All the Trees of The Fields

There’s a beautiful image of a peaceful place in the Old Testament Book of Isaiah, specifically Isaiah 55:12: “For you shall go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall break forth into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.” VHSS executive director Franco Majok recently spent three days in our Rhumathoi Community Center, “enjoying the calm and fresh air.” He adds: “The biggest thing in Center right now is our borehole which providing clean water to local community.”

Rhumathoi center well 01 Jan. 2017Here we have four young ladies who don’t have to walk far distances for dirty water.

Rhumathoi center well 03 Jan. 2017I don’t know if they are going to school, but their chances, because they are using less time and energy to fill and carry those jerrycans, are greater.

  Franco has also planted 13 mango trees!

Rhumathoi Jan. 2017 01Here is a mango sapling, encircled by a fence of sticks, planted near one of the center’s meeting rooms.

Rhumathoi Jan 2017 02And here is one planted outside a building that is used as a guest house and as a storage shed for peanuts. A place of clean water, a place where there will be shade and mangoes . .. thanks to all those who have helped create this oasis in a remote part of South Sudan.

Growing season

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It’s been a while since we’ve posted! Communications to the remote parts of South Sudan where we work have not improved a lot; it’s difficult to get photos out. But executive director Franco Majok just returned from a visit and brought some great ones. The stateside directors of Village Help for South Sudan don’t travel over constantly. Our budget goes to our programs. We also want to promote the model of self-sufficiency: we give the grants and start a project rolling. We train community leaders and teach them how to be accountable. And we get results like this:
sorghum rhumathoi summer 2014

A thriving stand of sorghum in the fields that we last saw were marked out for agricultural plots at the Rhumathoi Community Center, with community leaders meeting in the shade.

 
sorghum 03 rhumathoi summer 2014

Our guest house surrounded by crops.

   
gardening rhumathoi 02 summer 20134

Akot, the center’s caretaker, working in the newly established peanut field.

charging cell phones rhumathoi summer 2014 - Copy

A cell-phone charging station. Income from charging villagers’ cell phones and from selling crops goes toward funding community center programs.

charger hookup rhumathoi summer 2014

The charging station setup. Solar power is stored in the big black batteries. Ron will blog in more technical detail.

no entrance community center rhumathoi summer 2014

“No entrance * Danger” With the power of electricity just coming to Rhumathoi, the center wants to keep people safe.

deng madhieu manager rhumathoi summer 2014

Deng Madhieu, our new community-center manager. Yel, our former manager, is going to school in Grenada!

accounting 05

Deng is faithfully keeping accounts of the center’s income and expenses. When we train our managers in this kind of record-keeping, the skill can be passed on to others, creating sound business practices throughout the region.

sorghum 02 rhumathoi summer 2014

More and more internally-displaced persons are arriving in Aweil County East as the conflicts in South Sudan continue to drag on. We are glad to provide an oasis of teaching and learning.

Way To Go, Angelina!

Ron’s been doing most of the blogging these days, and I couldn’t help but notice the same woman in one of his posts as in one my earlier ones. That’s Angelina on the left, holding her baby. She was one of the first students in our

Students in the women's literacy class at Rhumathoi Community Center examine a corrected exercise book.
Students in the women’s literacy class at Rhumathoi Community Center examine a corrected exercise book.

community center’s women’s literacy class. She also spoke eloquently how women, especially widows, were sacrificing their income-producing time (mainly gathering and selling firewood in the market) to go to class.

And here she is (again on the left) in Ron’s post about the distribution of personal battery kits. I haven’t asked Angelina what she will do with her PBK, but I have a feeling that providing mobile-phone charging will be a part of her use. (South Sudan has leaped over land lines to cell phones. While I was there, people listened to the radio, stored music, and checked the internet on their phones as well as talked; mobiles are a valuable educational resource.) There’s a constant, growing market for charging phones.

Through her connections with the community center, now Angelina has a potential source of income beyond gathering firewood. Way to go, Angelina!

Multipurpose center customers

Our village peanut business has begun

Path to community center

Villagers in an around our multi-purpose community center in Rhumathoi know just about everything about peanuts – or ground nuts, as they are called locally. They even know about crop rotation to control disease and increase yields. As a food staple in South Sudan, local peanut farming makes good business sense as well as a strategy to mitigate seasonal hunger. All the poor people of Rhumathoi needed was a small amount of start-up capital to buy the tools and seeds to get their business going.

Peanut farmland

In yet another promising partnership between Village Help for South Sudan and local entrepreneurs and laborers, the Rhumathoi community center’s peanut business is now underway. The land shown here is generously donated to the Center for this year’s peanut farm. The exact size of the farm is hard to estimate, but the community elders and administrators are committed to giving as much land as needed to support this local business.

Shelled peanut seeds

Our contribution to the farm was a grant to purchase the tools needed to prepare the farmland and enough seeds to plant one acre. The woman seen here has just helped prepare the seeds for planting. Peanuts acquired locally – whether for seed or for meal consumption – need to be shelled by hand. The peanut shells are hard, and the shelling process is long and painful to produce enough seeds for a community farm.

Retail space

The one-acre peanut farm is expected to produce around 3,000 pounds of peanuts at harvest time. The community will sell their harvest in a shop in the local marketplace. This picture shows the plot that will be developed into the shop for the community center’s retail sales, featuring peanuts and other outputs from the Center’s programs.

We Celebrate Earth Day with Clean Energy in Rural South Sudan

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To anyone here in the U. S. where electricity is common, it is not unusual to see lights emitting from windows at night. In rural South Sudan, however, electricity is almost non-existent, so these lights coming from our multi-purpose community center in the village of Rhumathoi, Wunlang Payam, are the cause of much excitement for all of us at Village Help for South Sudan. We celebrate Earth Day 2013 with clean energy and the benefits this brings to Rhumathoi – and the environment!

Solar Panels

With support from IEEE’s Community Solutions Initiative, the solar electric generating system at the center is now complete. This project not only provides lighting for the facility, but the system will be run as a small business by a community-elected energy entrepreneur who will sell electricity to rural homes at prices the local residents can afford. Proceeds pay the entrepreneur’s income as well as operations costs at the multi-purpose community center. Mou Riiny, our electrical engineer, and his team completed a market survey several months ago to determine the price rural customers can pay for electricity.

Interior ComponentsInterior Components

PBK

Residential electricity is provided in the form of take-home rechargeable battery packs and lighting kits (PBKs). The initial pilot will test a PBK from BBOXX which has similar operations in other countries in Africa. IEEE-CSI has developed an open-source design for another PBK (pictured here), however, and our goal is to set up an assembly plant in South Sudan to produce these units locally.

PBK

Our solar business pilot aims to help Mou Riiny establish his for-profit social enterprise to be called SunGate Solar. SunGate will be owned and operated by Mou, and will provide jobs and opportunity to many of his fellow South Sudanese citizens. Mou’s initial solar project is now operating in the village of Thiou at our primary school for that area.

*Social enterprises are businesses that:

  1. Use the marketplace to solve pressing social problems.
  2. Have a primary purpose to do social good.
  3. Serve the common good, making money while solving social problems.
  4. Are values-led and committed to the triple bottom line of people, planet and profit.
  5. Use the power of business for positive social change.
  6. Believe the bottom line and social change can be hardwired together.
  7. Develop and sell products or services that address social or environmental issues.
  8. Are values-centered, transparent, and in business for the benefit of all stakeholders.
  9. Are dedicated to making a sustained, positive impact on social and environmental change.
  10. Believe what is good for the world is good for business.

*Source: npEnterprise Forum edited by Rolfe Larson

See more pictures from the solar installation at the Rhumathoi community center here.

Solar solutions for South Sudan

Mou wires a solar generating station

Mou prepares the combiner box where wires from the solar panels will be connected to the two main wires entering the solar charging components inside Thiou School.

Mou Riiny, who came to the U.S. several years ago as a refugee from the long civil war in Sudan, is now back in South Sudan where he is starting his own solar energy company to deliver electricity to rural villages like Thiou, the one he fled as a child to escape the violence and destruction.

A recent graduate in Electrical Engineering from the University of San Diego, Mou has already installed solar power for a village school and is now starting other rural electrification projects.

In a program at our multipurpose community center in Rhumathoi, he will train solar entrepreneurs who will create small business enterprises that are sustainable in the rural economy. Solar electricity will replace polluting sources of lights currently used and power small electrical devices such as cell phones.

See more pictures of this solar installation here.

See a recent news article about Mou and his USD project here.

A 14-village, two-bull picnic

Here’s a slide show of our gift to the villages surrounding the Rhumathoi Community Center: two bulls and the feasting that followed. I had some of the beef. It was fantastic. So was the honor.

Pads and empowerment

We don’t have any photos of the remarkable conversations I had with the women’s literacy classes at Rhumathoi Community Center about whether they would be interested in a project of making their own menstrual pads. It took a little diplomacy to get my translators (both married men, fortunately) to understand what I wanted to discuss. But they said it was important topic and went to talk to the women. They came right out from the class and said, “They want to see them now.”

I didn’t bring any pads, just one sample made from a pattern we had worked on years ago with my friend Liz Ging. (Back then, we were thinking about the girls at Wunlang School. But now it seemed logical to start with our organized class of women at Rhumathoi.) The men didn’t want to come in, so I had brought over my supplies, and with our cook, Ayak, as my translator (her English is about at the level of my Dinka!) and my demonstration underwear, we all managed to communicate well.

Here's a pad made of terrycloth to guide the ladies in the Rhumathoi Community Center is making their own.

Here’s a pad made of terrycloth to guide the ladies in the Rhumathoi Community Center is making their own.

It’s an easy pattern to make up.

One afternoon I sat in the cool of the guesthouse and sewed some up by hand myself, thinking the women were at their literacy class. It turned out that the ladies had arrived for class only to find that their teachers were busy making funeral arrangements for a

The finished product that snaps around one's underwear.

The finished product that snaps around one’s underwear.

leader in the local market. They were chatting outside. So I showed the details of hand stitching, turning both pieces rightside out, sewing them shut, and sewing on the snaps. I brought patterns, lots of terrycloth, needles, and scissors, some thread (which I knew was easy to get) and I’ve been assured that some fasteners are available in the market — even buttons and buttonholes would work.)

The ladies were also interested in making these for post-partum women, and turning some of the terrycloth into diapers. I left all the supplies in a big flowered bag. They said they soon would be organizing themselves. I’m looking forward to learning how they do!

“Never Before in This Village Have Women Held a Pencil”

That’s what one of the newest students at the women’s literacy class at the Rhumathoi Community Center proclaimed. Almost 30 women came out to say goodbye to me on my last day in Rhumathoi. The center started with two classes for a total of 20 women; we have capacity for 40, and, as head teacher Joseph Deng notes, “We could have 100, the interest is so high.”

The women's literacy classes turn out to say goodbye to Village Help for South Sudan director Lisa Deeley Smith. The center is behind the class.

The women’s literacy classes turn out to say goodbye to Village Help for South Sudan director Lisa Deeley Smith. The center is behind the class.

Mr. Deng, the headmaster of nearby Rhumathoi primary school, and two other teachers from the school lead the women’s literacy classes. A few women have had a little education and are starting with the South Sudan health curriculum for Primary 1 classes. (South Sudan’s curriculum is modeled Uganda’s and Kenya’s.) The majority of the women started with the ABCs; they had reached “U is for umbrella” by the time I left.

Women's literacy teacher Joseph Deng corrects a student's exercise book.

Women’s literacy teacher Joseph Deng corrects a student’s exercise book.

The students arrive in the afternoon early afternoon, work with one tea break (after they’ve finished the work in their exercise books), then begin the walk home around 5 p.m.

We are so proud of the women of Rhumathoi and the welcoming attitude of the community toward a women’s literacy class. Who knows how far they’ll go?

Students in the women's literacy class at Rhumathoi Community Center examine a corrected exercise book.

Students in the women’s literacy class at Rhumathoi Community Center examine a corrected exercise book.

Community center begins operations – basic literacy classes for women

News and pictures have just arrived about some exciting activity taking place at the multipurpose community center we are supporting for livelihood training and adult education.

Community members are clearing the land where the center’s demonstration gardens will be planted. The purpose of these gardens will be to grow crops as a food source for the training program’s participants and to sell surplus vegetables and grains in the market. The agriculture class will also learn about irrigation methods to support dry season gardening.

Thiou village project

Thiou village project

Our grant to the center has also enabled the community to hire a local teacher to lead basic literacy classes for adult women who have never had a chance to go to school. Functional literacy skills will supplement other training to enable partcipants to start and manage small enterprises, generating income to help sustain the center’s future operations and for modest personal earnings.

Thiou village project

Finishing touches are also preparing guest houses for visitors and staff who need overnight accommodations. The guest housing will be a comfortable place to stay and provide practical hospitality training for program participants. This small B&B will also generate income to support the center and pay the staff. Our visiting board members will be the first guests when we travel to the area in January.

Thiou village project

Thiou village project

Looking at these pictures brings us comfort and joy knowing our donors enable us to support community initiatives in this way – local citizens doing their own development work!