Salva's Dream: A conversation with Water for South Sudan Founder Salva Dut

Salva speaks with his father.

Salva speaks with his father.

Former Director of Development Cindy DeCarolis interviewed WFSS Founder Salva Dut to hear his perspective on the past 15 years and his future aspirations. As the celebratory 15th anniversary year comes to a close, we are grateful for our supporters that help us to water the seeds of change in South Sudan.

CD: Everyone has heard the story of you visiting your father, sick from drinking contaminated water, and deciding to drill a well for him. What were you thinking / feeling at the time?

Salva: I had a small idea, to drill one well. When I went back (to southern Sudan) I saw the need and kept going. I saw how having fresh water was helping so many people and creating stable communities and healthy children and schools were built.

CD: Why did you believe in this dream to drill a well for your father?

Salva: In this world if you believe in something you can do it. I trusted myself.

CD: How confident were you that you could bring this dream to fruition?

Salva: When I was walking with the “Lost Boys” we didn’t have adults to make decisions so we had to make our own. I made decisions and most were successful. I picked up decision making skills and gained confidence.

CD: Do you remember with whom you first shared this idea?

Salva: John Bevier

CD: What was his reaction?

Salva: It was an immediate “yes, I believe in you.” Then he said “let’s go for a walk.” We walked around his neighborhood in Pittsford; John asked questions and we talked. John suggested I write a business plan. I took a business plan class through SCORE to learn how to do that.  

John introduced me to Scott Arrington and Scott knew a lawyer who could help register the organization as a nonprofit. I needed a treasurer and I asked Chris Moore. Nobody said no. When we went to the lawyer he gave me big discounts. He charged me $500 and I had just $500 in my account.

These were all St. Paul’s (Episcopal Church) people. In the beginning it was all St. Paul’s. John and I presented the idea to Reverend Fred Reynolds and he took it to the Outreach Committee. Laura Hayden gave me the first donation, she handed me a check for $500. The Outreach Committee approved a contribution of $50,000 – that funded the first well. Then First Presbyterian Church of Caledonia came onboard. Glenn Balch read the article in the paper (Ben Dobbin’s article in the D&C) and called me. He brought John Turner and Rotary.

CD: What were some of the challenges that you encountered?

Salva: There were lots of challenges. Sudan was still at war. We had an organization with no foundation and no credit history.

Working in South Sudan was hard. It took three months to drill the first well. There was no infrastructure. I was blessed that I never got sick – there was no healthcare. I had to move equipment across the country and there were no roads, no phones, and no gas stations.

I would disappear for six months at a time with no way to get word to the Board. People trusted me and believed in me.

CD: Was your father surprised when you showed up in his village to drill a well?

Salva: He was always happy to see me, but he was shocked. He had no idea that I had been planning to come back. The people in his village had never seen a well. When the well was built the people were amazed to see clean water coming from dry land. My father said “I had no idea we were sitting on clean water all this time.”

CD: Did you expect Water for South Sudan to become what it is today?

Salva: I had a vision and I knew we would grow as long as we were doing good work.

CD: What are you most proud of accomplishing with WFSS?

Salva: The seeds that we plant that trigger other things to allow the people of South Sudan to be able to help themselves.

CD: Where would you like to see WFSS go next?

Salva: We have a good mission. I am hopeful that WFSS will keep thriving and extend itself. South Sudan is still lacking water, sanitation, and hygiene services. I want to do more than just drilling wells.

CD: Looking out 15 years in the future what would you see WFSS accomplish?

Salva: We haven’t reached the entire country of South Sudan yet. I want to see WFSS extend to neglected areas with extreme water shortages. In 15 years I hope that WFSS has accomplished bringing enough wells, sanitation facilities, and improved hygiene practices to everyone in South Sudan.

A Conversation with Bishop Jack McKelvey, Retired Episcopal Bishop of Rochester

Jack and Salva at our 2017 fundraising brunch.

Jack and Salva at our 2017 fundraising brunch.

Jack McKelvey came to the Episcopal Diocese of Rochester in 1999 and became Bishop in 2000. He met Salva Dut, founder of WFSS and former "Lost Boy" or "Walking Boy" of Sudan, at St. Paul's Episcopal Church. Salva had been worshiping at St. Paul’s for several years. “It was fascinating to talk to someone with his story to tell,” said Jack.

The Episcopal Diocese became involved with another 50 “Walking Boys” who came to Rochester. Jack reached out to the Red Wings General Manager and asked if they would provide the group with tickets to a game. The group, including Salva, was welcomed to the game, invited down on the field and given baseballs, Kodak cameras, and hats.

After the Red Wings game, Jack would see Salva at Wegmans, where Salva worked, and other places around town. They got to know each other and became friendly. “Salva always said that he ultimately wanted to go back home to do something for his people,” noted Jack. After Salva visited his father, ill from drinking contaminated water, he realized that how he would help would be by bringing clean water to those who had none.

Salva reached out to Jack for help with fundraising. Jack’s initial thought was “this is an incredibly large task to raise money to do what he wants to do in a country we don’t know.” But Jack knew Salva well enough to know it was possible. “The way he told his story, people just gravitated to him”, he said. Jack hosted a meeting with Salva, Jim Blake, and Scott Arrington to talk about fundraising.

Jack continued to meet with Salva periodically, but Jim and Scott were instrumental in getting more people on board with the project. Things really began to turn around when Linda Sue Park wrote A Long Walk to Water (ALWTW,) said Jack. The challenge was managing growth. The two greatest gifts WFSS ever received were, ALWTW and John Turner,” Jack reflected.

John Turner carried WFSS through a major growth spurt. John would talk to Jack about receiving phone calls from Salva at 3:00 a.m. John would be on the phone in his pajamas solving day to day problems. “It was all volunteers,” said Jack, “Chris Moore, Scott Arrington, and Nancy Frank also helped.”

Upon retiring in 2008 Jack joined the WFSS Board of Directors and still serves on the Board today. When the Episcopal Diocese asked Jack what gift they could present him to thank him for his service Jack asked that they raise money to fund a trust in the Diocese with the purpose of supporting the Millennium Development Goals. Three of the first four grants from the fund went to WFSS. “I’ll never touch people that far away in any other way,” Jack remarked.

When I asked Jack if he expected WFSS to become what it is today, he responded “I never stopped to think about that. I assumed we would just keep on keeping on.” Jack noted that it was Bob Shea who pulled WFSS into a new awareness with strategic planning; “I realized then that there are a whole lot of people counting on WFSS.” Jack also praised WFSS Executive Director Lynn Malooly for her leadership, “she is adept at pulling all the strings together,” and Board member Angelique Stevens for her well evaluation trip, “the notion of Salva and his team developing and building these wells and that they last is remarkable.”

Jack has represented WFSS at several schools and stated “I don’t know when I have felt any prouder of WFSS than when I have gone to schools. To see the pride in those young people who have read ALWTW and embraced Salva’s dream amazes me.”

Jack concluded our conversation commenting, “That we have 320 wells and provide water for close to 500,000 people is astounding. I am so happy, very pleased that the wells have lasted.”

An Interview with Robin Hill


Robin Hill is a long-time supporter of Salva and Water for South Sudan. Robin co-wrote an adaptation of Salva's story called "Just Add Water" which is a picture book version for younger readers. Cindy DeCarolis, Director of Development at Water for South Sudan, interviewed Robin on some of his experiences over the years.

CD:        Tell me a little about how you first met Salva.

RH:       Actually my wife first met Salva when he was working at Wegmans. We had spent two years in the Peace Corps in Kenya. My wife knew Salva was African, so she talked to him about that. She invited him to dinner and cooked African food, from there our friendship developed.

CD:        What did you think the first time Salva talked of building a well for his father?

RH:       I was surprised that his dad was still alive. I thought he was lost forever. Salva believed that because he was given opportunities here that he owed it to his people to go back and help them. We had long conversations about this and Salva had many ideas. I was happy that he found something that he wanted to do. I felt good for him that he had found his one way to give back.

CD:        Why did you believe in his dream?

RH:       When you meet Salva and hear his story, what he went through and that he thrived, you get a sense that he has a higher purpose in life.

CD:        What was your role in helping to bring WFSS and Salva’s dream to fruition?

RH:       When Salva was putting together his Board of Directors he needed a person with in-country experience for validity. He knew of my Peace Corps experience and invited me to join the Board. I also introduced Salva to churches and schools where he spoke.  

As the organization became more complex they needed expertise in specific areas and they had others on the Board who had been to Africa. I stepped back at this point to open up a Board seat for someone with the skills that were needed.

CD:        What were some of the challenges you encountered in founding WFSS?

RH:       The biggest challenge was the direction of the Board. There was internal Board debate around what we wanted to do and what other organizations were doing and comparing the cost of purchasing equipment to contracting. The Board was not unified initially.

CD:        Did you expect WFSS to become what it is today?

RH:       Yes and no. I envisioned drilling a high quantity of wells and turning lives around. The surprise was the international response through A Long Walk to Water. When the book was read in my daughter’s class she said 'I know Salva; he lives in our basement sometimes', her teacher was skeptical.

CD:        What are you most proud of accomplishing with WFSS?

RH:       I am proud that I was there for the start and that I helped to get it on its feet, seeing the whole thing spring up from nothing to what it is today.

CD:        Are there any other thoughts you would like to share?

RH:       I am waiting for the day when A Long Walk to Water becomes a movie. It is such a compelling story.     

Nancy Frank Talks about WFSS’s Early Days

Nancy and Salva at our 2016 fundraising brunch.

Nancy and Salva at our 2016 fundraising brunch.

When Nancy Frank first met WFSS Founder Salva Dut he was 19 years old and had just arrived in Rochester, New York. Nancy was the Coordinator of Outreach and Mission at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. It was her responsibility to help the refugees that St. Paul’s sponsored to get acclimated to life in Rochester. In 1995-1996, most of the South Sudanese in Rochester were Nuer. Salva arrived in 1996 and being Dinka he didn’t have a support network among other South Sudanese. Nancy assisted him in finding housing and a job at Wegmans.

“St. Paul’s embraced Salva in a way they hadn’t embraced other refugees,” said Nancy, “Everyone knew him and wanted him to succeed." When Salva was working as a cashier at Wegmans in Pittsford his line would often be the longest, because people from St. Paul’s would all get into his line to say hello. Nancy shared another story about Salva working at Wegmans. “One day while working the cash register Salva was robbed,” Nancy said, “Salva chased the thief out into the parking lot to get the money back.”  This story is a tribute to Salva’s sense of responsibility – he was not going to let anyone steal from Wegmans.

Nancy Frank and board member Angelique Stevens in South Sudan, 2008

Nancy Frank and board member Angelique Stevens in South Sudan, 2008

Nancy knew that Salva wanted to do something to help his people. When he started talking about drilling a well for his father Nancy understood the need. She had been to South Sudan several times and knew the lay of the land. She had seen women carrying water, as well as non-functioning wells and hand dug wells that turned to mud, dried up, or caved in taking lives. “I tried carrying water on my head,” Nancy remembered, “I couldn’t do it.”

Nancy noted that Salva pulled together a wonderful team. Nancy was invited to join the WFSS Board. She was practical. She saw barriers where others could see that it could work. “It was fun to be part of that,” she said. 

“The right people came to the Board at the right time, bringing special talents” Nancy said. “John Bevier was a wonderful idea person. John Turner worked the problems to death, until he found solutions. Chris Moore had the leadership and drive. Glenn Balch has done so much and Don Fairman was the right person at the right time. Everyone had a piece of this huge puzzle.”

The Board met in Nancy’s living room until the Rotary folks came on board. “This was a wonderful development,” Nancy remarked, “Salva was invited to speak at Rotary meetings and then he joined Penfield Rotary Club. All of Rotary International knows WFSS and Salva’s journey.”

Nancy led a team of Board members and others to experience the drilling operation in 2008. Everyone worked together. “My job was mixing cement,” Nancy recalled.  Nobody expected WFSS to become what it is today. The original mission was to drill a well for Salva’s father. “It felt a shame to stop with one well, we thought we would just drill some wells in neighboring villages,” Nancy said.  It has grown way beyond that, with 325 wells drilled to date.

I asked Nancy what she was most proud of accomplishing with WFSS. She responded “that we did it, we put it on the ground, and we have affected the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. It is one of the most amazing things I have been a part of in my life.”

Read about other Founding Board members here.

John Bevier on visiting Kenya and Water for South Sudan

Salva and John at our 2016 fundraising brunch in Rochester.

Salva and John at our 2016 fundraising brunch in Rochester.

John Bevier was invited by Reverend Fred Reynolds and Nancy Frank to join Jim Blake in representing St. Paul’s Episcopal Church on a trip to Kenya. John immediately accepted and after many evening meetings at Nancy’s house discussing what to expect, he and Jim traveled to the Burea Theological College, where St. Paul’s had already drilled a well, to attend a consecration and “Giving Thanks” celebration.   

During that trip John and Jim also had the opportunity to visit the Kakuma Refugee Camp. Despite it being a long, hot and bumpy two-day drive in the back of a pick-up truck, they both wanted to go. “At the time, Kakuma housed 90,000 people living within this UNHCR (UN Refugee Agency) controlled, barbed wire encircled, “City.” We saw people fighting, disease and malnutrition, and I even had a woman ask me to take her infant child out of the camp because she feared that he would not survive,” said John.

For John it was easy to go to Africa, but difficult to come back. He shared a story about his daughter who was in middle school at the time. John took her shopping for a new pair of jeans and the brand she wanted cost $90. When John commented on the price she argued that this was what all of her friends were wearing. John said, “I had to remember that her perspective was American. It was difficult to realign myself with life here having seen these people in the refugee camp. They were there through no fault of their own, it was not the consequence of poor choices; it was just the circumstance of being born where they were. We are at the top of the wealth and resource pyramid, but don’t realize it quite as fully until we experience the contrast via the experience of visiting a refugee camp!”

John knew WFSS Founder Salva Dut through St. Paul’s and Chris and Louise Moore. Salva knew that John was going to Africa and he introduced him to another South Sudanese whom had immigrated to Rochester via the UNHCR Refugee Resettlement Act named Michael. Michael had fallen in love with a young Sudanese woman in Kakuma Refugee Camp and wanted to get married. To do so he had to provide a dowry to the family. Michael entrusted John with money to buy cows for the family in Africa so that he could marry their daughter.

When John arrived in Kenya he went to the bank to have the currency changed. He then met with the family inside Kakuma and gave them the money. The girl’s uncle, her father had died in the civil war, said that Michael needed to provide more cows. They had been wiped out by the war and the family needed to build up their herd again. John asked them, “Do you appreciate how extraordinary Michael is? He arrived in Rochester having never seen snow, not knowing English, not knowing how to use basic kitchen appliances, he went to school and got a job. And on his small salary he was able to save this money.” They said “Yes, yes, yes, we love Michael.” They did grant permission for Michael to marry their daughter.

Salva left the Kakuma Refugee Camp not knowing where his family was or if they were alive. Years later, when he learned that his father was alive, he went back to South Sudan to visit him. The regional doctor told Salva that his father would die without a source of clean water. “This planted the seed that would become Water for Sudan in Salva’s heart and mind,” John said.

John and Salva started meeting at lunchtime. They would walk around the block in John’s neighborhood having long talks. “We agreed that water is the basis of life,” said John, “I wanted to help Salva find a way to bring water to his people.” John helped Salva put together their first business plan and come up with a name for the new venture. “Marketing folks advise you to name your company what it is,” John stated, “Water for Sudan said it all.” (In 2011, when South Sudan gained its independence the name was changed to Water for South Sudan.)

“As WFSS grew and became more multi-denominational (initially St. Paul’s Episcopal Church was at the center of WFSS) it was amazing how coincidence on top of coincidence occurred,” remembered John, “out of the blue Scott Arrington made time to help and he set-up the articles of incorporation and 501 (c)(3). Then Chris (Moore) and Nancy (Frank) jumped in and when we were wanting to begin drilling our own wells, unlike our first year of contracting an external company, which of course increased the real cost of creating each well, along came John Turner and bought our first drilling rig. It became clear that this was bigger than us. Salva had a calling and he was being guided.”

John did not expect WFSS to become what it is today, but he is not the least bit surprised. “Salva is magnetic, he is humble and courageous, and he speaks from the heart. There is no façade and he has a high level of integrity and honesty,” John remarked. “People see the opportunity to give back the gift of pure water, a substance without which life can’t be sustained, and something we can so easily take for granted, and they are called to help.”

John’s proudest accomplishment within his association with WFSS is that his chance trip to Kenya with Jim Blake, over time, along with the efforts and spirit of so many hundreds and hundreds of wonderful people across the USA and Europe, helped so many hundreds of thousands of rural Africans, and became a powerful life-saving change agent initiative. “Anybody who goes over to Africa becomes a bridge,” said John. “In the U. S. we have technology and wealth, but we tend to forget family and spirituality; in the refugee camp although they had very little material resources, the people had an incredible sense of family, community, and God.” John also noted that he was proud that he “got out of the way” when it was time. By leaving the Board of Directors when he did, John opened up a seat for someone with the skills needed at the time to come on board.   

“I hope that the Board and anyone involved never loses that the sense of wonder that has propelled WFSS forward hasn’t just been the people; there is a powerful, mysterious, benevolent force behind WFSS that drives it forward and guarantees success,” John concluded.


Jim Blake on Getting Things Done in South Sudan



The first time Jim Blake heard about Salva wanting to drill a well in his father’s village he thought it was great. Jim didn’t know Salva well, but he knew that the St. Paul’s Episcopal Church was behind the project. Jim recalled that everyone was enthusiastic. “I climbed on board blind,” said Jim, “I was doubtful, but I wanted to do everything to make it happen, I assumed it would happen.”

Scott Arrington and Nancy Frank were two crucial components, according to Jim. Scott knew how to build a business and Nancy knew how things worked in Africa. Jim got involved hoping to go and drill a well. “It was a deeply committed bunch of talented people, primarily from the same faith community and with a common background. We trusted and supported each other,” Jim stated, “We all knew we needed each other, we recognized and appreciated our different strengths and we all participated in decision making.”  

In 2004, Jim traveled to Africa with Salva. Scott had done all of the legal and political juggling to set-up the 501(c)(3) and, given that Sudan was still on the U.S. list of countries that supported terrorism, to get permission to go into Sudan. Jim’s job was to open doors for Salva to bankers, contractors, and other professionals in Kampala, Uganda. Salva was considered a boy because although he was 29 he was unmarried. In addition, Sudanese were discriminated against in Uganda.


A Russian Company that had drilled wells in Sudan in the past was hired to go to Salva’s father’s village to drill the first well. Jim and Salva met in Kampala with representatives of the company to sign the papers. “I was the rich, white, fat American who everyone wanted to talk to,” said Jim. Once they got in the door, Jim would tell them “You have to talk to Salva, he’s the President.”   

“Every night Salva and I would make plans for the following day. The next day we would throw out the plans after about two hours and just do what we could. We laughed a lot,” Jim remembered.

Jim recounted the story of opening a bank account for WFSS. The bank official who had to sign the papers had a fountain pen, it was out of ink. Jim pulled a ball point pen from his pocket and was told that the documents could not be signed using that pen, it had to be the fountain pen. There was no ink in the entire bank. Salva and Jim were told to come back the next day. They returned the next day and it was a bank holiday. It took three days to open the bank account. “It was so ridiculous it was comical,” laughed Jim.

Another day Salva needed to visit the Commandant to get permission to drill wells in Sudan. Without his blessing they would not survive. Jim said that they just sat there for 20 minutes. Then Salva and the Commandant talked privately for a few minutes. Subsequently Jim and Salva left with the understanding that the Commandant would not oppose the project. It was enough.

Jim never expected WFSS to become what it is today. “We were going to hire a company to drill a few wells and possibly build some infrastructure. None of us could have imagined drilling our own wells, that was a pipe dream. The miracle was the fact that we didn’t drill one well and go home."

Reverend Nancy Reinert Reminisces About Visiting South Sudan

Nancy and Salva in 2008 in south sudan.

Nancy and Salva in 2008 in south sudan.

Reverend Nancy Reinert was first introduced to WFSS Founder Salva Dut in 2004. Nancy was the Pastor at First Presbyterian Church of Caledonia and she was planning a Lenten refugee program. Salva was invited to speak about his refugee experience. “He was very engaging. Everyone loved him right away,” said Nancy.

When Salva began talking about drilling a well for his father. it took Nancy a moment to grasp the situation – the impact of not having clean water on lifestyle, health, and culture. Once she understood the magnitude of the problem she knew that “Salva had to do this,” but she couldn’t imagine what that would look like. Nancy knew that Salva was a captivating visionary. “It begins with his story and what he overcame. This is a man who is disciplined to set his mind to a vision and make it happen,” she said, “it was empowering, he made you believe it could be done.”  

In 2005, Salva invited Nancy to join the WFSS Board of Directors. Nancy viewed herself as the cheerleader. She believes that Salva saw her as the Chaplain and prayer warrior for the organization. Nancy shared that she “felt so privileged to work with that Board, a group of people who were so determined to make this happen.” There were a myriad of challenges faced by the Board. “It was like reinventing the wheel. Nobody was doing this except for a few big organizations like the United Nations and there were U.S. sanctions against Sudan. Getting permission from Sudan was overwhelming,” said Nancy, “The need is in the most remote areas. The conditions are extremely difficult and hard on vehicles and equipment.”  

In 2008, Nancy traveled with Salva and a small contingent of volunteers who became WFSS’s eyes on the ground. They went to see how the project was working and to bring back a report to the volunteers and donors in the U.S.

Nancy was very excited to have the opportunity to meet Salva’s people. “They had never seen white people or trucks,” Nancy remembered, “there were no roads, only cow paths. The whole village gathered to welcome us. The excitement, hospitality, and joy were incredible.” What most impressed Nancy was the overwhelming sense of importance around educating girls.  

Nancy and wayne reinert with salva in 2016 at our annual fundraiser

Nancy and wayne reinert with salva in 2016 at our annual fundraiser

Nancy shared a story that speaks volumes about the cultural differences. When her husband Wayne and Salva were driving from Rochester to Caledonia for the refugee program at First Presbyterian of Caledonia they passed a dead deer by the side of the road. Salva said to Wayne that it took every bone in his body not to claim the deer; what we call road kill would have been prized in South Sudan. 

WFSS drilled two wells in its first season and seven in its second season. Nancy commented “Who would have thought it would become what it is? It speaks to human generosity: people hear an engaging story and they want to be part of it.”

Nancy was very proud of the 2011 vote for South Sudan to become a nation and she noted that Salva became impassioned to change our name from Water for Sudan to Water for South Sudan. “Water for South Sudan has not been daunted, it is still there,” concluded Nancy

Watching a Well Being Drilled in a South Sudanese Village is a Wondrous Thing

By Ben Dobbin

     Village girls in Abilnyang during a deep-water well installation in March 2008

     Village girls in Abilnyang during a deep-water well installation in March 2008

My first trip to southern Sudan a decade ago was a marvel, and my reason for returning was primarily this: to find out if Salva Dut’s deep-water wells are doing their job. They are—every last one of them.

On an emotional level, I also had a yearning to meet again with villagers in nowhere-on-the-map Abilnyang. Our five-day visit there in 2008, camping under a fig tree within view of Salva’s borehole-drilling operation, is etched in my heart.

The curious children of Abilnyang were what made the project so joyous. Helping out in any way possible, they carried PVC pipes, sorted stones used to build a well platform, and laughed uproariously to see a geyser of water spew from a 260-foot-deep aquifer.

They filled the hours tossing a Frisbee, chasing a soccer ball or whacking an inflatable globe—three short-lived gifts from afar. And everyone wanted their photograph taken, especially John Dhal Deng, a teenager who was well-groomed and unusually chatty.

Marial Bol, a 6-year-old in ragged clothes who never smiled, was invariably the first to appear each morning--with a dozen goats in tow. Despite his reticence, he looked the image of a star-struck youngster when a carnival comes to town.

Alout Atak, who had lost an arm to a cobra bite, practiced English phrases and volunteered a plaintive song in his Dinka dialect. Bol Thuch beat out a celebratory rhythm on a cowhide drum. And a precocious preteen girl, Arac Deng, vowed to study hard and grow up “to assist the sick people” in a land beset by war, hunger and ill health.

Equipped with a reliable source of clean water, Abilnyang’s 1,600 inhabitants--spread out across the savanna in mud-wall tukels and frequently hemmed in by a flood-prone river—hired a teacher, started their own school and opened a small market.

Seven years later, I got the itch to go back.

All the wells were operating fine. The water flows fresh and cool from year to year, even more quenching in the December-to-May dry season when the mercury tops 120 degrees.

This was a different undertaking in 2015, accompanying a Water for South Sudan crew to assess whether 80 of its oldest wells were holding up.

Salva has always kept it simple: Sink a well, put the locals in charge, and they’ll do the rest—and push forward with their lives. In each location, one or two people are trained to carry out maintenance and collect money for spare parts to repair any breakdowns rapidly.

All the wells were operating fine. The water flows fresh and cool from year to year, even more quenching in the December-to-May dry season when the mercury tops 120 degrees.

The nonprofit group, however, decided that dozens of concrete well platforms, including Abilnyang’s, needed to be redesigned and rebuilt. They’d been badly stomped and broken by cows, sheep and goats lapping up uncollected water spilling near the pump.

Salva’s first well was placed in his parents’ village of Loun-Ariik in 2005. It’s a bumpy, two-hour drive from Abilnyang, which was 18th in line. The list now surpasses 320 wells, supplying water to almost a million people.

Most of those wells are found in western regions free of combat. While South Sudan became the world’s newest nation in 2011, a political power struggle has kept it locked in civil war for more than four years.

M   arial Bol, a goat herder at age 6, now cares for his uncle’s long-horned cattle

Marial Bol, a goat herder at age 6, now cares for his uncle’s long-horned cattle

Our stop in Abilnyang lasted just an hour. But familiar faces appeared right off the bat. There in the middle of an instant crowd of children was solemn Marial. I passed out snapshots of that wondrous week in 2008, and he didn’t recognize himself at first.

By then a tall 13-year-old with muscled arms, Marial said he keeps busy looking after his uncle’s herd of long-horned cattle and fancies becoming a trader at the market someday.

I finally found a way to ask him why he hides his smile.

Both his parents died in a sickness epidemic when he was 2 and, “very often, I feel nothing to smile about,” he said through a translator. Then his face brightened, and he added: “I think my uncle loves me more than anyone else in the world.”

"For girls in particular, the all-day grind of hauling murky water from fetid swamps is a distant memory."

To call Abilnyang rudimentary, and hard to get to, is still an understatement. Some children have moved on with their families to bigger towns like Warrap, including lively Arac Deng. And, sadly, a cousin of Bol Thuch told of the boy drummer being shot to death by a rival tribe during a cattle drive to lush grassland near the Nile River in 2009.

One-armed Alout Atak studied English, science and social studies at the village’s primary for three years. The teacher moved away in 2012 and “I was very sad to see the school close,” he said.

However, plans were already afoot to reopen the school in 2015, related Mark Madut, 27, a former student who hoped to enroll hundreds of young villagers. For girls in particular, the all-day grind of hauling murky water from fetid swamps is a distant memory.

John Deng, now a police officer and father of four in Kuajok who was home on leave, spoke eagerly about how the well was vital to health. Waterborne diseases like diarrhea and typhoid were greatly diminished in the village, he said.

“I hope everybody could get the advantages of a well,” Deng added. Then he threw back his shoulders, and stood tall, for yet another picture.

Ben Dobbin was a correspondent for The Associated Press from 1983 to 2012. His wife, Linda Sue Park, is the author of A Long Walk to Water and an upcoming companion picture book, A Step At a Time, which will be published in 2019.

Other Reading:

The original Abilnyang tale from 2008:,4675,LostBoyapossReturn,00.html

The follow-up from South Sudan in 2015:

Christopher and Louise Moore Share Memories of Water for South Sudan’s Beginning

Louise Moore, Salva Dut, and WFSS board member Chris Moore.

Louise Moore, Salva Dut, and WFSS board member Chris Moore.

Christopher and Louise Moore met WFSS Founder Salva Dut in 1996, after he arrived in the U.S. as a refugee from southern Sudan.

Chris and Louise first met Salva at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, where they all attended services. Louise remembers her first meeting with Salva, chatting with him about cultural mores and family. Louise noticed that Salva was riding his bicycle without a helmet, so she bought him a helmet. That led to invitations to dinner, holiday celebrations, and other Moore family outings. Salva became a part of their family.

Salva was 21 years old and he was struggling to put himself through school at Monroe Community College in Rochester, NY. “Salva was proud, he was working three jobs because he would rather starve than accept food stamps,” said Louise.

In 1999, when Chris and Louise began looking for a new home to accommodate the needs of their growing family they deliberately looked for a house with an in-law apartment. They found their new home and invited Salva to live with them. “Salva wouldn’t accept money from us,” said Louise, “but we could provide room and board so that he could concentrate on his schooling.”   

A few years after moving in with the Moores Salva learned that his father was alive. He traveled to Africa to visit the father he had not seen since he was 11. They had a very emotional reunion – it had been 19 years with each not knowing that the other was alive. Salva’s father was critically ill from drinking contaminated water. “Salva had continually talked about going back to help his people and seeing his father led to the lightbulb moment that water was how,” said Louise, “it was always about how can I help my people and environmental impact.”

Chris and Louise immediately embraced Salva’s dream and helped to make it a reality. “I was a little skeptical, but I could see Salva’s passion and the need,” remarked Chris. They both knew that he would make it happen, the question was how?

Chris became very involved in helping to establish Water for Sudan, which became Water for South Sudan in 2011 when the country gained independence. Salva put together a business plan, which Chris evaluated. Chris also facilitated banking for the new nonprofit and was its first treasurer. “Sudan was on the terrorist watch list at the time,” said Chris, “so we had some major hurdles to overcome.”

Salva and the Moore family.

Salva and the Moore family.

Louise noted that her involvement with Water for Sudan was limited to writing thank you notes and sending out bumper stickers to donors, as well as helping with publicity. “I called local reporter Jim Memmott and told him about Salva. Jim became the first to write about Salva in his column, “Remarkable Rochester”. I also wrote to Oprah Winfrey every day for a year,” Louise laughed. 

Louise and Chris both agreed that once people met Salva they just wanted to help. Chris said “when he got in front of people there was little reluctance to get involved. People sensed his genuineness.” Louise said “Salva has a magnetic personality. I would have done anything for him.”

While Chris knew that Salva would attain his goal of drilling a well in his father’s village, he never expected WFSS to become what it is today. After a few years the Board of Directors evaluated where they were. They knew at that point they could declare victory and go home. However, the entire Board wanted to continue the work. This has resulted in 305 wells serving more than 300,000 people, hygiene training in 200 villages impacting more than 100,000, and a pilot sanitation project at a school serving 800 students.

“This has been an amazing ride,” said Chris. “I am beyond thrilled knowing not only the impact WFSS has had, but also the incredible impact that Salva has had on my family. He taught my children drive, commitment, grace, and gratitude.” Louise commented that people tell her she has done so much; her reply is always “all I did was fall in love.”

October 3, 2018 commemorates WFSS’s 15th anniversary. Follow us on social media throughout the year for stories and memories and information about our celebration brunch in October.

Water for South Sudan Celebrates its 15th anniversary!

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October 3, 2018 marks Water for South Sudan’s 15th anniversary.

What began in Rochester with a small seed planted by WFSS Founder Salva Dut and a committed group of Salva’s friends who graciously gave their time, their energy, and their money has grown beyond all expectations. The initial goal was to drill one well in Salva’s father’s village.

“When I dreamed of a well for my father, I never imagined that 15 years later we would still be going...and have 305 wells serving more than 300,000 people,” said Salva.

Salva and John Turner, WFSS’s first volunteer Chief Operations Officer, in Kampala c. 2009.

Salva and John Turner, WFSS’s first volunteer Chief Operations Officer, in Kampala c. 2009.

Water for South Sudan will be celebrating this milestone throughout the year, culminating with a birthday party in October. Follow us on social media for fun facts, Salva stories, and occasional prizes and giveaways.

Celebrate Salva’s success and help WFSS to continue its work with
a donation of $15 per month.