Salva Dut: The Story That Inspired the Middle Grades
The book A Long Walk to Water, written by Linda Sue Park, is an inspiring and true story about a man named Salva Dut. This book has been a middle grades classic, and favorite of many of the Avenues students. On October 16th, during assembly, the middle grades students were awaiting a surprise visit from the inspiration himself, Salva Dut.
A tall man with dark skin, piercing eyes, and a navy suit, stands in front of the projector, facing three hundred of the Avenues Middle Grades students squeezed into the seventh floor commons. His intimidating height and facade vanish when he smiles at the crowd. He gently states, “I’m so happy to be here this morning with you.”
The man’s name is Salva Dut. Born and raised within a Dinka village in South Sudan, he was forced to run for his life when war between Northern and Southern Sudan struck his home. He became one of the millions of Lost Boys of Sudan, boys who were fleeing to stay alive.
17,000 boys leaving Sudan because of the war. Only 12,000 survived. The Lost Boys traveled 18,000 miles, living in refugee camps in Ethiopia and Kenya. The boys left their friends, families, and their whole lives behind.
At a young age, Salva led several hundred boys onwards, when he thought all hope was lost. In 1996, Salva was chosen to be resettled in Rochester, NY. In America he began his company, Water for South Sudan.
For 19 years, Salva had thought his whole family had passed away. Nineteen years later, he learned that his father is alive in Sudan, but very sick due to waterborne diseases. Salva knew he wanted to change things for Sudan, for people like his father who were suffering due to poor water quality. He started his own non-profit, Water for South Sudan, to give back to those who are in the same situation as his father was. Water For South Sudan is an organization that works to creating clean, fresh water, sanitation, and an overall healthy life to people in need.
After Salva greets us, he asks us how many of us went to the bathroom this morning. Most hands went up. He then asks how many of us used a tap this morning. All hands went up. “Do you know how important it is, simple, you treat it like nothing difficult. This is what is very very important. Imagine yourself not having a bathroom at home. Would be very difficult, correct?” Everyone nods, including the teachers that line the sides of the commons space.
“Not having water would be very difficult. Every kid in America, you just get all this, in your house. But in other world, you don’t. Like where I grew up, I didn’t have running water. I didn’t have [a] bathroom. I had to go to the bush. And I didn’t even eat three times a day. If I get something one meal a day, then I am happy and I will not complain. You guys are blessed to be born in this country, in America.”
When I interviewed Salva one-on-one, I asked him about all the struggles he had to endure when he took the long walk to safety. About the effect war had on his entire life. “Fighting doesn’t take us anywhere,” Salva said. “Always be kind. If all of us were kind, the world would be a better place.” Salva has now provided clean water for 300,000 people, building 394 wells.
But apart from being having a huge impact on his country’s health and life, it has also had a huge impact on the students of Avenues. Lelolai Paulino-Dinzey is a 6th grader, and she had the opportunity to introduce Salva at the middle grades assembly. “It felt good to introduce him,” she told me. “He impacted me a lot, because not only did he like take care of himself, he took care of the other boys, and now he’s giving back to his community by building the water wells.” And, as wisely said by one of our seventh graders, “When I don’t want to wash the dishes, this makes me want to wash the dishes, and I should wash the dishes, because I can wash the dishes.”
“It was very inspiring, and maybe now, I will have the power I need to make a difference,” said Sienna Ashworth, another seventh grader.
At the very end of our interview, I asked Salva one last question. What would you say to any kid my age who wants to make a difference in their world?
“Focus on your education,” he tells me. “Never give up on it. Have hope all the time and never give up. Be persistent. Persevere.”
I hope Salva made an impression on all the students of Avenues, because learning about how fortunate we are will inspire us to help others. Just like it did for Salva.