In Nya’s village, Nya’s father tells her that the men are building a school. With the added convenience of clean water nearby, the village children—both boys and girls—will now have enough time to go to school. Nya is excited to learn how to read and write.
Many people have argued that technological development in underdeveloped parts of the world (such as the introduction of wells in Sudan) will cause a “domino effect,” meaning one innovation will lead to other innovations. This passage provides a credible example of why this might be the case: with access to water comes more time, which means more time for students to learn in schools. (Although, there are many parts of the world in which girls are forbidden from learning for religious or cultural reasons, not just because of the scarcity of resources.)
In 2003, Salva is standing in the tiny hospital in Sudan, facing his father, Mawien Dut. Salva greets the man, who politely greets him in return. Trembling, Salva says, “I am your son. I am Salva.” His father shakes his head—it can’t be true. But as he looks closer, he realizes that this is, in fact, his child. Mawien Dut begins to weep with joy—he embraces Salva. The father and son haven’t seen each other in nearly two decades.
The reunion between Salva and his father is tearful and highly emotional. Salva has come to accept that his father died in the civil war, so seeing his father alive after all these years comes as a genuine shock.
Salva learns that his mother is alive, too, and still living in the same village. But Mawien Dut warns Salva to stay away from the village, lest soldiers try to recruit him for the ongoing war in the area. Salva also learns that only one of his three brothers has survived the conflict. His two sisters are still alive, however.
Tragically, Salva is still unable to reunite with his entire family. As Park showed earlier in the book, rebel soldiers in South Sudan force civilians to join the army and fight alongside them. Of course, Salva doesn’t want this to happen, so he has to avoid the village.
After a short time, Salva has to return to America. Mawien Dut has been in the clinic for stomach surgery—years of drinking dirty water have given him a nasty infection, but now he’s ready to walk all the way back to his village. Salva promises to come to the village in the future, when it’s safe, and Mawien Dut promises that he’ll be waiting for him. The father and son embrace and then part ways.
Visiting his father has reminded Salva of the vital importance of clean drinking water. When there is lots of available water, 1) people are healthier and 2) tribes won’t fight over scarce resources to the same degree. Salva’s parting words to his father suggest that Salva wants to return to Sudan and, in fact, wants to do whatever he can to make Sudan safe.
On the flight back to the United States, Salva begins to develop an idea. More than anything, he wants to help the people of Sudan. It will be hard to do so, but he has to try. Chris and Louise put Salva in touch with a friend of theirs named Scott, who helps Salva organizes fundraisers for the people of Sudan. Salva begins visiting schools to tell students about his experiences in Sudan. He speaks in churches, civic organizations, and universities. Each time, he remembers his uncle’s words in the desert—one step at a time.
Inspired by his early life experiences and his most recent visit to Sudan, Salva founds a nonprofit organization designed to help impoverished Sudanese villagers. Put another way, Salva—who, by his own reckoning, has been extraordinarily fortunate—chooses to use some of his good fortune to help his fellow South Sudanese villagers. As before, Salva is deeply inspired by Uncle Jewiir’s example: instead of allowing himself to become overwhelmed by the magnitude of what he’s trying to accomplish, Salva forces himself to focus on smaller, more manageable tasks.