Famed Nigerian poet and novelist Ben Okri emphasized, “Stories can destroy civilizations, can win wars, can lose them, can conquer hearts by the millions, can transform enemies into friends, can help the sick toward healing, can sow the seeds of the creation of empires, can undo them, can re-shape the psychic mould of a people, can re-mould the political and spiritual temper of an age.”
The truth and potency of Okri’s words was evident at Saturday evening’s party themed “Building a Nation: the Birth of South Sudan” in Dallas. Attendees were celebrating the continuing success of the not-for-profit Water Is Basic in bringing water wells to the war-torn and new-born nation of South Sudan.
Thanks to our friend Shawn Small, we joined over 200 party-goers gathered at The Venues in Downtown Dallas to sip wine and nosh on hors d’oeuvres while listening to stories of overcoming horrendous obstacles, accomplishing amazing feats, and expressing heartfelt gratitude. With all the stories of war, insurrection and terrorism that could easily overwhelm an emerging nation, I came home Saturday night knowing that South Sudan is the embodiment of what a marriage of hope and determination can give birth to.
I was already well-familiar with some of these stories because I had been following the success of the documentary “Ru: Water Is Life” even before it’s first public screening at Irving Bible Church on July 15 of last year. The first time Gene and I met Shawn, the film’s writer and director, several years earlier at the Texas Storytelling Festival, his storytelling skills captured both our attention and admiration. To see these gifts demonstrated on film was cause alone for celebration. But this story of a South Sudanese girl’s struggle to keep her family supplied with water is far bigger than a handful of talented moviemakers. It honors a nation and a people determined to succeed against all odds.
Like a snowball rolling down a mountain, with each screening “Ru” garnered more invitations to film festivals and related honors. And as more people were introduced to Water Is Basic through this powerful documentary, more support came in to drill more water wells in South Sudan. That’s some pretty awesome momentum!
On this night, “Ru” was celebrating it’s release on DVD.
At the party I learned that success in South Sudan was being expressed in multiple ways through the support of many who believe in that two-year-old country’s potential.
The evening was opened by Russell Hayward, the owner of the Dallas Design District’s trendy coffee house Ascension. As a serous coffee addict, I must confess he had my attention immediately, and I had no idea South Sudan had a rich and long history in coffee. Hayward talked about an effort to replant six million dollars worth of coffee plants as a way to give this new nation an economic leg up. He also introduced an initiative to build badly-needed roads into the farming regions. I was already revved up to support this spunky new country, and if I could get a gourmet cup of coffee in the bargain, wow!
Then Water Is Basic’s executive director Steve Roese showed what is probably the shortest documentary ever produced—“60 Meters in 60 Seconds,” a speedy intro into how to put in a South Sudanese water well. He also announced that three more wells would be drilled in South Sudan simply from the support of Saturday night ‘s party.
Steve then introduced Bishop Elias Taban.
A former child soldier during Sudan’s bitter civil wars, Bishop Taban survived to earn degrees in both civil engineering and theology to become the national bishop of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of South Sudan and Uganda. He has dedicated his life to rebuilding his nation and supporting its people through the building of schools, hospitals and orphanages.
Just a few days earlier, Bishop Taban was honored by the Clinton Global Initiative with a 2013 Clinton Global Citizen award for Leadership in Civil Society.
On Saturday night he spoke of oppression and hardship and how they were overcome through the love and support of others and the faith of a people. In a conversation with Hilary Clinton following the CGI award ceremony, Bishop Taban eloquently summed up how South Sudan has not only survived but what it will need to continue doing in order to thrive: “There must always come a point when we look forward and recognize the need to stop fighting over past wrongs so we can build toward a new future.”
When the scheduled talks at the party were finished, “Ru” was shown to the delight of fans and initiates alike. But when the lights came back up, the stories continued. The room was buzzing with conversations inspired by the earlier presentations. A stranger introduced himself to Gene and I and then regaled us with a delightful account of his experiences as an aid in an Alaskan nursing home in the 70s and his mother’s trek to South Sudan, a bucket list dream that came to fruition just days before she passed away.
As the party wound down and guests began to leave, each were given a copy of “Ru: Water is Life.” The seeds of the creation of empires were being sown that night, and no doubt the stories will continue.
If you missed the party, you can at least hear Bishop Taban via his conversation with Hilary Clinton at the 2013 Clinton Global Initiative meeting. Go to: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rtmkSTqfy9U to see this.
To learn more about the South Sudanese coffee project, go to http://restorethebean.com.
You can educate yourself about Water Is Basic’s efforts to provide South Sudan with fresh and clean water and see “60 Meters in 60 Seconds” at http://www.waterisbasic.org.
And of course, I have to give a shout-out to Shawn and “Ru: Water is Life” and encourage you to watch the trailer from the documentary at http://www.ruthefilm.com.
And the next time you pour yourself a glass of water, please appreciate it.