Wednesday, October 3, 2012
Taking serious risks to help others is not something most people do. That's not to say under an unexpected circumstance people would fail take action -- many do, from pulling someone from a burning vehicle to jumping into water to save someone who is drowning. When an emergency is encountered, many people step up to the plate, or have the potential to do so, without hesitation. Our soldiers, police and emergency professionals put themselves in dangerous situations because it is their duty, and they unselfishly fulfill that duty. They do what they are trained to do.
But to intentionally put one's life at risk to help others when it's not an immediate, unexpected emergency or part of a job-related duty is a different story. These are the ones who voluntarily venture into harm's way with a purpose that is stronger than any fear they may encounter.
Franklin County's Rev. Walter Hughes Jr. is one of these people. This week, Rev. Hughes and Kenny Lovelace of Henry County have traveled to South Sudan in east-central Africa to start the process of bringing clean water to remote areas where drinking unclean water leads to the guinea worm disease. Both men are Rotarians. Rev. Hughes is a member and past-president of the Rocky Mount Rotary Club, and Mr. Lovelace is a member and past-president of the Henry County Rotary Club. Both men were also instrumental in bringing clean water to West Ghana, also in Africa, to help eradicate guinea worm disease, a mission that has been accomplished.
When Rev. Hughes learned that South Sudan had the same problem, he began the process of making a trip there to get the ball rolling on digging wells. But South Sudan is a dangerous place to visit. Civil war and tribal warfare are both ongoing, and the U.S. State Department has warned Americans that travel in that country is very risky.
Although Rev. Hughes and Mr. Lovelace are taking as many precautions as possible, including careful travel and the use of guides, they are venturing into areas where few rules exist and even the police and military may not be trusted. These facts alone would deter most from a visit to the country, much less spending two weeks there and reaching remote areas.
Anyone who has followed the humanitarian work of Rev. Hughes and Mr. Lovelace know, however, that they view their travels as not only serving a practical purpose to eradicate a disease, but also as a way to spread good will, peace and kindness. It's a way to share their spirituality with people who may have lived in an oppressive and dangerous environment their entire lives. In other words, they bring hope.
We should all be proud of the work they are doing, and we can hope for a safe and successful trip. As in West Ghana, their work will mean many, many people in South Sudan, mostly children, will have a chance to live a healthy life. An infestation of the guinea worm is not a pleasant sight, and the effects can be devastating.
We sometimes hear complaints that humanitarian work should be confined to our borders until all problems are alleviated. But as we've said many times, our problems in this country pale to the drastic and life-threatening woes in other countries.
In the case of West Ghana and South Sudan, one of those woes is a matter of not having clean water to drink, something we take for granted here.
It is true that there is often little that can be done about the political situation in countries, where civil unrest and war end up costing the lives of thousands and thousands of innocent residents. We can provide humanitarian aid, and usually do, to those countries as well as countries that are hit with natural disasters.
But Rev. Hughes, when someone asked how to drill a well in Africa, saw a need that could be addressed. It has not been an easy road. He has spent countless hours obtaining donations, applying for grants, working with many agencies, meeting with people in the country he wants to help who may have their own agendas, and coordinating efforts that often resemble a complicated jigsaw puzzle.
Rev. Hughes has been frustrated at times, but he has never lost that sense of purpose or the determination to carry through plans. And, of course, he has never lost faith.
That faith is his driving force, and it does indeed have an impact on all who know his story and see his work.