I’m going back to Ghana in a few weeks, and I’m going to miss all the fairies. I mean the trash fairy, that magically makes my garbage disappear when I stick it out on the curb. And, oh yes, the tap water fairy. I’ve gotten used to the wonder that is clean safe drinking water piped directly into my house. I’m pretty sure I’ve forgotten how to take a bath using just a half bucket of water or how to wash dishes without a sink. And I’m no longer used to the plasticy taste of (hopefully clean) sachet water, or the slightly gritty taste of water fresh from a bore hole. It’s been a long time since I woke up to the whooshing sound of my neighbor’s water barrel being filled one bucket at a time.

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There is a water problem in Tamale, my fiance’s hometown. We are planning a celebration there for his family before we get married. Because water availability is uncertain, we have to buy a tank of water now, even though the event is still weeks away. That water is for cooking.

During the last few weeks I have been talking to a lot of middle schoolers about what it is like to live without running water. Some of them had done an activity in class where they practiced carrying a one-gallon jug of water a half mile to the classroom. They tried to imagine what it would be like to walk a longer distance carrying even more water, enough for all the things that we need water for each day: cooking, cleaning, showering, washing clothes, and drinking, of course. Then they tried to imagine that all that water they would have to carry wasn’t even clean, that it was going to make their families sick. One billion people around the world do not have access to safe water. Middle schoolers around the world have to carry water, not just once for a fun activity, but every day, before studying or going to school, even before breakfast. And five thousand children die every day from drinking that hard won, contaminated water.

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The students brainstormed conservation ideas and wrote letters to Congressman Pat Tiberi, asking him to vote yes on the Water for the World Act, which will provide access to clean water for 100 million people worldwide. The act passed the Senate unaminously, and is now in the House. Writing a letter or calling your congressperson is a very simple action that anyone can take. So is conservation. Tap water may be like magic here in the US, but it isn’t truely free. Nor is it always unpolluted. We all can turn off the water while we brush our teeth, or take shorter showers, or wash only full loads of clothes.

For more great ideas, check out blogactionday.change.org.

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*Pictures: Top/drawing by Hissan, a student at Wa School for the Deaf in Northern Ghana; Middle/a scene from a story by Abdul-Rahman Mohammed & myself; Bottom/my nephew Clayton and a friend share a drink in Bamako, Mali