Water for the good, bad and ugly- The Jim Hocking interview

The voice is deep and clear as it jumps out from my phone. The accent is distinctly American and betrays the childhood spent in the Central African Republic, as well as a large portion of his adult life. Jim Hocking is the founder of Water for Good, a man of faith but after speaking to him for just a few minutes it is clear that his faith is not just reserved for God. Within every anecdote, recollection, summation comes the emphatic and unrelenting faith in humanity.

Jim Hocking is the son of 2 former missionaries in the Central African Republic, his mother and father moved there in 1957 to take up a position in a youth training programme. He enjoyed his childhood or as he describes it, “ It was a real boy’s world, we spent our days playing, building forts and hunting. The experience cannot be said to be the same for my own daughter however, she did not enjoy it as much as my sons.”

There were also the negative sides of living in the CAR during that time. The biggest being communications and logistics, as Jim says himself,

“We could expect food shipments every 6 months and it’s not like it is now, where you can get anything you need in the CAR. If you were running low on food there wasn’t anywhere else to get it. You just had to hang on for the next shipment.”

Communication was just as dreadful, explained Jim,

“We didn’t find out about the death of my grandpa till 1 month afterwards. It took that long for the telegram to reach us.”

In 1984 Hocking returned to the CAR fulltime as a missionary youth trainer using the skills that he had learnt, over a 20 year period he trained carpenters, mechanics and plumbers among other things. He quickly realised that they were smart people and as Jim recollects,

“Many of them became better than I was and what was most remarkable was the change in the person when they realised that they weren’t useless, that they had a skill. That empowerment and pride changed them in unbelievable ways.”

Thus highlighting the difference between charity and aid. While aid short term has the ability to deliver vital resources into an area with an acute problem very quickly to relieve that problem, long term it creates dependency. Charity on the other hand, while unable to deliver the short term impact of aid, has a greater long-term significance in generating jobs, schools, industries and ultimately hope if done in the right way. While these two definitions of charity and aid are not necessarily applicable in all situations, I think charity can became aid and vice versa, they are a good measuring stick.

Water for Good, founded in 2004, by Jim Hocking and his wife is a great example of what a charity can achieve if it commits to a cause and doesn’t betray the trust of the people it is there to help. As Hocking explains,

“We gave AIDS education, hygiene and sanitation advice and we dug wells and most importantly, we kept coming back. Because we kept coming back they started to trust us and they wanted to know why we kept coming back. They had such a low opinion of themselves because so many people and organisations had come and gone that they thought they were worth nothing. When we stayed it offered hope.”

Fast forward to 2016 and the wells being drilled in the CAR are done by Marcellin Namsene, a Central African whose father became friends with Jim Hocking in the 1960s. Hocking goes on to say,

“Marcellin does a great job and it was a necessary step to make. In order to empower the people of the CAR they need to take on the responsibility for the drilling and maintenance of the wells, although it’s been hard for Marcellin, he has established a business. He finds it hard with the bookkeeping, which we help him with, but now it works well and all the maintenance teams pick and train their own people, often younger .That way they are empowering future generations to take care of the water for themselves.”

Water for Good supplies about 10% of the CAR with water and recently plans have just been agreed to supply every region within the Central African Republic with clean water by 2030. This is bold ambition on the part of WFG but something we at Yuhme believe they can achieve and hopefully we can contribute in many ways to supplying clean water to the people of the CAR.

And where does Jim Hocking fit into all this? Well, he is no longer CEO having stepped down a year ago through a board decision which was extremely hard but which forced him to face up to some of his weaknesses, as Jim describes,

“We had to train and empower the American staff as well and I can see now that I tended to micro-manage especially in the beginning. I think I am more of a creator and innovator.”

He also adds,

“Richard Klopp who has taken over as CEO and Jon Allen who is COO, both do an excellent job and are both excellent managers.”

But Jim still travels to the CAR with WFG 2-3 times a year with sponsors, as well as travelling to other parts of Africa namely the Congo, Sierra Leone, Ghana and South Sudan where he works as a consultant for other charities and NGOs. So, at 63 years of age Jim shows no signs of slowing down but that is in keeping with the man himself, in his own words,

“ I am a little crazy! “

The man who has shaken the hand of every president but one of the Central African Republic, an innovator and creator of an organisation that works in one of the most dangerous countries in the world with some of the most forgotten people on the planet. A man who provides water to them but more importantly a voice out to the world that had long ago stopped listening and caring because there was nothing in it for them. A population that, through Water for Good, have been allowed to show their worth, regain their pride and integrity because someone gave them a chance. Not a handout, but a chance. An opportunity to prove to themselves and anyone else who cared to listen, that they have the ability to succeed and lead themselves out from the ruin of their colonial past.

The incumbent President, Faustin-Archange Touadera, has just had a disarmament meeting with both the Seleka Muslim rebels and the Christian anti-balaka group. The first time that both parties have sat down together to discuss disarmament. I hear both the hope and caution in Jim’s voice as he tells me about the promise that this potentially has for the country but in a land where there has always been a certain degree of instability he is understandably guarded. But hope springs eternal and there is one thing that is unshakeable with Hocking, and that is his faith in God and humanity.

Water for Good is based in Winona Lake, Indiana and works exclusively in the Central African Republic.

If you would like to know more or make a donation then you can visit their website@ www.waterforgood.org.

Lots of love,

Alex & Alex

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