Salva Dut has had a tough life.
As an 11-year old Dinka from Tonj in southwest Sudan, Salva fled first to refugee camps in Ethiopia, according to the Water for South Sudan website. As a teenager, he led 1,500 boys hundreds of miles through the Sudanese desert to the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya.
In the mid 1990s, Dut finally got a lucky break and came to the United States as part of a United Nations program to help refugees from war-torn Sudan.
In 2004, he started his U.S. nonprofit charity, Water for South Sudan, which has drilled 137 wells, each of which supports a village of about 1,500 people.
Recently, Dut told the San Clemente Sunrise Rotary Club, his native land has split off from Sudan, becoming a different country but is wracked by disease and corruption after two decades of civil war.
"The country... as you know when a baby is born, it doesn't walk tomorrow," Dut said Tuesday morning. "The government is not stable yet. But because of other people who haven't given up on us, there is still work going on there."
Dut said the wells allow the villages to thrive and set up schools, clinics and markets.
"You see children, especially girls, going to school," he said. "Before, their job was to gather water."
The wells are helping eradicate waterborne illnesses which kill thousands of children in South Sudan before they turn 10-years-old.
Rotary District 5340 Governor Ole Prahm -- who presented with Dut and Anaheim Hills Rotarian Orin Abrams -- said the wells, statistically speaking, have saved the lives of more than 9,000 children in South Sudan.
Abrams traveled with Dut to the African Nation to witness the well funded by the Anaheim Hills Rotary being drilled. He said it took four days to drill 85 meters, and villagers collected stones to line the well. Almost immediately, they began building a school, Abrams said.
In the harsh climate of South Sudan, there is a dry season and a wet season, so villagers often have to move to find water. But with a well, they can remain stationary and build up a town infrastructure with school and clinics, Abrams said.