Few middle school students could find Sudan on the world map. Fewer still could recount the tortured history of this large African nation, now divided into north and south.
But students at Rock Hill’s Rawlinson Road Middle School are not only learning the history and geography of Sudan but also taking an active role in trying to better the living conditions for some residents of South Sudan. In the process, they are learning valuable lessons about North Africa and its people – and, perhaps, themselves.
One of those Sudanese is Salva Dut, who used to live in a small village with his family in South Sudan. But that was before government forces and southern rebel armies wiped out families and conscripted children to serve as soldiers in a civil war that lasted from 1983 to 2005.
Dut was one of more than 20,000 children who became known as the “Lost Boys.” Displaced or orphaned by the war, they wandered in groups through the countryside, facing not only the threat of soldiers but also the natural depredations of thirst, hunger, lack of shelter and wild predators.
Many of the survivors ended up in refugee camps and some who were not reunited with family members came to live with families in the United States. Dut is one of those who found a home in the U.S., but he has not forgotten his homeland.
He is raising money to build wells in villages across South Sudan through his organization, Water for South Sudan. And students in Rhonda Hudak’s class at Rawlinson Road read about him in Linda Sue Park’s biography of him, “Long Walk to Water.”
Inspired by Dut’s story, Hudak’s students decided to make a class project of raising money to buy a well to provide clean water to a village in South Sudan. And their enthusiasm apparently was contagious. Now the rest of the school has signed on to help with the project.
With a well, water that villagers – mostly girls and women – often had to walk miles to collect and carry back in jugs becomes easily accessible. Well water also is cleaner and healthier than water from a stream, which can be cloudy and contaminated.
Each well built by Water for South Sudan costs between $10,000 and $15,000 to construct. A school gets its name on a well when it gives $5,000, and Rawlinson Road now is approaching the $3,000 mark.
Students have found a variety of ways to raise money. Each day at lunch time, they sell bottled water and flavor packets for $1 each at a table near the cafeteria. They also have made T-shirts with the Water for South Sudan logo to sell, held bake sales and solicited businesses for donations.
A project such as this can offer a number of valuable lessons. It teaches fundamental facts about geography and other cultures.
But more than that, it also can teach compassion for those less fortunate. And it can help make students grateful not only for having their basic needs – food, water and shelter – met but also for their education and the other benefits of living in a modern, industrialized society, the benefits most of us usually take for granted.
We congratulate Hudak and her class for initiating this project and for all those who have joined in this humanitarian effort. We hope they soon reach their goal and that the experience is one they will savor for years to come.