South Charlotte

Queen City to quench South Sudan

On July 9, 2011, South Sudan secured its independence after a long and terrible civil war.

The war and its famine-related effects resulted in more than 4 million people displaced and more than 2 million deaths over two decades, according to the CIA.

As refugees pour in from northern territories and global relief agencies provide relief to refugees and residents, much of the population continues to live in unsanitary conditions with little access to clean water.

In fact, the UNESCO, the United Nations Sudan Information Gateway and the CIA estimate only 50 percent of residents have access to "improved" drinking water and only 6.4 percent have access to "improved" sanitary facilities.

Though South Sudan is more than 6,500 miles away, south Charlotte can still affect living conditions for those people.

Sherry Roese of Matthews is working with Water is Basic, an organization started by her brother-in-law. The mission is to drill a clean-water well in every village in South Sudan.

Water is Basic is one of many charitable organizations worldwide working in South Sudan and equatorial Africa to bring water relief.

"Africa grabbed my heart several years ago," Roese said. "When you visit and see people drinking dirty water, you can't help but be motivated to change the situation. (I've learned) that women and children spend 75 percent of their time gathering water, which means there is little time to find food or to go to school.

"They are also in danger traveling miles to get water, both from strangers and the environment itself, like wild animals."

Roese first visited South Sudan in 2005 as part of a women's leadership conference that taught local women the basics of managing a business.

According to its website, Water is Basic purchased two drilling rigs and employs Sudanese nationals trained to drill, operate and repair water wells. The cost for a complete rig is $200,000 and preparing the crews takes about six months. Once in operation, a rig can drill one bore hole every week for $3,300 per well, bringing fresh water to some 2,000 people.

Roese said the organization has drilled 352 wells, affecting more than 700,000 people.

Roese is organizing a fundraising event March 31 in Charlotte called the Carry the Jerry 5K and Relay.

The Carry the Jerry 5K has two divisions: Participants can sign up for the traditional 5K, starting at Bank of America Stadium uptown; or teams of any size can sign up for the Jerry Can relay.

A Jerry Can is a 5-gallon plastic jug - weighing 42 pounds - that African women and children carry several miles daily to collect water.

Roese said, "We want people to identify with the hardship African women and children experience when they carry their daily amount of water for miles. The amount of water a South Sudanese has access to in one day equals the amount of one toilet-flush here."

Lisa McCloy, who lives in south Charlotte, is working with Roese to organize the event.

"In 10 years of mission travel, I have seen firsthand the devastating effects of waterborne illnesses: cholera outbreaks, chronic parasitic infections and typhoid outbreaks," she said. "When you see someone drink or bathe out of mud puddles in the street, it changes your world view.

"So when Sherry presented the opportunity to volunteer with Water is Basic, I was excited and ready to serve with an organization that is efficiently and cost effectively providing clean water to thousands."