Water for South Sudan celebrated its first decade this fall, marking 10 years since Salva Dut founded the organization that has now drilled 177 wells, transforming the lives of over 400,000 people.
No one ever dreamed that Salva’s idea to bring clean water to his father’s village would ever go this far. The seeds for the organization were born in Southern Sudan and nurtured in the United States, mirroring Salva’s journey. His journey was an arduous one that moved from the struggles of war to brand new beginnings in the United States, and finally to the evolution of a successful and life-affirming non-profit organization.
In 1985, 11-year-old Salva Dut’s world changed when civil war came to his village. He spent years hiding from militia and walking across what was then Southern Sudan; he spent even more time in refugee camps in Ethiopia and Kenya. Salva was one of the lucky ones, chosen to be resettled in the US.
In 1996, Salva was settled in Rochester, NY, USA, where he met his new host family, Chris and Louise Moore and their four children. Nancy Frank, one of Salva’s first supporters and subsequent “adopted mom,” was also very much a part of his new family. In 2002, after 17 years away from his village and parents, Salva learned through United Nations networks that his father was still alive. He travelled back to Southern Sudan and found his father in a UN hospital. Though his father had survived the war, he was gravely ill from a water-borne disease. This affected Salva deeply and ultimately led to his dream of providing clean safe water in Southern Sudan.
Back in Rochester, Salva’s newfound friends and community became the fertile ground to sow the seeds for his dream. From brainstorming walks around the block, to discussions in living rooms and around kitchen tables, Salva explored the possibility of drilling a well for his father’s village, and perhaps some neighboring villages as well. He and his early supporters raised funds and became the founding board members. Those early board members, including John Bevier, the late Scott Arrington, and Jim Blake, helped with the crucial first steps of forming the legal organization, Water for Sudan, Inc. Critical first fundraising efforts were initiated from St. Paul’s Episcopal Church and Downtown United Presbyterian Church (DUPC) in Rochester, where Salva worked.
In October of 2003, Water for Sudan (later to become Water for South Sudan) was founded as a nonprofit organization in Rochester. Seeking inclusion and diversity, Salva and the founding board members brought in more help and support from the community. “We need women,” Salva told Nancy Curme when he invited her to join. Curme and fellow board member Carol Snook approached area schools for fundraising and many churches joined the effort as well.
Drilling began in 2005 when the nascent Water for Sudan drilled ten wells. Ten more wells followed the following year. The late John Turner, the organization’s first COO, pushed to buy drilling equipment in 2006. John and fellow board member Glenn Balch introduced Salva to Rotary International, and Rotary clubs across the country, particularly in Southern California, helped fundraise for a drilling rig.
In 2008, board members Nancy Frank, Nancy Reinert, and Angelique Stevens traveled to Southern Sudan along with AP Reporter Ben Dobbin and filmmaker Jeff Mead to observe the drilling of a well firsthand. The result of that trip was the movie, Just Add Water. Subsequently, in 2010, award-winning author Linda Sue Park wrote A Long Walk to Water, which has been read by thousands of students across the country and around the world, many of whom are motivated to fundraise after reading Salva’s story. Individuals and groups, including schools, faith groups, civic organizations and foundations, from all 50 US States and 9 foreign countries have provided the support needed for WFSS. In 2011, South Sudan became the world’s newest country, and the organization changed its name to Water for South Sudan.
It’s obvious that since 2005, many, many people have contributed to the development of Salva’s initial dream and to the ultimate success of Water for South Sudan. Board President Chris Moore notes that, “In the beginning, our goal was to work for a few years in the immediate area of Salva’s home village. None of us thought it would continue this far.”
Children, whose survivability was questionable before clean water was available in their villages, have a fighting chance now—not just at life, but also at a future full of possibilities.
“The future of WFSS is very bright,” says Salva. “I give thanks to all who supported me so that we can help the people of South Sudan.”