Thirty-four-year-old Salva Dut lives in New York. He was one of Sudan's "Lost Boys" - one of the many thousands of children orphaned during the country's 20 year civil war. For more than a decade, Dut wandered homeless with no news of his family. He wound up in Ethiopia, then Kenya, where he lived in a United Nations refugee camp for nearly six years, before coming to the United States in 1996.
In this week's Making a Difference series, we meet Salva Dut who is helping villagers in his homeland gain access to clean drinking water.
Millions of people across Southern Sudan lack access to safe drinking water. Streams and lakes often are contaminated, causing diarrhea and cholera. But Salva Dut is working to change that.
Through his organization, Water for Sudan, he has raised more than $1 million to help bring clean water to his country's villages - an idea that began with his father.
"In 2002, I got the news from UNICEF [the United Nations Childrens Fund] that my dad was ill, and had been admitted to the U.N. hospital in southern Sudan. The doctor told him he needed to start drinking clean water. If not, he might get sick again and die early," Dut recalls. "And when I came back to the U.S., I said, 'I should do something to help my father and other people who are in the same situation.'"
With help from fellow church members, schools, individuals and the humanitarian service organization, Rotary International, Dut started Water for Sudan, a project that trains villagers to drill and maintain their own community wells. Dut says the organization has built 29 wells.
"I feel amazed, when I go back after a year, what impact we did to [had on] these people. You see they are building the market, you see they are building the school, and [a] clinic is coming in, and so many things are happening around the well," he said.
Salva Dut says the wells have provided a special benefit for young girls, many of whom would otherwise spend many hours each day fetching water from far away streams. Now that clean water is easily accessible, he says the girls are free to attend school.
"In that part of the world, girls really don't have that value to be allowed to go to school," he says. "They are the last child to go to school. And now, just because of the well there, they have opportunity to go to school. That really touched my heart so much."
Dut spends six months a year in Sudan, traveling the country for his humanitarian work. He meets with village leaders who decide for themselves, which villages should build wells.
A member of the Dinka tribe, and now an American citizen, Dut says he often feels torn between two worlds.
"It's difficult for me," he says. "I don't know to what culture I belong. And I couldn't fit in any culture at all. When I go there, I think, I feel like, 'Oh, I need to go back to America; it's my home.' And when I'm here, I'm not fitting in well. I want to go back to Sudan."
One thing Salva Dut says he does know is that he has found his calling. Water for Sudan's goal is to install 40 wells per year, to bring clean, fresh drinking water and a better life to thousands of people.