RANCHO SANTA FE — Think back to age 11. You were probably in fifth grade, playing a few sports, goofing off with friends and spending summers daydreaming. It’s probably safe to say you were not fleeing a bloody civil war, coming dangerously close to starvation or fearful of being eaten by wild animals.
Salva Dut, one of the Lost Boys of the Sudan, had that experience and has not only lived to tell about it, but is now leading the charge to get water for South Sudan. He is the founder of and president of Water For South Sudan, Inc., which he founded in 2004. He was at a meeting of the Encinitas and Coastal Rotary Club on June 12 on a fundraising tour.
The Rotary Clubs in Encinitas and Rancho Santa Fe along with other clubs, groups and individuals, have raised funds to drill wells that provide fresh water in far flung villages in Dut’s homeland.
Dut, now 36, honored the Rancho Santa Fe Rotary Club at the meeting for its support in the drilling of wells.
Dut is a Rotarian too. He is a member in Penfield, N.Y. He splits his time spending the dry season in Sudan during drilling and then comes to the U.S. to raise funds for the rest of the year.
He has quite the story to tell about his childhood.
“When I was 11 the war came to my village and I ran to Ethiopia where I lived in a refugee camp for six years,” he said.
But the trip to Ethiopia was brutal.
“It was really bad,” he said. “I was without my parents and family for many years. There was not enough food. We were running away from wild animals that were trying to eat us.”
In fact, his uncle who began the trip with him, was killed by a lion, he said.
And when they crossed bodies of water, crocodiles picked them off.
“The war was attacking us too and diseases, like typhoid, malaria and diarrhea were killing us too,” he said.
Dut said that out of the 1,500 boys, mostly from the Dinka Tribe, who fled with him, 500 were lost along the way.
“Then we were chased away to Kenya where I stayed in refugee camp for five years,” he said.
In 1996, under the auspices of the U.S. State Department and the United Nations, about 3,800 of the Lost Boys, including Dut, came to the United States while other Boys went to Australia and Canada.
“I came to the U.S. sponsored by the Episcopal Church in Rochester, New York,” he said.
He stayed, grew and studied international business.
Dut said he was inspired to place the original well in his village because he heard that his father, who had contracted a waterborne disease and parasites, was in a U.N. hospital. Each thought the other was dead. Dut’s father recovered, but it brought home the reality that the villagers needed clean drinking water.
Once the well was operating, it brought a clinic, merchants and a school, he said.
Dut did not stop there. He and his supporters have so far drilled 137 wells, each at a cost of about $15,000.
He said he cannot see an end to the project because the need is so great.
“I am honored to be involved with Salva, and Water for South Sudan, from
2006 with 17 wells and now we have 137 wells and have saved the lives of thousands of children who otherwise would have died from waterborne diseases,” said Ole Prahm of the Rancho Santa Fe Rotary. “Additionally the adults are no longer getting sick from drinking polluted water. The children can now attend school because they don’t have to spend all day collecting water; the villagers can remain in their villages year-round since they don’t have to move in the dry season in search of polluted river water.”
Although South Sudan became independent in 2011, it still needs help, Dut said.
“We are so happy to be an independent country now. We were suffering so much under that regime. We are a young country and we are like a baby, we will have to crawl before we learn to walk. It might be a generation before we get there,” Dut told the Rotarians.
But, he said, the people who are providing funds for the wells have done a lot toward making life better for everyone.
“These wells will help the children who don’t know what a better life is so they don’t have to walk miles and miles to get water,” he said.
Kate DuVivier, former Encinitas Rotary president, said recently her husband Chuck and Orin Abrams of the Anaheim Hills Rotary Club traveled to South Sudan to verify the wells have been drilled and are working. They found the wells, which are monitored by the U.N., to be working.
Dut wrote a children’s book titled “A Long Walk to Water,” which is available on Amazon.
To learn more about Water for South Sudan, Inc. visit waterforsouthsudan.org.