By Lauren R. Stanley
RENK, Sudan – On my left wrist, I wear two bracelets that I never take off. One is a black-and-white beaded affair that is quite popular in Sudan right now, called ajok, a symbol of the beauty of contrasting colors. The other is the white ONE campaign bracelet, which I have been wearing for over a year.
Recently, one of Sudan’s Episcopal bishops asked about my bracelets. He knew about the ajok bracelet, for it is part of the Dinka tradition and he is from the Dinka tribe. But this other one, he said, pointing to the ONE campaign, what is that?
So I explained that if everyone in the world actually donated1 percent of his or her income, we could end poverty, feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, provide medicine and education, build up local businesses, reduce child mortality, combat deadly diseases and become real stewards of the environment.
In other words, I said, for mere pennies per person per day, we could change the world and help bring about God’s kingdom.
Where would the money go, the bishop immediately asked.
To programs that are proven to work well and that deliver on their promises.
This is a good idea, he said. How can we teach our people this?
So I pointed him to our newest project, the building of water cisterns to catch rainwater from the roof of St. Michael’s Chapel at the Renk Theological College. I pointed to the seemingly huge hole in the ground, dug by an older man named John Tho who showed up every morning and every evening for five days to dig 2 meters down, 1.5 meters around, with perfectly straight sides. John dug that hole, and is digging three others, all by hand, slowly, surely, with great professionalism.
Then I pointed to our contractor, Mohammed, and his two assistants, Solomon and Idriss, young men who are learning the craft of brick-laying and concrete-pouring. Normally, the three of them dig and build pit latrines. These water cisterns are new to them, but the idea of storing water in underground cisterns, where it will stay cool and clean, instead of in 55-gallon plastic barrels or rusted metal tanks, appeals to them. Already, they are thinking of how all this clean water will change the lives of all the people who have access to it.
And I pointed to those who gave life to this project: ECWs in two parishes in Winston Salem, N.C.; two congregations in the Diocese of Virginia; one men’s group in Southwestern Virginia; one family in Northern Virginia; and one individual, who combined their resources to finance underground water cisterns that will catch rainwater off the chapel’s zinc roof.
It’s not a huge project; the funding for the initial work was $5,400. And the cisterns, while good ideas, certainly won’t change the world.
But they will make all the difference to the students and staff at the Renk Theological College, to their families, and to the surrounding neighbors who come to take water from the College. During the rainy season, the White Nile River becomes the “Big Muddy;” the water on which all of us depend often is a dirty brown, and that is after it has been “filtered” at the water plant. It can take up to six months for the river to cleanse itself, during which time anyone drinking from the water, or bathing in it, is exposed to at least a dozen different diseases, many of which are deadly.
Catching the water off the zinc roof of the chapel will mean clean water, possibly for up to six months. During the long dry season, water from the taps (which comes intermittently at best) can be stored in the cisterns, where the silt will settle to the bottom, the water will be clean, and those who depend on it will not have to go without.
That’s the idea behind the ONE campaign: To take a little bit of money and make it go a long way to change the lives of as many people as possible. Nothing big needs to be done; grand plans do not need to be made. Instead, the focus is on little actions that change lives quickly and for the better.
Four contractors, working in brutal heat under a searing sun, are combining their professionalism with the funds and prayers and support from approximately 200 Americans who heard the story of the water shortages here in Renk and decided to do something about it.
That, I told the bishop, is how we make the ONE campaign work: We see the need, tell the story, create partnerships, pray constantly, work together.
Are we changing the world?
But we are changing one small piece of the world, and we are helping a whole lot of people here in Renk.
We think this is a good start.
And we hope – we pray – that once people see how well these cisterns work, they will want to do the same thing, which means we can start a small company here that will specialize in this work, thus providing jobs and training for one group of people, and clean water for another group.
Will we need more partners in this?
Yes. But that’s part of the ONE campaign: Bringing people together in the community in which they have been created, crossing all boundaries because there are no boundaries in God’s very good creation.
Our little informal portion of the ONE campaign is based on our hopes and dreams: We began this project in the hope that it will join people together across 8,000 miles. We are continuing it to help the people in most need right here in Renk. And we dream it continues to grow, with future partners who will fund the purchase of pumps to replace the ropes and buckets we will use at first. Perhaps we will even find the start-up money for a new company.
Whatever happens, we know that with these cisterns, we’ve begun something new among the people of God in the name of God.
The Rev. Lauren R. Stanley is an Appointed Missionary of the Episcopal Church serving in the Diocese of Renk, Sudan. She is a lecturer at the Renk Theological College, teaching Theology, Liturgy and English, and serves as chaplain for the students.