ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — An international organization, rooted in Rochester, is celebrating a big milestone. 

It was 20 years ago, this month, that Salva Dut founded the non-profit ‘Water for South Sudan’ However, his journey up to that point was a lengthy one.

Dut’s story has been documented in the New York Times, best-selling novel “A Long Walk to Water.” The book, authored by Linda Sue Park, details Dut’s experiences as he joined thousands of boys, famously known as the Lost Boys, on their journey to find safety in refugee camps during the Sudanese Civil War. A decade later, Dut was embraced by a family right here in Rochester. 

“Salva came here basically with the clothes on his back and speaking very little English and the community welcomed him,” Water for South Sudan’s Executive Director, Lynn Malooly, explains.

Dut later learned that his father was still alive in Southern Sudan but was suffering from a disease caused by waterborne parasites. Inspired to help both his father and his country, Dut set forth on his mission to provide clean drinking water to those in need. Since its creation, the organization has drilled 625 wells. 

“There really are positive gains being made, and just doing something seemingly simple as getting clean water to people can be the difference between life and death, between education and no education. Between a village taking the first steps of development,” Malooly said.

She adds, access to clean water has a particular impact on women and girls.

Instead of spending their day gathering clean water, they can pursue other opportunities like going to school, growing a garden and selling products at markets.

When it comes to logistics, there is a team of people in South Sudan who connect with village leaders to install these wells. The non-profit’s team also teaches the community how to maintain the structure after it is drilled. When the work is completed, ownership of the well is handed over to the community, but the team does check back in to help with larger repairs. 

Malooly continued, saying “another initiative we’re working on is more education in the water field. Training people how to be well mechanics, how to do water quality testing. We are trying to build a workforce that can manage a water system.” 

Malooly notes 30% of the non-profits funding comes from schools, who read about Dut’s inspiring story. Students compete for special prizes, including the chance to meet Dut himself. 

“It is super gratifying to work with young people who are so passionate, they see a problem in the world, people don’t have access to water, and they do something about it,” explained Malooly. “They make an immediate difference and can see what they’ve done. I have been here for 13 years and I am still sometimes moved to tears at these kids and how passionate they are.”

Organization leaders say even the smallest donation can go a long way in providing water for those in need. If you would like to learn more about ‘Water for South Sudan’ or donate, you can visit their website.