Many in Rochester first began learning about Salva Dut 15 years ago. His was a truly harrowing story. In 1985 he was an 11-year-old boy in Sudan when civil war broke out. Separated from his family, he fled on foot, joining many other displaced children that collectively became known as the Lost Boys of Sudan.
In the years ahead, as the malnourished Lost Boys traveled by foot, thousands of them died due to hunger, dehydration, animal attacks, diseases and enemy soldiers. Eventually, Dut made it to Ethiopia. Then, in 1990, he traversed hundreds of miles of desert to a United Nations refugee camp in Kenya. After almost six years in the camp, Dut was allowed to resettle to Rochester in 1996.
At first, Dut experienced a culture shock as he tried to adjust to America. Yet caring people in Rochester helped him to eventually feel at home. In 2002, Dut found out that his father was still alive and went to Sudan to reunite with him. Upon arriving, he witnessed his father suffering from a water-borne disease and became acutely aware of the dire need for clean water across Sudan. Determined to help his birth country, he and other Rochesterians started the nonprofit Water for Sudan (now called Water for South Sudan) in 2003.
Since its inception, WFSS has drilled 362 wells, serving over 300,000 people with clean water. The organization also provides water-related sanitation and hygiene programs, such as the rehabilitation of older wells, and by providing hygiene education in every village it serves.
Rochester has played a critical role in the work of WFSS. Nearly 2,200 donors to the organization are from Greater Rochester. In fact, almost 25 percent of the total funds raised by WFSS has come from Rochester individuals and organizations. A few of the local organizations that have helped WFSS include St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Monroe Community College (Holocaust, Genocide and Human Rights Project), Greece Athena Middle School, St. Louis Catholic Church, and the Max and Marian Farash Charitable Foundation.
In 2010, Dut’s story became much more widely known with the publication of “A Long Walk to Water,” a New York Times bestseller by acclaimed author (and Brighton resident) Linda Sue Park. It is now required reading in many schools.
Dut spoke to me last week from Kampala, Uganda (see audio link above). We discussed his arrival in Rochester, what it’s been like working in South Sudan during these turbulent years and what he hopes WFSS can achieve in the years to come. He also talked about the tremendous impact the organization has had on the people living in the villages it serves.
Dut continues to be an inspiring individual. He is a symbol of what one person – in concert with a caring and giving community – can achieve in the world. He is a much-needed reminder that wonderful things can result when people choose the paths of gratitude and service to others. And by enlisting thousands of Americans – and Rochesterians – into his life-saving work, he helps us to appreciate our inter-connectedness and shared humanity, and gives us an opportunity to be an active participant in that shared world.
W. H. Auden once wrote that “thousands have lived without love, not one without water.” Perhaps the most powerful forces find a way to supply both.
For more information about WFSS, visit: https://www.waterforsouthsudan.org/