A Long Walk to Water is a New York Times bestseller based on the true story of Salva Dut, a refugee from Sudan, and his incredible journey to find his family and escape the war. Beginning in 1985, the story follows Salva over many years of obstacles and growth. Simultaneously, readers meet Nya, a young girl also living in Sudan, but in the year 2008. Nya walks for hours a day to retrieve dirty water for her family, because that is all that they have. The two characters are from very different times, but experience a number of similarities and are linked in an incredible way.
Eleven year old Salva is sitting in school one day when gunshots suddenly ring out. The year is 1985 in southern Sudan, and war is all around them. Everyone is urged to run, head toward the bush and get as far away from home as possible. Separated from his family, Salva is afraid and alone, only recognizing some people from his village. After hours of walking, the group settles into a barn for the night, and when Salva wakes the next day, he realizes he has been left behind. Salva meets up with some members of his tribe, the Dinka, finds his uncle, Jewiir, and finds a dear friend in a boy named Marial. Things seem to be getting better for Salva as they travel towards Ethiopia, but he worries that he may never find his family if he continues traveling so far away.
The group travels together for about a month, and tragedy strikes when Marial gets killed and eaten by a lion while he is asleep. Fear and grief overcome Salva, but his uncle urges him to continue on and not give up. After making their own canoes and crossing the Nile River, the group is faced with the grueling task of crossing the Akobo Desert. They come across others who are near death or already dead, and water is extremely limited. On the third day of their trek across the desert, a group of armed men steal all of their supplies and brutally kill Salva’s uncle. As devastated and defeated as Salva feels, he manages to forge on, knowing his uncle and dear friend would want him to survive. Eventually Salva and the others make it to a refugee camp in Ethiopia, where there were thousands upon thousands of people, most of whom were boys and young men. Salva had a glimmer of hope that he would find his family, but as the years went by, he knew how very alone he was.
After six long years at the camp, Salva was now seventeen years old, and news of the camp closing caused fear among him and the people. One rainy morning, armed soldiers arrived at the camp and forced the people out. Guns fired, people stampeded, shouting and crying as the soldiers continued to drive them towards the crocodile infested Gilo River, which was along the border of Ethiopia and Sudan. Salva stood in fear as he saw men being pulled under by crocodiles in front of him, while gunshots rang out behind him; there was nothing to do but plunge in. After what seemed like a lifetime of swimming, Salva came out on the other side, where more walking would await him.
Not knowing what would happen when he arrived, Salva decided he would continue towards Kenya, and soon he had about 1,500 boys following him. He became the leader of this group, organizing and giving everyone jobs to do; he encouraged them and gave them hope, much like his uncle did for him. A year and a half later, most of the boys arrived at Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya. After two years of misery and what felt like prison, Salva left the camp and walked even more until he arrived at Ifo Refugee Camp, where things were no better. During his time at Ifo, Salva learned to read from one of the aid workers. He was happy about this, but was losing hope that he would ever find his family and be free.
That all changed when Salva was chosen to go to America, and he was to travel with eight other boys; they became known in America as the Lost Boys. After much preparation, Salva was amazed as he rode on planes, drank soda, and traveled from Kenya to Germany, and then to New York City. He would take one last small plane to Rochester, where his new family would be waiting for him. Salva attends college, majors in business, and eventually hears of his father’s whereabouts at a clinic in Sudan. Salva also learns that his mother, sisters, and brother Ring are still alive, but it is too dangerous to visit his old village. After visiting his father and seeing how ill he is from years of drinking dirty and contaminated water, Salva is inspired to come up with a plan to provide clean water for the people of Sudan. After years of planning, fundraising, and public speaking, Salva Dut’s nonprofit organization, Water for South Sudan, was finally a reality.
Nya is eleven years old and lives with her family in Southern Sudan, and her story takes place between 2008 and 2009. Everyday, Nya walks for hours upon hours to fetch water for her family from the nearest pond; even though the water is not clean, it is all that they have. She carries heavy buckets, endures thorns, heat, and exhaustion, all without complaining; everyone in the family has a role to play, and this is hers.
One day, mysterious men arrived and met with her uncle, brother, and other men of the village. They spoke for hours and looked around the land near the pond. Nya was confused. The next day, people began clearing the land, in hopes that fresh water would be found and wells could be built. Nya and her brother were skeptical, but after a long time of drilling and hard work, clean, fresh water was available to the village people. Nya delights in the fact that she will no longer have to walk for so long for water that makes her family sick, and is even happier when she learns that a schoolhouse is to be built, where she will be able to learn to read and write. Perhaps the most wonderful part of it all, is that this was all made possible by a member of the rival tribe, a young man named Salva Dut.
A Long Walk to Water is an inspiring true story about a young boy who experienced incredible challenges, setbacks, loss, and pain, but never gave up. Instead, he chose to devote his life to his nonprofit organization, Water for South Sudan, which has drilled over 250 wells, providing fresh water to hundreds of thousands of Sudanese people. Readers of all ages will be in awe of Salva’s perseverance, courage, and resilience.