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It Feels Different This Year

coronavirus covid-19 uganda

World Water Day feels quite a bit different this year. The world is in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, numerous countries are under strict lockdown, numerous U.S. cities are under stay-at-home orders, and the news doesn’t seem to be getting better.

To be honest with you, I struggled with what to do to celebrate World Water Day. It almost feels inappropriate to celebrate anything right now. It almost feels inappropriate to point attention at the population of the world that lacks access to clean drinking water (there’s 785 million of them, by the way).

ugandan streetsAs I reflect on what to say about World Water Day, I’m reminded of my first trip to Uganda. I can vividly remember driving through the city of Jinja. The music blaring from the clubs as you pass by, what sounds like a fusion of reggae, hip hop, and pop, the roadside markets, where you can pick up fruit, shoes, and a chicken from the open-air butcher (wide eye emoji), and the nostril searing smells of trash burning.

I remember visiting one of the villages and hearing from a young girl, maybe 8 or 10 years old, telling me about how she, with the help of the village, have been raising her little brother since her parents died. Mom had passed away from Typhoid Fever and Dad died from HIV.

And suddenly, talking about World Water Day doesn’t seem to out of place. It might be the first time in our lives that many of us can relate to a real and present fear of contracting an unknown disease. Something that we can’t see, can’t smell, and feel completely defenseless to. For us, there’s currently no vaccine and we are seeing a shortage of medical care emerge. For us, it’s COVID-19. Back then in Uganda, it was Malaria, Typhoid, E-Coli, Cholera, and Tuberculosis. Many of these contracted through unsafe water.

For many in Uganda, what we are feeling must be relatable to what they feel daily. A fear of unseen pathogens that threaten their lives, in the very water they rely on. Knowing that access to medical care is questionable, at best. Not knowing what tomorrow will bring. I can't fully relate to that, but maybe now, just maybe, I can relate just a little closer.

I sit here today, under a stay-at-home order from our Governor in Illinois, and today, I find myself grateful for everything that I have. I’m grateful for clean water to be able to wash my hands. I’m grateful for an abundance of food. I’m grateful for a safe and warm home to enjoy some family time in. And I’m grateful to know that, this too, shall pass. I’m confident we will navigate our way through this current struggle.

In the same way, I’m confident we can navigate our way through the clean water crisis so many face daily. But, like the current COVID-19 crisis, it will take everyone doing their part. We are beginning to see the U.S. mobilize to fight COVID-19 together. Corporations are donating N-95 masks to healthcare workers, factories are shifting production to much needed healthcare supplies. And many of us are doing our part by just staying home.

So what's your part in the water crisis? Spread the word. Make sure others know about the struggles in many developing countries. Donate to organizations working to bring clean water to the world, and purchase products from organizations that help to fund the fight against the water crisis.

It can be a scary world out there, but today, join me in lifting your mug and being grateful for what we do have. Find joy in this new, unexpected normal. Play some board games with your family, FaceTime your friends, and maybe even knock out some of those little projects around the house. Most of all, tell your loved ones that you love them, and the enjoy the stillness in being forced to slow down.

My hope is that you, your family, and your friends all remain safe and healthy and are able to return to a semblance of normal life sometime soon. Until then, find joy in the moments, and have another cup of coffee.

Joe Koenig

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