Especially in the second half of A Long Walk to Water, Park explores the theme of development—in other words, the methods that engineers, politicians, and aid workers use to improve the living conditions of people in Sudan. For the most part, the book takes an optimistic view of development, arguing that factors such as foreign aid and an influx of infrastructural development such as wells will be able to dramatically improve the situation in Sudan.
In both halves of the book, but particularly the half featuring Nya, Park explores the positive effects of technological development on Sudanese society. Development empowers entire Sudanese villages by giving the villagers more time for other pursuits, such as education. By installing a simple well in the middle of the village, for example, engineers save the villagers countless hours of walking—adding up to weeks or months, probably—every year. Following the same logic, this type of development empowers women: Nya, for instance, will be able to attend school alongside her male peers and learn how to read and write due to the time the new well saves her. It is often argued that educating and empowering women is the single best “cure for poverty,” and A Long Walk to Water shows how a little development goes a long way toward providing this “cure.”
Finally, the book shows how development might ease cultural tensions in Sudan as a whole. Salva Dut, who initiates an influential project to build wells in Sudan, makes a point of designing wells for many different tribes, not just his own Dinka tribe. In this way, Salva makes sure that the different cultural and ethnic groups in South Sudan reap the rewards of development equally. Furthermore, Park suggests that many of the rivalries between tribes stem from disputes over access to water, meaning that providing clean water for the different tribes will make South Sudan more a more peaceful place for its inhabitants.
In sum, Park offers an optimistic account of how development might bring the people of Sudan together and promote peace and equality in a part of the world that has, for decades, been the site of horrific violence. While it is true that violence will continue to afflict the people of Sudan for a long time, Park hopes that development—organized by well-trained and compassionate people—will be able to reduce some of the social strife and the violence it produces.
Development Quotes in A Long Walk to Water
Nya filled the container all the way to the top. Then she tied the gourd back in place and took the padded cloth doughnut from her pocket. The doughnut went on her head first, followed by the heavy container of water, which she would hold in place with one hand.
Nya nodded. She picked up the plastic container and took Akeer by the hand. Home for just long enough to eat, Nya would now make her second trip to the pond. To the pond and back—to the pond and back—nearly a full day of walking altogether. This was Nya’s daily routine seven months of the year.
A trip like that would be very difficult for Akeer. Should they stay at the camp and let her rest so she might heal on her own? Or should they begin the long hard walk—and hope they reached help in time?
The water from the holes in the lakebed could be collected only in tiny amounts. If her mother tried to boil such a small amount, the pot would be dry long before they could count to two hundred.
Salva made up his mind. He would walk south, to Kenya. He did not know what he would find once he got there, but it seemed to be his best choice.
Crowds of other boys followed him. Nobody talked about it, but by the end of the first day Salva had become the leader of a group of about fifteen hundred boys. Some were as young as five years old.
Nya went back and picked up the plastic can. She felt as if she were flying. School! She would learn to read and write!
"I will come to the village,” Salva promised, “as soon as it is safe!”
“We will be there waiting for you,” his father promised in turn.
Salva pressed his face tightly to his father's as they hugged goodbye, their tears flowing and blending together.
Whenever he found himself losing hope, Salva would take a deep breath and think of his uncle’s words.
A step at as time.
One problem at a time—just figure out this one problem.
Day by day, solving one problem at a time, Salva moved toward his goal.
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.
The Dinka and the Nuer were enemies—had been for hundreds of years.
“Why would a Dinka bring water to us?” she wondered aloud.
“I heard Uncle and Father talking about him,” Dep said. “He has drilled many wells for his own people. This year he decided to drill for the Nuer as well.”