By Jim Dunne
NORWICH – A prominent Norwich family, a “Lost Boy,” the newly-minted country of South Sudan, and Rotary International have combined to write a story of saving lives by providing one critical ingredient – clean, pure water.
The present adult generation of the Turner family received the “Long Walk Award,” presented by Salva Dut, founder of Water for South Sudan, in Rochester on Sunday, October 8th. The 4 siblings, children of the late John B. and Carol Turner, spent their early years in Norwich, where their father and uncle owned and managed the Bennett-Ireland Co. After the company was sold in 1969, the family moved to Rochester, where John founded a new retail business which is still run by two of the children.
After retirement, John, who had been an active member of Rotary since 1955 where clean water was a funding priority, became involved in the fledgling Water for Sudan project, along with other fellow Rotarians.
The story of Water for Sudan began in 1985 when 11-year-old Salva Dut was forced to flee for his life from his village in southern Sudan, leaving his family behind. Marauding soldiers from the north prevented his return, and he began a ten-year exile, walking first east to Ethiopia where they stayed for six years, then were forced out by civil war in Ethiopia. They walked back through southern Sudan, finding refuge at the Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya, where they would stay for another four years. During this ordeal Salva led over 1500 “Lost Boys” like himself; 500 perished along the way due to starvation, soldiers and wild animals. (The story of Salva Dut’s life is detailed in a best-selling book, A Long Walk to Water, by Linda Sue Park.)
After spending 10 years walking or in refugee camps, Salva was chosen as one of 4,000 Lost Boys resettled in the US with the help of many relief agencies, including the Episcopal Church. Now 22, he relocated to Rochester, where he lived with a host family in Penfield, the Turners’ community.