PORT RICHEY — Nya walks eight hours every day to the pond to get water for her family. Salva, a “lost boy” refugee, walks away from his war-torn village to search for his family and safety.
This dual narrative from the short novel “A Long Walk to Water,” by Linda sue Park. The book follows two true stories — one unfolding in 2008 and one in 1985 — through Sudan and across Africa as determined survivors search for their futures.
This semester, middle school students at Bishop Larkin Catholic School have been reading the novel. Their teachers have taken this opportunity to teach it as an interdisciplinary project spanning across all subject areas.
In language arts, students analyzed the story structure using the International Baccalaureate Middle Years Program “learner’s profile” to explain where they thought each character should be in the profile. They each chose a character and are writing a journal entry based on that character’s thoughts, feelings and experiences. The IB MYP is educational program for students aged about 11 to 16 years old.
In humanities, the students are studying the location and geography of Sudan and the causes of the Second Sudanese Civil War. Fought between 1983 and 2005, the conflict pitted the East African country’s Muslim-dominated government against the Sudan People’s Liberation Army. The SPLA was based in the southern part of the country, where most of the people are Christians or Animists.
The students have learned how geography affects people’s lives and about the tribes in Africa, particularly the Dinka, the tribe of Salva, main character in “A Long Walk to Water.”
The students have become aware of the challenges the Lost Boys faced as they adapted to a new culture in the United States. They watched video clips of a few Lost Boys describe their experiences, like eating potato chips and seeing Santa Claus at the mall for the first time.
In their technology course, students participated in a Web quest learning more about Salva’s journey and what his experience has done to transform the villages of Sudan.
On Sept. 6, the school welcomed a real “Lost Boy,” Joseph Deng. He spoke to students about his own personal experiences and how he was able to escape from Sudan.
When he was 10, troops loyal of the Sudanese government attacked his village, burning it down after killing many of its inhabitants, including Deng’s brother and sister. For three months, he and other survivors walked barefoot through desert for a thousand miles to an Ethiopian refugee camp.
“We lost many friends from hunger and thirst,” Deng said. “Our food was wild fruits and the leaves of trees. We drank dirty water from watering holes contaminated with animal feces. Some children were jumped by wild animals and eaten alive.”
They arrived but four years later, Ethiopian rebels chased them out at gunpoint during the war, resulting in years worth of more barefoot travels, refugee camps, and eventually getting shot in the chest by Sudanese government forces in 1997 while trying to visit surviving family.
In 2001, the government of the United States accepted 3,500 Lost Boys of Sudan as refugees, including Deng, part of a group of about 20 young men a relief agency brought to New Port Richey. After six years, the bullet was removed at Morton Plant Hospital in Clearwater by cardiothoracic surgeon Richard Murbach.
In 2005, he attended nursing school and graduated as a licensed practical nurse, in St. Petersburg. In 2007, he became a U.S. citizen. In 2008, he went back to Southern Sudan for the first time in 22 years and reunited with his family.
“But I was so frustrated that nothing was being done to address the lack of even the most basic medical needs,” Deng said. “I was so frustrated to see people just die from flu-like symptoms.”
After that, Deng started medical mission trips where medical supplies to Africa for one year.
“I feel that God saved my life in order to do his will,” Deng said. I” truly believe that it is my calling.”