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Friday, November 02, 2012

Column: Shorelines

Minister working to get clean drinking water in developing countries

Hughes estimated about 20 water wells are needed in South Sudan to ensure that the residents have clean drinking water to help rid the country of guinea worm disease.

Hughes estimated about 20 water wells are needed in South Sudan to ensure that the residents have clean drinking water to help rid the country of guinea worm disease.

Union Hall resident Rev. Walter Hughes Jr. presents his findings to the Rotary Club of Juba, the capital of South Sudan, Africa.

Union Hall resident Rev. Walter Hughes Jr. presents his findings to the Rotary Club of Juba, the capital of South Sudan, Africa.

It began with a dream. The Rev. Walter Hughes Jr. of Union Hall dreamed he was helping build clean drinking-water wells in one of the remotest regions in the world - South Sudan, Africa.

"I could see myself in that country," said Hughes, who returned recently from an almost two-week trip to that region. "I saw the spot that was in my dream, and that was kind of my confirmation that I was in the right place."

Why Hughes, who's the former president of the Rocky Mount Rotary Club, and fellow Rotarian Kenny Lovelace traveled to the Third World country is straightforward: They were exploring what it would take to eradicate guinea worm disease by constructing clean-water wells.

"The trip was to determine if we could drill wells in South Sudan," said Hughes, who is a member of Redwood United Methodist Church in Rocky Mount. "If we tackle South Sudan, then this disease would be gone from the world."

Before they left, Hughes made several connections. One was with the Carter Center, based in Atlanta, Ga., which is known for its work to prevent the spread of guinea worm disease.

According to the Carter Center's website, the disease is contracted when someone drinks water that is infected with guinea worm larvae.

"The guinea worm creates an agonizingly painful lesion on the skin and slowly emerges from the body," according to the website. "The contamination cycle begins when victims, seeking relief from the burning sensation caused by the emerging guinea worm, immerse their limbs in sources of drinking water, which stimulates the emerging worm to release larvae into the water and begin the cycle all over again."

There is no known cure or vaccine for the disease, and the best way to stop it is to ensure people have clean water to drink.

On its website, the Carter Center reported that the majority of guinea worm cases are in the Eastern Equatorial State of Kapoeta in South Sudan.

To eradicate guinea worm disease in South Sudan would mean digging wells in the most infested regions to provide clean drinking water to the people in the region. Hughes estimated the region needs approximately 20 wells; each would be between 100 and 300 feet deep. He estimated the cost at $15,000 per well.

"Getting concrete to a worksite is like pulling teeth," because roads are barely passable, said Hughes. "But we can get there, and it is possible to drill a well."

Hughes and Lovelace are no strangers to projects such as this. They've spent many years traveling to Ghana to help dig wells there. Sincethen, they've seen firsthand the positive effects of the work they've done.

"Now kids are playing soccer and going to school," said Hughes.

After their trip to Kapoeta, Hughes and Lovelace returned to Juba, the capital of South Sudan, and presented their findings to the Rotary Club of Juba.

"The Rotarians in Juba had never met anyone from the outside who wanted to do work in their country," said Hughes. "I wanted to encourage them that the wells are possible, but it takes people working together. I told them that they have an obligation to help bring peace and hope to their country with projects like this one."

Hughes said the Rotary Foundation, a non-profit organization, which is supported solely by contributions from fellow Rotarians and friends, will match any money that is raised for the wells. Area United Methodist churches are planning to participate in the project, too.

The goal is to raise enough money by the end of December to build 10 wells so that drilling can begin during South Sudan's dry season, which is typically January through March.

"This may seem like it's an impossible project," said Hughes. "But I just feel that it's possible with God's help."

While he'd traveled to Ghana many times before, Hughes was in awe of the beauty that surrounded him. "I'd never been to any place that remote," he said. "It was a lot of fun just to experience that."

As for what's next, Hughes will be making additional contacts with area churches and Rotary clubs in anticipation of raising the money needed to dig the first 10 wells in South Sudan.

"I'll go wherever I can and tell the story that, with God, all things are possible," said Hughes.

For more information about the project to build clean wells in South Sudan, contact Hughes via email at walterkhughes@gmail.com.