Bringing “Liquid Gold” to Darfur

El Geneina Water Tank

A glistening steel water tank sits atop its metal throne. The structure is an arresting sight — a tall anomaly in a town of grass huts, mud-brick homes and one-story cement buildings. Thick pipes run down the length of the tower until they disappear into the dusty ground. I feel a strong temptation to salute the tank in admiration.

After the Indian Ocean tsunami, I worked in Sri Lanka helping to coordinate relief activities in the southern district of Galle. Getting enough water to temporary camps there was a never-ending headache, and here above me — in Darfur of all places — stands a tank filled with what I consider to be liquid gold.

CRS in partnership with UNICEF and the government’s water and sanitation department have set up this impressive temporary water system in El Geneina, the capital of West Darfur state. A generator, pump and considerable amount of fuel drive fresh water from an area borehole up into the CRS storage tank, which was funded by the U.S. Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA). At designated hours each day, the tank releases chlorinated water, which flows out to multiple taps in two camps for displaced Darfuris and in a small village nearby. Families who have had to flee their homes to escape violence now have the small luxury of turning on a tap and stepping back as they watch their water cans fill.

I enter the closest camp of Medina Hujaj with three of CRS’ West Darfur staff members: Derek Kyambadde, water-sanitation and education program manager; Rashida Ahmed, education team leader; and Ibrahim Azrag, water-sanitation officer. We stop in front of a set of six taps and wait for the area sheikh to arrive. He walks up with an outstretched hand, and everyone launches into the traditional string of Sudanese welcomes — “Peace be with you. Blessings be with you. How are you doing? We are OK. How are you? Good. Good. Thank God for that. All is good.” I join in with the few Arabic phrases I’m still mastering, hoping no one notices the creative liberty I take in the hum of hellos.

The sheikh kindly grants us permission to tour the camp and speak with its residents. We approach a group of women gathered near the water lines, and I ask one who is filling her plastic can if she’d be willing to share a bit of her story with me.

“When we came here, there was no water in the camp. We had to go to a small river bed more than two kilometers away,” says Zahara Adam, a 25-year-old mother who arrived three years ago. “Now it’s good to have the tap here. It saves time for making food.” She adds that the water lets her wash her family’s clothes more easily and helps keep her baby clean.

El Geneina Water Point
Camp resident Zahara Adam appreciates how much easier life is after CRS installed water taps in the Darfur camp she has called home for the past three years. Photo by Debbie DeVoe/CRS.

Right next to the taps are another group of women sitting around the drying foundations of round mud stoves. As if on cue (and totally unplanned), another CRS vehicle pulls up with two health and nutrition staff members. A second hum of greetings ensues, and we learn that they started teaching these women yesterday how to construct the mud stoves, with plans to finish this morning.

One of the stove makers is Aziza Juma. She tells me that she is 23 years old and is the mother of three children. She quietly adds that only one is still living. I reach for her hand in a totally inadequate gesture of condolence and ask no further questions. After a silent pause, we continue talking.

She explains that she is building an improved mud stove with CRS because it’s dangerous to use an open cooking fire inside her shelter. The new stove will also use less firewood. This is good, because she doesn’t feel safe going out to collect wood, and buying it is expensive.

As we leave to see CRS’ other water-sanitation improvements in the camp — including blocks of toilets, hand-washing stands, shower stalls and garbage pits — we thank the women in another singsong of goodbyes and well wishes. “Ma’salama, ma’salama.” We leave you with peace.

Debbie DeVoe, CRS’ Regional Information Officer for East Africa, is currently visiting projects in Sudan to share stories about the people CRS is assisting. This dispatch was written on June 18.

El Geneina woman - constructs mud stoves
A camp resident, Aziza Juma, is happy to be building a more energy-efficient mud stove with CRS’ help. Photo by Debbie DeVoe/CRS.

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4 Responses to “Bringing “Liquid Gold” to Darfur”

  1. Elizabeth Brachelli Says:

    How incredible…the little steps are going to make a big difference. I’m amazed at how much CRS is able to do for Darfur. Thank you for raising awareness and working for our brothers and sisters.

  2. Tim Says:

    Debbie,

    This is truly incredible! So much is being done here to improve conditions for these people! CRS really seems to have established a tremendous connection locally, bringing in what really seems to be the most needed services!

    Keep up the good work and great writing.
    thanks,
    Tim

  3. David Elias Says:

    How can we donate to CRS, but specifically to the Darfur relief fund?

    Thank You,


    –You can donate to the “Sudan Emergency” on our website, https://secure2.convio.net/crs/site/Donation?ACTION=SHOW_DONATION_OPTIONS&CAMPAIGN_ID=1141. You can also call 1-877-HELP-CRS and designate your donation for the “Sudan Emergency.” Finally, you can mail a donation to Catholic Relief Services, P.O. Box 17090, Baltimore, MD 21203-7090 (designate Sudan Emergency in the memo section of your check). CRS has a firm commitment to honoring donor designations. Thanks, John Rivera, CRS Communications.

  4. Sherrie Heyse Says:

    Thanks for an inspiring story that I am going to share with my parish and others working on Darfur issues. It really helps to hear a positive story from the area. The combined efforts of CRS and the US and UNICEF dollars helps everyone understand how vital our financial assistance is to the people in this area.

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