CARLSBAD — War ravaged his country killing more than 2 million and forcing thousands to escape on foot.
But for Salva Dut, he has been able to return to his home in South Sudan and bring a ray of hope to his people. He was one of an estimated 20,000 children forced to flee Sudan during a bloody and decades-long civil war, and who were dubbed “The Lost Boys.”
Dut, 43, left his village in southwestern Sudan in 1986, but over the years returned to dig wells for clean water and latrines to mitigate the spread of disease.
On Oct. 12, Dut will appear at the Dove Library from 3 to 4 p.m. for a book signing for the short novel, “A Long Walk to Water,” authored by Linda Sue Park, the famed children’s author.
Some schools, such as Valley and Aviara Oaks middle schools, opted into having their students read the book for their class novel; although it is not a mandatory read for students in the Carlsbad Unified School District.
When Dut was just 10, war broke out throwing Sudan into chaos. He left home at 11, walking 1,000 miles to a refugee camp in Ethiopia to avoid induction into the army. He stayed for in Ethiopia for six years.
However, war broke out in Ethiopia in 1991, thus forcing “The Lost Boys” and other survivors to a refugee camp in Kenya, where he spent four years before coming over to the U.S., Dut recalled.
He took up residence with a family in Rochester, New York. He became a U.S. citizen, studied international business at a community college and started Water for South Sudan in 2003.
But Dut soon found himself longing to reunite with his parents who he hadn’t seen in 15 years, he said. When he finally reconnected with them, his father was ill due to drinking bad water.
“That’s where the idea for Water for South Sudan came from,” Dut said. “I formed this nonprofit and went back and drilled a well in my village.”
Vast stretches of Africa have little to no infrastructure, including the Sudan. The war ended in 2005, but the country was in flux. Six years later, South Sudan, which included Dut’s village, claimed its independence from Sudan.
Clean water and access to sanitary bathrooms are unaffordable luxuries, but Dut and WSFF championed the causes, he said. He raised money in the U.S. and since has drilled 400 wells producing clean water for more than 250,000 people.
As for the latrines, WSFF built a sustainable facility at a school to ensure children have access.
“It’s the newest country in the world and has zero infrastructure,” Dut said. “You have to be careful because you have to train the villagers to maintain it. When you give them that ownership, the feel proud and maintain it.”
As for the book, Lynn Malooly, executive director of WFSS, said it’s a short novel and for all ages. The book was a New York Times best seller, having sold more than 2 million copies since its publication in 2010, is based on Dut’s life.
It also includes a companion book, a fictional account of Nya, whose story is told side-by-side with Dut’s.
“The book is changing lives at the most basic level,” Malooly said. “It’s really inspiring. There’s no lack of inspiration here.”
While Dut travels to the U.S. and works in South Sudan, he and his family live in Uganda.