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Thursday, April 28, 2011

A Long Walk to Water, written by Linda Sue Park. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Thomas Allen & Son. 2011. $ 19.95 ages 9 and up

"There was little weight, going. There was only heat, the sun already baking the air, even though it was long before noon. It would take her half the morning if she didn't stop on the way.
Heat. Time. And thorns."

Salva's life changes in a heartbeat. One day, while a school, gunfire is heard and their teacher sends them running into the bush. He tells them not to go home as the rebels will be going into the villages. Terrified, Salva does what he is told. As he runs, following others, he wonders about his family and how he will find them. Their journey will take these refugees through Sudan, into Ethiopia and on to Kenya. In the mass of people, Salva finally recognizes his uncle and travels with him. They are searching only for safety.

As they travel Salva is witness to disease, hunger, gunfire and even death. It is a miserable trek; but somehow Salva finds the strength and courage to forge ahead. He lives in fear for himself and for the family he has left behind him.
As we read about Salva during the Civil War in the 1980s, we also meet another child. Her name is Nya and her daily task is to walk to the pond for water. That walk, to and fro, takes eight hours. It is all she does. There is no school, there is no time for play. The water that she brings home from the pond is dirty, carries disease to her small sister and is what keeps her family alive. She lives in today's southern Sudan.

Salva's time of travel and his life in the refugee camps is heartbreaking and full of pain and terror. When he is sponsored to make the trip to Rochester, NY, he goes with a resolve that has been made stronger by those experiences. Ultimately, he makes the decision to help bring change to the people of his country.

While Nya continues to make 'the long walk to water', that change is coming to her village. Men have come to help the villagers find their own water supply. Her people work tirelessly to help. The water will forever change their lives:

"In a few more days, the school would be finished. Nya and Dep and Akeer would all go to school, along with the other children. Next year there would be a marketplace where the villagers could sell and buy vegetables and chickens and other goods. There was even talk of a clinic someday - a medical clinic, so they wouldn't have to walk so far to get help, as they had to when Akeer was ill. It was the well that was bringing all these good things."

There is much here for us to learn about the world beyond ourselves. It will give readers a powerful look at and a better understanding of the people of Sudan. It introduces a young man whose tragic life circumstances did not defeat him, but made him stronger. It gives us a modern hero to honor and appreciate for his life's work in bringing water to his village at a time. Well done, Salva!

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