Um Koara Days

Fair play to Denise, our tough and seasoned Area Coordinator and fair play to Mortada my patient and long suffering WaSH Project Manager. Firstly, Denise insisted we visit Al Leri and environs, despite the exceptionally long distances, inaccessibility of the place and recurrent security concerns.

The two hour direct route from Kadugli to Al Leri was closed due to rebel activity in the vicinity and regular mining of the road. So indeed we had to go north first to El Obeid, east to Umm Ruwaba then south again to Abu Jubayhah where we stayed for over a week waiting for the road to re-open (closed due to some inter-tribal violence) then onwards to Al Leri. The village of Um Koara was a little way back up the road and nestled into the foothills of a small mountain range to the east. We stayed for 2 or 3 weeks, popping into the local Gold Miner’s village to access the internet once in a while.

Secondly, Denise demanded, at all costs, we stay until something tangible could be proposed and a serious plan of action devised. Very old school – allowing me the opportunity to do some real classic participatory style work. I came back to the office three weeks later, with a beautiful hand drawn map of the area transposed from the larger social map we had etched into the sand with the villagers, refugees and internally displaced people. My younger compatriots looked at it perplexed and wonder what it could all mean. Mortada knew, since he agreed to come with me, to go with the flow and to have faith in my slightly unfathomable ways! He was the star however, translating, cajoling the local people into action, describing the strange things we wanted to know and why exactly we were drawing things in the sand. He encouraged everyone and especially the womenfolk to vote with their stones, which options were the best and for whom. We discovered a very complex mix of personal interests, physical constraints, financial opportunities and gender issues but nonetheless fascinating. And Mortada helped me to untangle it all and to propose a solution agreeable to everyone.

In August 2020 I was delighted to return to Sudan where my career in the aid sector began and where I first met Jill but it was a short contract. And inevitably, I did not want to leave Kadugli when my contract finally expired but I had faith in the team and especially in Mortada to pull off the whole project. He moved effortlessly through the landscape, knowing everyone in the sector. His diplomatic skills were honed to perfection. On any trip to the market or walk around town, any town, people would come up to him and greet him like their best buddy and most trusted confidante. I was privileged to know him and happy to share what I could with him of my experience.

My trust in him and the team in Kadugli was well placed. Eighteen months later water is flowing as planned through our scheme, down the valley an into people’s homes and farms.

Coming late better than never!

I remember the time when my colleague and I returned from a field visit to Um Koaro Village in South Kordofan's Al Leri locality. We had conducted a social map with the villagers to address water scarcity issues.
While discussing potential solutions with my colleague, we acknowledged that the existing 6 hand pumps were insufficient for the 6,000 individuals in the area. At that point, our strategy didn't involve rehabilitating more hand pumps. Instead, our only viable option was to construct a Water Harvesting infrastructure (Haffir).

However, the results of the initial topographical survey revealed that the Haffir's location should be at least 3 km away from the village. Given that women and children were the primary water collectors in the Village, and considering protection concerns highlighted in the social map report, this idea seemed impractical.

Interestingly, the village had 3 ponds located at the foot of the mountain, roughly 1 km away. These ponds were used by women and children for water collection, particularly after the rainy season. Additionally, the villagers had dug hand-dug Wells (unprotected water sources) which they preferred over the existing 6 hand pumps.

The next morning, as I lay in bed feeling unwell, my colleague burst into the room in a hurry, exclaiming "Mortada! Mortada! I know what to do in Um Koaro." Initially, I thought it was a morning joke 😅, but he was serious. He proposed that we work on the higher ground where the water flows down, specifically focusing on the 3 ponds located 1 km from the village. His idea was to construct an Infiltration Gallery to address the water challenge.

My colleague got right to work, sketching in the sand and outlining our plan. After I had the idea, we began to prepare how to carry it out, obtained the required approval, and eventually managed to secure the funding. My colleague departed us before starting the implementation process for some reason. The most difficult thing was to remain dedicated to pursuing our goal in the absence of my colleague.

In the end, we succeeded in constructing the first structure of its kind in Sudan, making it simple for the people of Um Koaro Village to collect clean drinking water.

I'm sharing some photos which will show you our works during planning, implementation and after completing the project.

Appreciation goes to my WaSH colleagues our former WaSH PDM Bernadette JecintaMohamed AbdulgadirHamdi Mohammed, Adil Awad and Ayoub Eisa.

FYI my colleague that I'm talking about is Gary Campbell. Thank you for everything!