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.