The year is 2009, and Nya’s village is still busy trying to draw water up from beneath the ground. The drilling crew has been moving very slowly, due to frequent setbacks.
Nya continues to watch as the men build a well for her village. The slow progress they make underscores how major infrastructural development such as this does not happen overnight.
In Ethiopia in 1991, the refugees rush to the river. Soldiers force some of the refugees to jump into the water, wanting to push them out of the country. Salva sees a crocodile attacking one man who’s jumped in the water. The soldiers begin shouting and firing their weapons. Faced with no other choice, Salva jumps in the water. He gasps and coughs, but manages to paddle and keep breathing. After what feels like hours, he finds that he’s paddled to the other side of the river. Later, Salva will learn that more than a thousand people died trying to cross the river.
It’s never explained how Salva—who has spent his life living in countries where there’s almost no water—learned how to swim. Almost miraculously, Salva manages to survive the crossing, unlike thousands of other unfortunate refugees.
Salva, along with the others who’ve managed to cross the river, proceeds onward. The groups seems to have no idea where they’re supposed to go. They decide to move toward Kenya, where there may be some more refugee camps. Salva, who is one of the older boys in the group, quickly emerges as the leader of the younger boys—as many as fifteen hundred of them.
Salva and the boys travel through a dangerous part of Sudan. There’s a constant sound of gunfire in the air, and so Salva orders that the boys will only travel at night, rather than during the day when they might be seen. But traveling at night is very difficult, as the dark makes navigation a challenge. Salva makes sure that everyone has a job—gathering firewood, hunting for food, keeping watch. Salva draws courage and inspiration from his memories of his family. He remembers the way his older siblings would lead him, and the way his sisters and mother would treat him gently. After a year and a half, Salva successfully leads twelve hundred boys into Kenya.
Parents and older siblings are often the first models people have for leadership. Salva is no exception: when trying to become a good, reliable leader, he models his behavior on that of his parents, uncle, and siblings. Salva’s calmness and determination are remarkable, especially considering all the pain and trauma he’s lived through since the outbreak of the Second Sudanese Civil War.