The Woman and the Wells

December 23, 2013 • Uganda
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Samaritan’s Purse constructs wells for refugees in Uganda, while providing leadership opportunities and dignity

If you squint into the distance from the Kyangwali refugee settlement in Uganda you can see the shores of Lake Albert. And yet for Petronella and thousands of newly arrived refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), water was an unavailable resource.

Kyangwali is host to approximately 20,000 of the 60,000 refugees who fled fighting in the DRC throughout the summer and fall of this year. Despite recent peace talk progress, refugees are still unable to return to their homes.

The refugee settlement has no natural source of clean water. Organizations have temporarily trucked in clean drinking water, but the amount distributed per family barely meets their daily needs and they are reliant upon small, dirty streams to wash their clothes and bathe.

Samaritan’s Purse is working in five refugee villages to build each community a well. These wells provide approximately 2,500 desperate refugees with a reliable source of safe water, to ensure they have a healthy start to their life in Uganda.

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Refugees relied upon this dirty stream before Samaritan’s Purse built five community wells.

According to the World Health Organization, 1.8 million people in developing countries die each year because of diarrheal diseases, many of which could be prevented by gaining access to clean drinking water. Petronella, who arrived in Kyangwali in mid-August, might have been included in this statistic without the help of Samaritan’s Purse.

In the DRC, Petronella and her family watched in horror as violence and war overtook their community. At first, rebels snatched people from their homes, leaving their neighbors clueless as to their wellbeing or whereabouts. As more people began to disappear, the community lived in terror, in fear that they too would meet this deadly fate. Finally, in August, rebels gave everyone three hours to leave their homes before they would be killed.

As Petronella and her family fled, rebels chased after them, firing bullets. In the chaos, Petronella was separated from her husband and has yet to find him. Without a home or her husband, Petronella kept moving until she reached Uganda’s border and Kyangwali.

As she settled into the refugee camp, the harsh realities of the war confronted her. Her husband was missing and she and the five children had to survive with only what they had been able to carry on their heads. But instead of being overwhelmed by this staggering amount of grief, Petronella became a leader in her community.

Part of her leadership involved working with Samaritan’s Purse to oversee the construction and maintenance of the five community wells. As her fellow community members engaged in physical labor to dig the wells, Petronella watched with anticipation and excitement.

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Petronella gives glory to God for the work Samaritan’s Purse is doing among refugees from the DRC.

“I shall be responsible for making it clean and keeping proper sanitation” she said proudly.

Petronella moves with the authority of a mother of five, a woman who has stared at death and grief and found a way to keep living, a woman whose God-given courage shines through.

During well construction Samaritan’s Purse staff are able to pray with refugees and encourage them that God is standing with them during their struggles.

“I, on the community’s behalf, thank God for leading you to this community and bringing water,” Petronella said. “Thanks and glory be to God.”