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.”
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.