Excerpt from 2017 We Don’t Coast magazine: omaha.com/wedontcoast. Photos courtesy of Aqua-Africa

A model of an African village is organized on the wooden office floor: huts, trees, cattle. In the middle, a towering water tank system.

Written on a nearby dry erase board:
The mission: Provide access to clean water
The vision: Develop South Sudan
50,000: Fifty thousand – that’s how many people Aqua-Africa plans to serve in South Sudan in the next five to six years.

“We concentrate on development, but it all starts with access to clean water,” says executive director Buey Ray Tut.

So basic. So profoundly important. Without water, nothing can grow.

“Communities that don’t have access to clean water, we build water systems for them (which can serve 5,500 people) or hand pump water wells (which can serve 500),” Buey says.

For him, the connection to South Sudan is deeply personal. Buey arrived in Omaha in 1998 with his parents and four brothers – refugees from the civil war-torn country. He attended elementary school though college here, graduating from the University of Nebraska-Omaha with a political science degree. Compelled to uplift his homeland, Buey launched Aqua-Africa five years ago with fellow refugees Buay Wiyual and Jacob Khol.

“We don’t want South Sudan to be a nation of aid. We want it to be a nation of development,” says Buey who spends about half the year in east Africa.

So far, Aqua-Africa has installed about 60 hand pump wells. It is in the process of constructing its second water tank system. But it goes beyond hydration. The non-profit has established a micro-democracy program to elect well administrators, a conflict resolution program and a pride-instilling Dignity Project.

Funding comes from foundations, individual donors and the villages themselves. Omaha design firm Lamp Rynearson donates architectural and engineering work.

“Omaha has been very sympathetic to South Sudan’s cause because of the major population of South Sudanese here.”

The young endeavor, which also partners with Sudanese schools and hospitals, is eyeing bold, long-term impact.

“The next five years are going to show how we’ve affected education and economic activities. Those are the measurements we want to collect.”