A Letter from Randy Erickson, South Sudan

AlaskaninSudanSouth Sudan. How did a guy from Alaska end up in South Sudan? Maybe the question is why. The why part happened when Bob said he wanted to go to Church on Sunday before continuing our trip from Yei to Maridi. We arrived at the Church early but it didn’t take long for the pews to start filling up. It would be packed before the first song from the choir.

I started to fidget on the hard pew and looking around I saw there was a great need for seating. I told Bob I was going to give up my seat and go outside. It was quickly filled. I walked out toward the overflow seating when by surprise my right hand was quickly filled and gripped tightly by a young boy’s hand. He was filthy, smelly and his body was twisted. Crooked legs, no shoes, and torn trousers. He was wearing his crucifix and I think that was the cleanest thing on him. He couldn’t speak but he was gripping my hand, shaking it and wouldn’t let go. He sat right down in the middle of the parking lot pulling me down with him. So that’s where we had Church service. Two hours sitting in the middle of the parking lot in the hot sun, humming hymns because I didn’t know them and he couldn’t sing them.

The service finally came to an end and Bob made his way to our vehicle that would be taking us to Maridi and wondered where I was. The driver Eissa had spotted me early on and came over to get me. I had to say goodbye to my new friend as we had a long drive ahead of us. I will always wonder who the young boy is and what will become of him or who looks after him.

Coming to South Sudan with Bob Ellinger on a volunteer trip to Yei and Maridi through NRECA International has opened my eyes to a world I’ve only read about. It’s a world this organization lives in. They constantly work to bring sustainable electricity to the corners of the world that most of us only read about.

Sustainable electricity. I say that sitting here in Maridi, South Sudan in central Africa, typing this on my iPad, answering texts from my sweetheart back in Alaska on my iPhone, while in front of me are mud brick huts with grass roofs and dirt floors. Women and young children are carrying water in 5 gallon plastic jugs on their heads. A place where the power is only on from 8 a.m. until midnight. I get confused feelings inside. The word sustainable has new meaning.

I see the difference that NRECA—with the help from USAID, has made in the lives of the people here. It’s a big job! It’s difficult and I’m sure frustrating dealing with logistics, limited funding, and sometimes not so friendly political environments. But they keep going because it is making a big difference in the lives of these wonderful people. Power for clean water from the water treatment plant, schools, hospitals and homes. And yes a church where a crippled dirty boy can come and hum hymns and say his prayers in his own way and forever soften the heart of a not-so-tough guy from Alaska. Maybe that’s why.

I will be leaving soon, but I will always be an ambassador for NRECA International and the work that they do. They make a difference. I’ve seen it.

Randy Erickson
Chief Mechanic, Kodiak Electric Association

P.S. The fruit bats just took to the sky by the thousands for a night of feeding. I am going to miss this place.

Randy recently traveled as an NRECA International volunteer to South Sudan, to help repair malfunctioning power generators that are being used in Yei and Maridi. After the 2005 Peace Agreement in South Sudan, NRECA International helped build the first of three rural electrification projects to build a generation and distribution system in Yei, and established YECO, the first electric cooperative in the new country of South Sudan.