Here's a recent article I wrote about the organization's work here- I thought I'd go ahead and paste it. Sorry about having to edit out the name, if that seems a bit jarring.
A new engine for Agok
The screech of tearing metal rips through the air as Salah Ahmed lowers the diamond-edged saw to a grease-covered piece of steel frame. Glowing-orange sparks shoot into the air as Ahmed, one of the mechanics at the Wauashen Auto Repair Shop slices into the metal.
Located at the edge of the town of Agok, in the Abyei area, the garage is a simple tin-walled structure, wide enough to comfortably fit two vehicles at a time, with an adjoining shop.
Inside the garage, a silver Peugeot waits for a mechanic, hood open.
The garage, opened at the end of December 2008, is a part of ( XX's) Programme (ARRP), which aims to help communities in the greater Abyei area, such as Agok, recover from the effects
of the 23-year civil war that ended in 2005. The $7 million program, funded by the European Union and administered by the United Nations Development Programme, began in
2006 and is likely to run through at least 2010. Fighting reignited in Abyei town in May 2008, forcing its more than 50,000 residents to flee. The mechanics of Wauashen
garage, working in Abyei at the time, lost everything. Several relocated the 20 kilometers south to Agok, seeking a chance to rebuild.
“We decided on [the garage project] because we knew they’d had a shop in Abyei before,” says James Akai, XX's Business Development Advisor. “Their property was destroyed in the war last summer.”
After the mechanics formed a cooperative, XX supported them with start-up capital. Using this seed money to purchase tools and supplies from Khartoum, the mechanics then purchased tin, cement, and gravel with their personal finances, which they used to construct the
Wauashen shop. The land government authorities allocated the cooperative is on the fringe of town, in a zone that will flood quickly once the rainy season begins in May. Without a
gravel pathway from the road, the garage will be inaccessible due to thick mud.
To Akai, the fact that the mechanics used their money to construct the shop is a positive development, and proof that XX has made a smart investment. “It isn’t the best land, but the fact they accepted it and brought gravel on their own is a sign of commitment,” he notes.
The garage employs 19 mechanics, each earning an average of 10 pounds per day for their work on electrical systems, welding, tire repair, and engine overhauls. The mechanics charge on a sliding scale, with small repairs incurring minimal charges; a major overhaul for a bus or
truck can run 8,000 pounds, roughly 3,600 U.S. dollars. Ahmed, who worked for several years as a mechanic for both the United Nations and the World Food Program in Khartoum before returning to the Abyei area, has worked to build the capacity of others at the shop. “I’ve been training the other mechanics,” he says in Arabic, speaking through a translator. As he talks, he adjusts a thick gauze bandage on his index finger.
Walking around, the garage is abuzz with activity. While Ahmed slices through the frame, Saïd Abdumahhamad Rasman, another mechanic, cleans a fuel pump on a large
cargo truck parked outside, its cab tilted forward to better access the engine. Inside the shop, Akenyei Kiir twists a wrench in the engine cavity of the Peugeot, loosening a bolt.
Ahmed and the other mechanics have big plans for the shop. “When we train enough people, we’ll be opening a new section of the garage,” he says. According to Akai, the garage has already attracted a large number of clients, and the organization has every reason to think the business will continue to grow. “I see a lot of potential,” he says. “The head mechanic is responsible and extremely honest.”
And while the garage could not have been successful without the labor of the mechanics, they recognize the role XX played in helping them begin, and appreciate it. “XX has helped us a lot,” says Ali Hassan Ali, another mechanic.
Just off to the side of the garage, a small shelter constructed of wooden poles and sharganiya, woven grass mats, provides a bit of respite from the scorching heat. Inside, the faint scent of cardamom is in the air, and a small circle of plastic chairs sit in a circle near a wooden table covered with tea and powdered milk. With the opening of the garage, an enterprising young woman opened this coffee and tea shop, providing drinks and a place to sit for customers as they wait for a tire or brake pad change. At 50 piastres, half a pound, a glass of hibiscus tea is a small price for an escape from the heat, and a positive example of how one small enterprise can serve as an economic engine for others nearby.
Akai and other XX staff see the project as a major success. Over the next few years, the garage seems likely to expand, something the organization is happy to see. He feels that the garage could easily become the shop of choice in town, in line with the mechanics’ plans. “We want to open three garages, including new ones in Abyei and Wau,” says Ahmed.
And as the garage grows, the mechanics intend to bring new employees into the fold. Next to the garage entrance, by the small door leading to a storeroom, Mien, a 14-year-old boy, sits with a ratchet, unfastening a washer from the engine of a small Mitsubishi Pajero 4x4. He wears blue rubber sandals, and his tan pants have small streaks of grease.
“I’ve learned how to open up engines,” he says proudly. “Now I want to become a mechanic.”