Marier helps build a well in his village.

By Clare S. Richie

Each day, women and girls in South Sudan walk four to six miles one way for clean water. Access to clean water means less disease, more time for education, and makes it possible to deliver health services. It costs $9,000 to build a well and change their lives.

Majok Marier, Sudanese refugee and founder of Wells for Hope, returned last month to South Sudan to oversee the drilling of a second well.

“I’m very excited to build this well in my friend’s village and to see my children,” Marier said.

Proceeds from his memoir, generous donors, and events like last months Walk to Water, where students and adults walked 5 miles in Stone Mountain park to symbolize a water gatherer’s one-way trek, have made that possible.

Marier is a survivor and a now a life changer for South Sudan. His extraordinary journey began in 1987, when the Sudanese Civil War reached his village. Central government soldiers bombed and burned his village while he was away tending to his family’s cattle. He fled from the violence and to escape induction into the northern army. Marier was only 7 years old.

“We didn’t have food, no one to protect us,” he recalled.

Without any food, supplies, or their parents, Marier and tens of thousands of other boys walked barefoot for more than 1,000 miles, half of them dying before reaching Kenya’s Kakuma refugee camp. To the world they became known as the Lost Boys of Sudan.

After nine years in the Kakuma refugee camp, while the boys were growing to adulthood with no better prospects while the Civil War raged on, the U.S. government invited Marier and nearly 4,000 other Lost Boys to rebuild their lives in America. Marier arrived in Atlanta in February 2001.

“The weather was cold. Our rent was covered for three months and we had to go to work. We hoped to go to school and get an education so we could go back to Sudan and help our people,” Marier reflected.

Marier with co-author Estelle Ford-Williamson, who helped him write his memoir.

By 2005, Marier had made contact with his mother. He wanted to travel back to Sudan to reunite with her, but his travel documents didn’t arrive in time. Instead he set about writing his story with the hope that one day he’d return and share it with the young people in his country. He wrote 100 pages.

Three years later, Marier finally reunited with his mother in his home village. Though he wanted to build a clinic, Marier saw firsthand that clean water had to come first. His sister-in-law woke each morning at 4 a.m. and left her infant to collect water and the breastfeeding baby cried the whole time she was gone. Before he left, Marier promised the villagers, “I will bring the water.” That meant raising money back in the U.S. and finishing his book – both which took several years.

In 2011, he returned to South Sudan for his wedding and is now the proud father of a daughter and baby son. His family lives in South Sudan and he provides for them by working as a plumber’s assistant, ironically helping Atlantans access water in their homes.

But he never forgot his promise. With the help of co-author Estelle Ford-Williamson, fellow parishioner and former UPI reporter, he published, Seed of South Sudan: Memoir of a ‘Lost Boy’ Refugee. He used his book to raise awareness and funds for Wells for Hope, the nonprofit he started with fellow Lost Boys and concerned friends.

In June 2015, Marier fulfilled his promise and drilled the first well in his home village of Billing, Daldiar. Now he can explore building a clinic to honor the memory of his sister Lela, who died of a miscarriage because the closest clinic was 25 miles away.

“If I can get more donations, I can bring more wells,” Marier said. “We will bring our village back, then a different village, until we bring the whole country back. They will finish what we start.”

For more information and to contribute, visit wellsforhope.org.

Collin Kelley

Collin Kelley has been the editor of Atlanta Intown for two decades and has been a journalist and freelance writer for 35 years. He’s also an award-winning poet and novelist.