At Marian we dread getting last in Walk-a-Thon for the 4-mile walk around the neighborhood, but this is an everyday ritual for many families in the villages of African countries.
Aqua Africa is a non-profit organization founded in Omaha that is dedicated to providing clean drinking water and power to the rural communities of South Sudan. Mr. Buey Tut, Executive Director and co-founder, has lived through these hardships first-hand. Born in South Sudan in the midst of the civil war, Tut saw the extremes of poverty in the community around him.
Growing up with only sons in his family meant that they had to help their mother gather water, which traditionally is domestic work designated to the women. This gave Tut an experienced view on the gruesomely tough work the people of his community had to do just for the basic necessity of water.
“I don’t think a lot of people clearly understand the difficulties of accessing water. It’s not that you just go get water; one, it’s that you have to search for it, and once you do, it’s transporting it,” Tut said.
For Tut’s mother (with the occasional help of her sons), a routine day consisted of a roughly six mile walk, carrying up to 80 pounds, or 10 gallons, of water on her shoulders. And when the wet season turned to the dry season, the river was barren and families then had to look to other sources, like personal wells, to provide water. Six miles, 80 pounds, every day.
After leaving South Sudan, Tut’s family moved to Ethiopia, where his mother is from. His father, who was involved with Ethiopian politics, was taken as a political prisoner for about a year by the Derg. Officially known as the Military Government of Ethiopia, the Derg was an authoritarian government that followed fundamental Marxist Communist beliefs.
The Derg was eventually overthrown by a less harsh party which released all political prisoners and granted asylum to Tut’s family. With the help of the Geneva Convention, his family was able to receive help as refugees. They then moved to Minnesota with travel documents as their only source of identification.
Eventually, Tut’s family moved to Omaha, where they still live. In 2011, when the civil war ended in South Sudan, Tut, who had recently graduated from the University of Nebraska-Omaha, connected with some friends. The group agreed that they wanted to go back to South Sudan and bring the American values of democracy while still being able to physically help the communities.
So came the idea for Aqua Africa- an organization with first-hand experience of the struggle. They not only provide clean drinking water and power for a growing population, but teach the values of democracy to communities that are accustomed to a chief or leader controlling everything about them, including their water.
“If we were going to provide access to clean water, we wanted to also impart us being South Sudanese Americans. We wanted to bring back the American values of individual freedom and institutions. So wherever we drill one hand pump we have a program called micro democracy, where we go into a community and we allow them to elect members of their own community to serve on their own committee that controls the water,” Tut said.
Aqua Africa utilizes hand pumps as a main source of water. A hand pump is pushed deep into the ground and extracts water from below the surface. These allow the people in the water-deprived communities to access water where they are, rather than walking miles on end to find a natural source.
“It has both implicit and explicit goals. Implicitly, we get to teach what democracy is at a rational level, to show them practical application. Explicitly, we have the micro democracy water committee, and now you give power to the people,” Tut said.
“Now we have an institution, we have a group of people that were democratically elected that were trained on how to manage water systems. Not only people who were elected to dominate a community like an authoritarian lead, they were specifically elected,” Tut said.
Aqua Africa continues to grow throughout South Sudan to provide safe, clean drinking water and power, while imparting democratic principles. To help continue making this a possibility, scan the code to the right to donate.