Looking Back, Looking Forward

As we look back on our notes at our annual meeting, we’re proud of what we’ve accomplished. Our first project was Wunlang School, and now Wunlang is a destination for families seeking education and safety for their families. We have 890 students enrolled, and more than half are girls. Our high enrollment and retention rate is due in part to our providing menstrual supplies and underwear, and to the cash stipends paid by the British NGO Girls’ Education South Sudan. Because Wunlang School has a campus and is no longer a school under the trees, it qualifies for support from other institutions. Graduates of Wunlang School are attending secondary school in Aweil and are working, even with only a primary education, for International Rescue Committee. One of our first teachers is now the county administrator of education. Wunlang Clinic got very busy in the malaria season, which was very deadly this past year. One reason for this is the very high cost of anti-malaria medicine. One of next year’s goals is to research a reliable source of anti-malaria medicine, make a bulk purchase, and sell the medicine at a reasonable price. Promoting entrepreneurship has always been our model.

Waiting for malaria treatment at Wunlang Primary Care Center

Our Rhumathoi community center is doing well under new leadership. The previous leader is now working primarily for SunGate Solar. The Rhumathoi solar installation is functioning well and is now generating income for the center. The shop in Wanyjok is also contributing income from marketplace sales. SunGate Solar, now spun off as its own enterprise, continues to thrive with major support from one investor. The business now targets new suppliers and pay-as-you-go products as well as micro-grids in marketplaces. The whole story of SunGate is remarkable. Mou Riiny, who came to America as one of the Lost Boys of Sudan, lived with foster families, graduated from the University of San Diego with an electrical engineering degree, and through Village Help for South Sudan, supplied solar-powered battery packs to his home village in South Sudan as part of his senior project. The enterprise, while not yet profitable, is bringing in sufficient revenues from sales to pay a staff of 30 and its operating expenses. We have challenges to meet. We are still short of funds to bring clean water to Malual-Chum. (You can donate directly to that project here.) Our school in Thiou still needs a permanent roof repair. We want to continue providing supplies for girls and school lunches at Wunlang. You can make a difference and help us continue to supply education and opportunity to remote villages in South Sudan.

Underneath It All

We anticipated Menstrual Hygiene Day by a few weeks with out blog post about our delivery of pads to the girls at Wunlang School. Today we want to highlight what else girls need to make themselves comfortable enough to attend school — underwear. Executive Director Franco Majok took $100 of VHSS’s funds and bought underwear for the girls in the school.

Schoolgirls waiting for their underwear.

Girls receiving their underwear.

Can you imagine wearing your school uniform skirt with no underwear? How can you stick a pad to your underwear if there’s no underwear to stick it to? Little things like this can impede a girl’s education, and we’re grateful to Franco for making sure everyone has a chance for education in this part of South Sudan.

Remember the Ladies

In addition to learning about the enrollment and hunger issues at Wunlang School, Franco remembered our older girl students, some of whom are going to school for the first time: “I bought always from US with my money for 100 girls, so girls will be OK in next 3 months. You can not imagine that some girls has no underwear. Yel {Maduok Ngor, our field manager) will cover that with school materials, at least one underwear for each girl and until when I get backYour blogger asked Franco if girls missed school when they didn’t have Always sanitary pads (a favorite brand, and often referred to euphemistically by its brand name), and whether they could get any locally. As you can see from the bag, these pads came from CVS. He replied: “Girls miss school when they don’t have pads. Many girls in Wunlang School do not have underwears too. The closest markets to buy pads are in Aweil market or Wanyjok market. This year we have 84 girls who need pads, but next year the numbers will increase. . . . It is time now for someone to have a store to sell pads in Wunlang.” Relying on visitors to bring them is not a sustainable plan. In our model of encouraging local enterprise, we hope to encourage an entrepreneur to open such a business It’s realistic to expect that a local retailer can get a supply — they’re made in China, and the pipeline of goods from China to Africa is wide open. Here’s hoping we can encourage, through sometime simple like pads, even more education and opportunity in a remote part of South Sudan.

Hungry for knowledge and for food

Franco Majok, our executive director, has sent a comprehensive report about Wunlang School, our very first project in 2008. There’s lots of talk about. The first one is hunger. “The hunger is alarming,” Franco reports. “People are eating leaves.” And yet, there are 750 students at Wunlang School, as its reputation grows and parents enroll their children in what is now the best school in Aweil East. Students are doing very well in the eight-grade leaving exams. “Our girls were leading,” Franco writes. The school also has two female teachers, one herself a graduate of Wunlang School.

Some of the 750 students enrolled in Wunlang School.

Franco brought money so students will get one meal a week at school, and teachers (mostly unpaid volunteers, mostly graduates of Wunlang itself) will get five meals a week. Our little non-profit doesn’t have the resources to provide emergency food relief. The United Nations World Food Programme does, and it has rapid response teams deploying throughout South Sudan. But no team has come to Wunlang. Village Help for South Sudan’s board of directors is sending a letter to WPF in South Sudan, expressing our dismay that no help has arrived yet. We are hoping food relief arrives soon, and that with full bellies our students can satisfy their hunger for learning.

We will keep advocating for the Wunlang students.


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.

Looking Forward to 2017

If you can’t feed 100 people, then feed just one. — Mother Teresa

Many questions remain about South Sudan’s political and economic future. On the one hand, there has been no recent upsurge of violence. It was reported that New Year’s Eve was celebrated in Juba without any gunfire. On the other hand, hyperinflation and food insecurity remain in South Sudan. Education and clean water for all are elusive goals.

A small non-profit like ours looks at enormous problems that governments and international NGOs cannot overcome — and turns back to doing what it can do.

We aren’t able to provide massive distributions of emergency food. But we were able to provide aid to farmers to buy seed in 2016. And we were able to provide price supports at the market so the resulting crops could be sold at lower prices, while still give farmers a profit.   peanut harvest 04 2014We also, by building Wunlang School back in 2008, have provided a place where food supplies can be distributed. About 160 girls attending Wunlang School received sorghum, lentils, and cooking oil through a UNICEF program.   wunlang-school-girls-receiving-sorghum-may-2016 Girls’ literacy is still far behind boys’ (40 percent to 60 percent), but we have seen girls’ enrollment increase steadily in Wunlang since the school was built. Word of Wunlang School has spread. As other parts of South Sudan become too difficult to live in, families have come to Wunlang to give their children a chance at education. Even when children are hungry, reports field manager Yel Maduok Ngor, they still show up for school. wunlang-school-classroom-june-2016 Back in America, Thiou Village Project has raised enough money to enable us to provide school supplies and money for repairs. We also had a remarkably successful fundraising day for our Malual-Chum project. It is our goal to get a well drilled in this village this year. Then women and girls like this won’t have to haul up dirty water with a tin can.   Wells in Malual-Chum You can help with all these goals by making a donation. Then you will have done your part to bringing education and opportunity, despite all the obstacles, to remote parts of South Sudan.        

Still Dancing for Clean Water

This blog has been very quiet recently, but we’re back with new vigor. We still look to provide clean water for Malual-Chum Village, near the city of Tonj in South Sudan. This past Town Day in Arlington, Massachusetts, we had very encouraging results, thanks to our three dancers. Here’s our video. If you’d like to donate, just hop on over to our donation page. The ongoing strife in South Sudan means our work is not done. Help bring clean water to a people who will not otherwise have it.

Uniform results

At our last board meeting, the directors of Village Help for South Sudan decided that as a nonprofit we would not focus on building more buildings, but rather on programs and support for the institutions we’ve established. This means that we can be effective without having to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars to begin a project. We also observed that our first project, Wunlang School, has become a hub of education and security for the residents of Aweil County East, and it made sense to support the work going on there.

Our friends at St. Paul Lutheran Church have been faithful in raising money for school uniforms. This may not seem like a big deal, but in a country where uniforms are required, and a place where a uniform may be a child’s only decent piece of clothing, each uniform is a ticket to an education.

In our last effort, our uniforms were made by a local tailor and delivered by motorbike. This time, we have a small, but significant change. Here Joseph Deng Madhieu is negotiating with the seller of our uniform fabric.

fabric for wunlang school uniforms

And here are the uniforms being made in Rhumathoi, at our community center. In the background are tailors on foot-treadle sewing machines. In the foreground are four local women, trained by the tailors to sew on the buttons.

Rhumathoi women helping with uniforms

It seems like a small thing, four women sewing on buttons. But this was organized by our field staff themselves: no one flew in from overseas to tell them what to do. Our local leadership grows more empowered with every project. Now these women have a marketable skill they didn’t have before. And more children will be going to school. It’s these small, significant opportunities we will keep focused on at Village Help for South Sudan.

St. Paul Comes Through Again, Uniformly

new uniforms   Our friends at St. Paul Evangelical Lutheran Church in Arlington, MA, one of our first supporters, have come through again. As they report in their weekly update (scroll down and look at the right-hand column), they’re raising funds again to provide the students at Wunlang School with school uniforms. You might think this is a luxury with all the other suffering going on in South Sudan. But education is the key to the long-term solutions to this suffering. School uniforms are required; a family who can’t afford uniforms can’t and won’t send their kids to school. We source our uniforms locally, providing jobs and income for local tailors. Our last delivery was by motorbike, as the dirt roads were too muddy for larger vehicles. Transport_hired Our field director Yel Maduok Ngor (in the center, wearing tan) supervised the arrangement by sizes. Wunlang school uniforms distributed We’re so grateful to the people of St. Paul for providing this entrance into education and opportunity. The church is raising funds for this campaign until October 4.  

The light shines in the darkness

Things are pretty grim in many parts of South Sudan. Everyone, from the President of the United States on down, has an opinion about what should be done, but bringing peace and order to this new nation, which began with such promise, is a pretty tall order. And what can the average person do? This: bring malaria treatment to a village that had none. Save lives where malaria deaths were high.
Waiting for malaria treatment at Wunlang Primary Care Center

Waiting for malaria treatment at Wunlang Primary Care Center

At a community meeting in 2013 we were urged to staff Wunlang clinic because deaths from malaria were so high.
Women and children wait outside Wunlang Primary Care Clinic, designed by our field manager Yel Madouk.

Women and children wait outside Wunlang Primary Care Clinic, designed by our field manager Yel Madouk.

Even when things look grim, we can provide some hope.
wunlang clinic malaria 01

Our primary-care center can administer malaria medicine that will bring patients back to health.

No matter what twists and turns take place in the country, we still are providing help to the villages of South Sudan.