A Long Walk to Water
This is Haven Jock for the HPPR Radio Readers 2023 Spring Book Club, bringing to you a discussion of "A Long Walk to Water," by Linda Sue Park, which is drawn from the life of Salva Dut, a Sudanese native who was a refugee throughout the Second Sudanese War.
From 1983, the war led to the murder and displacement of millions of people, and the creation of countless more "Lost Boys," children driven away from their families, often never able to reunite. That war lasted over twenty years, and that's not counting the conflict in Darfur, which is still ongoing to this day.
This story tells of Salva in 1985 who, after his village is drawn into the conflict, must flee his family and his home and figure out how he will survive. Faced with soldiers, starvation, lions, and unimaginable loss, Salva spends twice the amount of time in refugee camps and walking between them than he had been alive when he first fled his village. Through the book he grows from a small, scared child, to an adult who leads other children to safety with an internalized mantra he learned from his Uncle. Just get through this one day. This one thing. Just this one problem, before thinking about the next.
Though Salva's life finally does take a turn for the better, he never forgets the others like him and millions of other Sudanese people whose lives have been ravaged by war, poverty, and disease. Contrasting this, Salva's story is interwoven with an account of Nya, a girl from a rival tribe of Salva's, in 2008, who spends most of her entire day, every day, walking to collect water for her family. She deals with the unrelenting sun, the thorns, intertribal conflict, and even digging for hours in mud until just enough water bubbles from the clay to drink, though she knows it might make her sick. Her life changes when a group arrives to her village and begins digging.
Though the children's situations are very different, they both possess a depth of determination and will that comes from carrying the duty of those around you, their strength and resilience aiding you as you face insurmountable hardship. And, ultimately, prove that everyone's lives are improved by passing along the help that we've received and the lessons that we've learned.
Because of the experiences faced from 1985, the real Salva was able to start the Water for Sudan project, which even now digs wells to help millions of people gain access to clean drinking water. And because of the help he received in starting his project, he was able to turn around and help girls like Nya get the opportunity to change their lives, too.
Told in short vignettes that weave together decades in just over a hundred pages, "A Long Walk to Water" does an incredible job of capturing not just the frantic, desperate bid for survival, the guilt and fear felt by those faced with no other option but to take one step forward at a time, but also the hope, the gathered strength, and the courage experienced by the "Lost Boys" of the South Sudanese War. Young people like Salva who, against all odds, found a way to claw themselves out of the dirt and into the clean, cool water.