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The Well-Watered Garden

A Letter from Jim McGill, serving in Niger and South Sudan

Summer 2023

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Dear friends and family,

I have just returned to Maradi, Niger, to assist with pump and storage installations on a few 1 Evangelist/1 Well boreholes. The power of the ‘Multiple-Use Services’ upon which the programme is based is already coming to fruition at the well at Gangara. Many villagers are now coming to the taps at the church to collect safe water. The small, irrigated garden started in January is now producing onions and tomatoes, groundnuts, and peppers, moringa, and pumpkins! The fruit and nitrogen-fixing trees both in the nursery and planted within the garden are doing very well. Cattle, sheep, goats, as well as three geese belonging to the village, are being given water from the well. And, most importantly, people passing by have been amazed by the garden and are stopping to chat with M. Souleymane Labo, the Gangara church elder who is the gardener. We would like to say thanks to all for supporting the EERN in its WASH programme that has allowed this programme to begin. 

The last couple of months have provided quite a change from the normal routine, as first I was able to attend ABIDJAN 2023 in the Ivory Coast, and afterward traveled to Louisville for the Presbyterian Mission Agency’s (PMA) Vision Convocation. In both the Conference and the Convocation, it was wonderful to be with friends with whom I have worked for many years, as well as to meet in person those with whom I have become acquainted through email and internet conferences. 

ABIDJAN 2023 was in February, and our EERN WASH Programme Manager, Madame Saratou Djadi, the President of Niger’s Association des Acteurs de la Filiere de Boues de Vidange (AAFBV) (translated to be the Association of Stakeholders in the Sewage Sludge Industry), M. Ibrahim Yerima, the President of the newly formed association of manual emptiers of sludge pits within Niamey, M. Oumarou Magagi, and I formed a team representing Niger while joining more than 3,500 other participants. ABIDJAN 2023 was a joint convention that included both the 21st African Water Alliance (AfWA) Congress and the Faecal Sludge Management 7 (FSM7) Conference. I am grateful that our attendance was made possible through both continuing education and WASH for Africa support from PC(USA). While the focus of ABIDJAN 2023 was primarily on sanitation, we were able to meet with Dr. Alison Parker of Cranfield University who presented research related to aquifer recharge in Kenya and India. We were able to discuss the depletion of the aquifer near Maradi and are expecting to work together with her and her colleagues in addressing recharging the aquifer there.   

The FSM7 sessions included financing sanitation options, emptying and transportation of faecal sludge, as well as Faecal Sludge Management technologies and methods – all very relevant to our work with the pit emptiers in Niamey. An important connection strengthened during FSM7 was meeting with Practica, a WASH organization from the Netherlands that is busy refining their ‘Push-Pull’ (PuPu) pump that can empty the pits that trucks cannot access. The EERN is planning to work with Practica to help M. Ibrahim Yerima get a bank loan to purchase a PuPu pump. After this purchase, M. Ibrahim will hire manual emptiers like M. Oumarou Magagi to work the machines to provide the services – giving manual emptiers the potential to have better compensation for much safer work while gaining respect from their communities.

A key takeaway from Abidjan for me was from a statement by Dr. Sasha Kramer, one of those long-time friends related to WASH in Malawi. She co-founded SOIL (Sustainable Organic Integrated Livelihoods) in Haiti, whose mission is to create fair economic opportunities in under-resourced communities. Dr. Kramer has found that while less than a third of their income comes from services and products, SOIL has been able to find sustainable subsidies to cover the balance. We have seen that some communities with whom we work are already overburdened, and this connection emphasized that we should not forget to search for sustainable subsidies that will ensure fair wages for providers while maintaining quality sustainable access to WASH products and services.

In March, all Presbyterian Mission Agency (PMA) staff were called to Louisville for the PMA Vision Convocation. We were able to spend a couple of days with our Africa Team, which was wonderful. The rest of the week was time to be together with PMA colleagues, many of whom we were meeting in person for the first time. The highlight of the Convocation for me was a call made by Rev. Anthony Jermaine Ross-Allam, Director of the newly created Centre for Repair of Historical Harm. His call asks all of us to come together, to learn and work towards healing together. Rev. Ross-Allam’s call that we will not be able to move forward if any person is excluded was clear. This is a message of unity that, if heard, will, I believe, bring the changes we are striving for.   

After Louisville, I had planned to spend a week with the family at Mission Haven in Decatur and finish up some of the medical examinations that were started during the December visit. My stay was extended for another week for further examinations, which allowed me to able to be with family for Easter. Our family Easter celebration always includes some of the Passover dishes and traditions, as Jodi’s Latvian Jewish grandmother taught her the traditions to be passed down through the generations. What a blessing to have been able to share this time together with the family.   

We are grateful for all your prayers and especially ask for your prayers for peace for the people of Sudan.


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