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The Best First Step for South Sudan

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South Sudan is widely recognized as being one of the most underdeveloped places in the world. In just over two months it will hold a referendum election that will determine whether it stays a part of Sudan or if it becomes Africa's newest independent country. Five years ago a peace agreement was signed which caused a cease-fire in a war that had lasted over two decades. For the first time in recent memory, schools that had seen little (if any) attendance during the long years of war started filling up, and the people were eager to keep moving forward. Of course, all of this may change with the outcome of the upcoming election.

Sudan is a country split along geographic and religious lines. The North is predominantly Muslim and Arab while the South is predominantly Christian or Animist and African. The North is led by Omar Bashir, a man wanted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity. Bashir is widely recognized as being the driving force behind the genocides in Darfur and Southern Sudan. Despite promising, in the peace agreement, that Islamic law (Sharia) would not apply in the South, many believe that (given his extremist views and previous conduct) Bashir will impose severe Muslim rulings on non-Muslims in Southern Sudan, should the referendum fail to pass. This is why the people from the South fought so hard and so long. Unfortunately, they were hampered by the inability to pay many of their soldiers, and they were ill-equipped to fight the well-armed North, which used arial bombardment as a tactic.

As with any war, it is often the children who have to endure the most hardship. More than 10 percent do not manage to live long enough to reach their 5th birthday. A frightening percentage of them are orphans because their parents were killed, died of AIDS or were separated from them during the chaos of war. Hunger is commonplace, and a third of young children are stunted because of malnutrition. Alternating periods of drought and heavy rains severely restrict the availability of food and services. According to some sources, a teenage girl is more likely to die in childbirth than to complete primary school. These kids have little, if any, access to primary health care, and many die from malaria, diarrhea and pneumonia. School is attended by about 48 percent of children in South Sudan, where only 25 percent of classes are held inside buildings, and half the schools lack toilets. Statistics from two years ago indicate only two percent of children complete their primary education, and just six percent of teenagers attend school at all.

Helping every child in South Sudan is a very tall order, but we can help the children at the Kinyiba Primary School. Located in the Kanyapo II Payam, which is in Central Equatoria, South Sudan, this school was reopened after being abandoned during the two decades of civil war which ended in 2005. Two hundred and ninety two boys and 212 girls attend the primary school, and 171 children attend the nursery school. Nearly one-fourth of the pupils are orphans. Unlike many of their peers, these children have a place to live and people to help them. They have the opportunity to pursue an education -- their only real hope for a better future. What they don't have is a nearby source of clean water.

The nearest well is 2 kilometers away. Think of it this way: Imagine you had to walk, round trip, two and a half miles, carrying a 40-pound backpack, in bad weather and over rough terrain. You would spend at least an hour and a half, every day, making this difficult trip just to have a limited supply of clean water for your family's basic needs. With a well at the Kinyiba Primary School, these young students will no longer have to make this daily journey. A clean-water well means improved health, less absenteeism and greater security for these children and their families. More than that, this well will become a symbol of hope and possibility in a place where the dreams of children have become just another casualty of war.

Having spent a considerable amount of time in South Sudan we have gotten to know a lot of its people very well. These communities have been struggling through 20 years of war and are desperate for peace. They want to pull themselves up and move on. They want to be like the rest of the world. If all goes well, South Sudan will be a new country soon. They have a long way to go. They need so much. But clean water at their schools is the best first step. What better way to begin a new country than with healthy, educated youth.

Please help us bring water to this school, it will cost us just $5,500 to install a well there that, when properly maintained, will provide water for decades. All we are asking from you is just $10. If enough people donate just $10 we will soon reach our goal and get these children water. This is a very attainable goal and these children need your help.

For more information and photos of this school please go to DropintheBucket.org.