VILLAGERS AT THE WELL in the South Sudan village of Marol Ajing, dedicated in honor of the St. Louise House book club.
VILLAGERS AT THE WELL in the South Sudan village of Marol Ajing, dedicated in honor of the St. Louise House book club.
Last week, Salva Dut of South Sudan met retired Daughters of Charity at St. Louise House in Menands via Skype. The sisters were celebrating a well that had been anonymously donated, in the name of their book club, to Mr. Dut's small African village.

It was the culmination of a story that began 50 years ago, when book club member Sister Mary Albert taught high-school English to Bob Dowd and Kevin McCarthy at Cardinal McCloskey High School in Albany.

At the 50th reunion of McCloskey High's class of 1963, three couples -- the Dowds, the Days and the McCarthys, all avid readers -- sat at the same table. Mr. Dowd asked if anyone could help lead a book club that had started recently at St. Louise House, the convent where the retired Daughters of Charity who had taught them reside.

The book fans said yes. Mr. Dowd had already been volunteering occasionally at the convent, assisting library coordinator Sister Florence Edward, another favorite English teacher.

One day, she asked if he would take over the library if she was ever unable to continue. He assured her that he could. That afternoon, she passed away. Mr. Dowd became library coordinator.

In the meantime, Mr. McCarthy's daughter, Christine Fowler, was teaching seventh grade at a school in Schodack. With her students, she read "A Long Walk to Water" by Linda Sue Parker. The book tells the story of Mr. Dut, who was one of the "lost boys of Sudan." Displaced during Sudan's civil war, he emigrated to Rochester after years in a refugee camp in Kenya and was taken in by an American family.

In 2002, Mr. Dut returned to Sudan and found that his father was suffering from water-borne parasites and disease. Determined to make a difference for the people of his homeland, he and a group of friends founded Water for South Sudan, Inc. The first well was drilled in 2005, in Mr. Dut's father's village.

Since 2005, WFSS has drilled more than 300 wells in South Sudan villages, trained mechanics to maintain the wells and provided instruction in sanitation to the villagers. The wells produce clean water for more than a quarter of a million people every day.

Ms. Fowler recommended "A Long Walk to Water" and shared copies of the book with the retired sisters' book club. Sister Geraldine, a member of the club, shared that she had met Mr. Dut many years ago in Rochester at an early planning meeting to launch Water for South Sudan.

Then the St. Louise House book club members were delighted to learn that their reading of "A Long Walk to Water" inspired an anonymous donor to fully fund a well in the village of Marol Ajing, in Kuac North, Gogrial State, South Sudan.

The well was completed in February. Afterward, a photo arrived at the convent, showing happy villagers at the well, inscribed, "In honour of St. Louise House Book Club Albany NY 2017."