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Yeshivat Noam Student Raises Awareness of South Sudan

In 1985, Sudan was wracked by civil war. Millions died and millions more were displaced, fleeing for their lives to refugee camps in Ethiopia, Kenya and other neighboring countries. Among those who fled across the war-torn southern desert were thousands of children, mostly boys, some as young as 5 years old. 

These children became known as “The Lost Boys of Sudan.”

Salva Dut was one of those boys. As an 11-year old in southwest Sudan, Salva fled first to Ethiopia. Then later, as a teenager, he led 1,500 Lost Boys hundreds of miles through the Southern Sudan desert to the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya. That courage and heroic perseverance continues to this day. Relocated to the United States in 1996, he now leads Water for South Sudan, Inc., the nonprofit organization he founded in 2003. His story is told in the bestseller “A Long Walk to Water,” by Linda Sue Park, and read in many schools across the country.

When 12-year-old Hailey Diamond read the book last year, she was hooked from page one. The book was part of Yeshivat Noam’s book club, an enrichment group led by Margi Saks. The small group of students meets biweekly to discuss different books.

“As a teacher, this book made a deep impression on me,” said Saks. “I wanted my students to understand the hardships that some people deal with on a daily level and take a moment to think about the modern conveniences that we give no thought to or have appreciation of in our daily lives.”

An avid reader, Hailey loves reading about other cultures, but never imagined how a book would open her eyes and create this drive within her. “I was so surprised to hear about how people live,” she said. “While we can turn on our faucets and get clean drinking water, life in the Sudan is very different. For much of the year the land is dry and people have to leave their homes and families behind, and women and children are forced to walk hours every day to collect water. The water they find is often dirty and many people die from the water or the trek to get water,” said Hailey.

She continued, “It takes me a few seconds to get water from my sink. But in the book we meet an 8-year-old girl named Nya who walks eight hours a day, every day, just to get a little bit of bad, contaminated water. I couldn’t believe this happens now in 2017. When I finished the book I just wanted to help in any way I could. I was overwhelmed with the amount I thought I needed to raise to make an impact, but I read on their website that small amounts make a huge difference, even $10 can change a life, and I launched my campaign.”

Hailey and her mom, Stefanie, contacted Water for South Sudan’s New York headquarters, and launched a fundraising page where every dollar raised goes toward the cause. She sent an email to her family and friends describing the situation in South Sudan and asking for donations. Hailey simultaneously launched a party business, where she donates the money she makes by working at local birthday parties.

According to Water for South Sudan, during the November-to-May dry season in South Sudan most sources of surface water dry up. This forces millions of South Sudanese each year to leave their village homes in search of water. Some have to abandon their homes and move while others, usually women and children, are forced to trek miles every day to collect water from ponds, marshes, ditches or hand-dug wells. This water is often contaminated with disease-causing parasites and bacteria. The results are pain, sickness and even death, especially among infants and children. Villagers have no choice about what they drink since water, however tainted it may be, is needed to live. The hunt for water prevents villages from building stable, basic infrastructure such as schools, markets and medical clinics. Even when villages are able to build clinics or schools, the buildings can stay empty for up to six months a year during the dry season.

The demanding, time-intensive regimen of finding water makes getting an education difficult, if not impossible. This is why most children and women in South Sudan do not even have an elementary education.

According to Dut, “Where safe, clean water flows, education, economic development, and health spring up. Safe water brings new hope and opportunities to South Sudan’s people, empowering them to change their lives.”

Hailey recently had the honor of meeting Dut. He thanked her for feeling motivated by his story and taking it upon herself to help. He said, “Hailey, it is because we have kids like you, who care about others, that the world is still spinning. Our purpose is to help others, and we are so grateful to you and proud of everything you’ve done.” Hailey said that after meeting him she “felt amazing and empowered to change other people’s lives, and it feels even better that I don’t know them personally.”

“I cannot express how meaningful it is to me, as Hailey’s teacher, to see the impact our book club had on Hailey and how far her passion has taken her,” said Saks.

“This issue may not directly affect you or me,” said Hailey. “But that’s what makes it all the more important. It’s our job to make the world a better place, and we need to start with empathy. Caring about people we don’t know and helping improve their quality of life will change the world.”

Hailey has raised $1,600 to date, and plans on continuing her campaign for years even once her bat mitzvah is over. She has spoken to fifth and sixth graders at SAR Academy about her project and will next give a presentation to the sixth grade class at Yeshivat Noam. Her ultimate goal is to dig a well, even if it takes her the next 20 years to do so. To donate to Hailey’s bat mitzvah project, visit https://www.crowdrise.com/water-for-south-sudan-haileys-bat-mitzvah-project/fundraiser/haileysbatmitzvah or email [email protected] and Stefanie will direct you to the link.

As of May 2017, Water for South Sudan has successfully drilled 304 borehole wells, bringing clean, safe water to hundreds of thousands of people in South Sudan.

Hailey will be celebrating her bat mitzvah the weekend of November 17.


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