of Kalobeyei to discuss the results of our January SEG Geoscientists Without Borders water exploration surveys, and to the new Kalobeyei Refugee Camp.
I have been back in Kakuma since September 12 teaching, for the 3rd time, a groundwater and water exploration course to refugees and the host community Turkana. I also plan to follow up on the success of 3 wells drilled from our January geophysical water exploration program, reportedly testing for 29, 40, and 45 m3 per hour. That is a lot of water even for this massive camp, but only seeing is believing, so I plan to visit the well field this weekend, hopefully stopping at the Ethiopian refugee cafe of Franco's on the way.
Early morning September 12, 2016, I flew in on the World Food Program plane as usual, and though this is my 4th time here, I was once again immediately overwhelmed by the heat, the dust, and the mass of humanity. Of course all the refugees that were here in January are still here, plus thousands more coming in from the political chaos in Burundi and Ethiopia, the renewed fighting in South Sudan, and the transfer of Somalis from the supposedly soon-to-be-closed, even larger Dadaab Camp in northeast Kenya.
The refugee population in Kakuma is now 194,000. That does not include the 4,000+ that have been moved into the "new" camp of Kalobeyei, an area on the outskirts of Kakuma, where they have no shade, inadequate water supply, and few facilities. The Kalobeyei area is treed, but the Camp area was bulldozed flat, clearing all vegetation. The people are in tents with tin roofs. It is too hot to be inside, with no trees for shade outside. UNHCR is encouraging agriculture, but there is not enough water. 7 of us from Advisian WorleyParsons carried out a water exploration program in January, but none of our targets in the Kalobeyei area, including a few very prospective ones, have yet been drilled. Presently, all water is trucked in. The 3 wells that were drilled in the Kakuma Camp based on our work, reportedly tested for sustainable yields of 29, 49, and 45 m3 per hour. At 20 liters per person per day, it is enough water for about 140,000 persons. UNHCR may pipe water from these wells, or use water from these 3 wells to replace another closer source to be piped to Kalobeyei.
I teach alone from noon to 5. Between the heat and the jet lag and trying to memorize 28 names from South Sudan, Uganda, Burundi, Somalia, and Turkana, day 1 was a struggle. I ended the first day by going for a long run into the desert through a few Turkana communities. Lucky I did. 3 km out I saw a Land Rover driven by a white man. An unusual sight here. It was an Alaskan driller and his wife carrying out a water well drilling program for a Christian evangelical charity out of Medicine Hat, Alberta. I was told there were no rigs operating within 100 km of Kakuma. Just what I needed for a class field trip.
Day 2 in Kakuma, Tuesday, I drove out to the rig in the morning to be sure the class could reach it across the sand and dried out river beds we needed to cross, and then lectured in class in the afternoon. The groundwater students are excellent. 8 women, 20 men. The usual mix of host community Turkana trying to better themselves, political refugees from Burundi, child soldiers or just plain run'of-the-mill rebels from South Sudan. Without exception they are all respectful, intelligent, and easy to talk to.
One Burundian, Richard, was volunteering daily for the Burundian local equivalent of Amnesty International - Association Volontaire Pour La Defense Des Droits Des Prisoniers- interviewing political prisoners (in prison) and advising them of their human rights until prison was up next for him, and he fled. The tallest person in my class, Mawiet, was a rebel fighter in South Sudan and has bullet holes through his legs and arms and stomach to prove it. A Somali, woman, Suad, has been living in camps since she was 5 months old.
There are 2 Acholi refugees from Gulu, where I will be in 8 days, whose past is still quite unclear to me, but whom I assume were trapped or associated with the wrong side of history in regards to the 20 years of violence and chaos brought on by Joseph Kony and the LRA, though they themselves are too young to have been directly involved in either side. It is good fun practicing all 10 words or so from my Acholi vocabulary I picked up last year, though I try not to probe too deeply into the details of what brought people to Kakuma, unless the story comes out naturally in the course of a conversation. Until this class, I did not know that there are also Acholi in South Sudan, as one of the South Sudanese women clearly has an Acholi physique. Also distinctive are the 3 young men from the Nuba Mountains of Sudan where indiscriminate mass killing has occurred, reportedly due to the region's refusal to accept Sharia Law, along with the run-of-the-mill ethnic hatred that has been associated with all the Sudan conflicts.
Yesterday morning, Wednesday, I went out to the AAHI - Action Africa Help International-pilot 3 acre farm. UNHCR now believes that letting people grow their own food might be better than having them completely rely on monthly food distributions. AAHI wants to expand the farm to 20 acres, but they have no water. The farm is in an area which we bypassed in our January program 8 months ago. We will target the area in class on Monday.
Wednesday afternoon we carried out a survey at the Good Shepherd Catholic Church near the classroom. It is a great training site as there is a high yielding NGO drilled well producing undrinkable, caustic water (likely magnesium sulphate). Salt water is an easy test target, and the site is generally fairly quiet, at least until I started flying a drone to photograph the site, and kids started popping out from everywhere.
Today was a great day. We drove the gear out to the water well rig 4 km out from the Camp, while the class walked there in the heat of the day, all 28 of them. The cable tool rig was in action-drilling, bailing, driving casing, etc.- while we were carrying out our surveys trying to look for water below the driller's current depth. The local Turkana village came out in force to spectate. Needless to say, they were astounded by the aerial drone views of their stick wigwam-like manyata homes and the higher altitude views of the dry river beds and villages and us on the ground.
I was the last to return to Camp as the refugees must be back before the 6 PM curfew. I was met by complete pandemonium at the dusty soccer pitches on the edge of Camp. The Grinch's worst nightmare! CWB-Clowns Without Borders!! No kidding. A Colombian, Lucu from Medellin; Gabby from Brazil, Henrik from Denmark/Portland; and Melissa from Vermont. I am fortunate that I met any of the performers as they were surrounded by 1,000s of kids. There are about 120,000 children in Kakuma. Along with shows in the afternoons, the clowns put on workshops in clowning, acrobatics, magic, and other circus skills with a healthy blend of leadership and other social training mixed in.
I caught up with the clowns at the pub in the evening. They all said it was the most profound 3 weeks of their lives, except for Melissa the acrobat, who was immediately up in a handstand on the arms of a rickety, sun damaged plastic lawn chair, wildly clapping her feet in the air.