By Ms. Lawhorn
Every morning, our students recite MAA’s children’s mission statement. “God made me to live, not just for myself, but to share my gifts with others. I will follow in the footsteps of Jesus, Saint Francis, and Saint Clare to make the world a better place.” I try to reinforce our mission statement in the classroom, discussing the importance of kindness, compassion, and perseverance with my students. This October, I had the opportunity to teach one of my favorite books, one in which the main character exemplifies the MAA spirit.
A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park tells the story of Salva Dut, one of more than 3,000 “Lost Boys” who fled his village during the Second Sudan Civil War. Dut made an incredible journey from his home in what is now South Sudan across three African nations to find safety and freedom. “Bit by bit, a step at a time,” was Dut’s motto as he undertook his long and arduous journey. He led 1,500 fellow lost boys and overcame incredible hardships along the way, but he never gave up. The “Lost Boys” never fell victim to their circumstances and always kept moving forward.
The story of Dut’s journey taught my 6th grade class many important lessons including perseverance, hope, and mental strength. Although his trials put our everyday struggles in perspective, they also gave us the strength to tackle our own challenges. Dut’s story shows us the strength of the human spirit and encourages us to approach our struggles with the same spirit of hope and determination, “bit by bit, a step at a time.”
Even more incredible than his journey is what Dut accomplished after he fled the conflict in Sudan. Seven years after leaving home, Dut came to the United States. Rather than turn his back on his hardship and the people he left behind, he remained committed to his community in South Sudan and began a non-profit to help people just like him.
In 2003, he founded Water for South Sudan, a non-profit that builds clean water access wells throughout South Sudan and neighboring nations. My students immediately understood Dut’s drive and connected with his passion for helping others. Just like our students, Dut strives to use the gifts he had been given to help others and make the world a better place.