Around 15,000 Anuak from the Darfur region are considered refugees without official status, and they are struggling with the daily challenge of educating children, eating and finding clean water. They are in the wilds, eight kilometers into the Sudan, along the Ethiopian region called the Gambella.
While Spokane counts 15 Anuak as neighbors, one tribesman, Agwa Taka, returned to his people on a two-week trip in February after 16 years in the Inland Northwest. His mission is to save his people from cultural annihilation and starvation.
While Spokane grapples with its own water issues, more than one billion people, many in Africa, face a daily struggle simply to find any water at all. Over the next 20 years, the supply of water per person will drop by one-third. The outcome may be a sentence of premature death for millions.
With the frisson created by all the modern diasporas and with a twist of surrealism, Spokane figures prominently in the survival of these Anuak, who are victims of murder and resource greed by unyieldingly corrupt governments.
"I would give up everything for these people," says Rachel Havercroft, a photojournalist who graduated from SFCC last year. She spent several weeks in February with the Anuak tribe in a makeshift refugee encampment that holds more than 15,000 people who desperately need a well for clean water.
Rachel -- along with her father, Gayle Havercroft, facilities director for the Union Gospel Mission; Lawrence Hudson, leader of First Covenant Church; and Agwa Taka -- is beating the drum for local donations. They've raised $8,000 of the $20,000 needed to bring in a drilling rig and send in a small team from the United States to ensure completion of a 50-meter-deep well outfitted with a hand pump. Currently, hundreds of people wait up to eight hours each day to fill buckets at one well serving 15,000 people.
Havercroft, a Cheney High School alum, is hoping her spiritual connection and photographic acumen will help get a second well constructed by next February. She's taken more than 1,500 images while on the trip eight months ago, her first jaunt out of the country and one that has transformed her from a wet-behind-the-ears photo student to a spiritually inspired woman ready to work with the Anuak and pursue an international career in photography.
"This could be my life project," she says, emphasizing that Agwa has been a family friend since she was a toddler, one whom she treats as an uncle.
She herself matured during the first day of photo shoots in the Alari camp, when she saw hundreds of children gathered under a tree, learning English in the midday 110-degree sun. Even more, she says, Agwa has become a focused leader who wants to save his people: "At the huge meeting with the tribe, Agwa apologized to his people for not returning home sooner."
Agwa told a large SFCC crowd that he's dedicated to helping his people find clean water and freedom: "Some of the things you like doing -- they don't have that chance. Having a recognition as being part of that land ... Anuaks have a right to live on this earth. No one seems to care. That's why God has prepared me to be a voice of my people."
It's a fertile area of the Sudan-Ethiopia region -- called the breadbasket of Ethiopia -- with the Okobo River one of five providing 85 percent of the Nile's flow. This has created a rich aquifer. Natural gas and oil are now part of the mix. But temperatures reaching above 120 degrees devastate vulnerable refugees.
World Relief is providing help with food, and some doctors volunteer time in a clinic, but the United Nations is not. The UN will not help displaced people who are less than 10 kilometers from an international border or 35 kilometers from the indigenous people group. The Alari Anuak are only eight kilometers from both.
"Refugees moved west, into the wilderness," says Hudson of the First Covenant Church, "hoping the UN would come to help them. When we met with the entire community, people were exceedingly angry [about the UN's definition of refugee]."
For months, people resorted to eating leaves from the savanna's trees. Hudson believes the refugee camp will become a village within a decade.
Aqwa is one of just 15 Anuak in Spokane. But he is the lone voice of the 500 Anuak in Sioux Falls, S.D. -- and the effective spokesman for his more than 2,000 fellow tribe members living in Minneapolis. He is determined, moreover, to give voice to the more than 1,100 Anuak thus far killed in the Ethiopian strife.
The village needs clean water to fight dysentery and other parasitic gut ailments. His people need medical staff to fight malaria and tuberculosis. They need leadership, too, since Ethiopian Highlanders massacred teachers, doctors and the educated.
"This problem attacks the whole community of Spokane," Agwa emphasized to the college students. "Let's give the Anuak a little drop of water."
To help the effort to build a well at the Alaricamp, call the Anuak Baare Hope Ministry in Spokane at 747-2818.