Many of us take clean, accessible water completely for granted. When we are thirsty, we simply turn on the tap. If our clothes are dirty, we fill the washing machine without a moment’s thought. Some of us heedlessly spray our hoses on thirsty lawns and dusty cars, or even fill swimming pools with thousands of gallons of clean water.
For those of us who grew up in places where water seems abundant, cheap, and clean, it is difficult to imagine that millions of people in the world do not have access to safe water. It is also mind-boggling to consider the scientific data that shows what the future looks like if climate change continues its dangerous path. According to the Pew Charitable Trusts, “by 2025 over half of the world’s population will reside in water-stressed areas. These numbers will increase significantly if climate change and population growth follow or exceed predicted trajectories.1
The Water Princess by Susan Verde is a picture book that will help us and our children see water from a new perspective and appreciate this incomparable gift from Allah. If we currently take water for granted or have trouble imagining a life without it, this book will be an eye-opener.
The story centers on the main character, Gie Gie, who wakes before dawn every single day to fetch water with her mother. The two walk for many miles in the heat with heavy pots balanced on their heads. Finally, they reach the well, but do they fill their buckets with fresh, clean water? No, they collect “dusty-earth-colored liquid,” and as thirsty as they are from their long trek, they cannot drink until they have heaved the pots home and boiled the water to make it safe.
The Water Princess is based on the real-life experience of model and international advocate Georgie Badiel, who grew up in Burkina Faso. As a child, Badiel fetched water with her grandmother, just as Gie Gie does. Now, as an adult, Badiel works to bring clean water to people in Burkina Faso and beyond through the Georgie Badiel Foundation.
The book’s illustrations by Peter H. Reynolds convey the breathtaking vastness of the African sky, the heat and barrenness of the land where Gie Gie lives, and the difficulties of her life in a remote village with no modern amenities. At the same time, thanks to Reynold’s nuanced drawings, we can clearly see the love and affection between Gie Gie and her parents, the brief moment of joy when she gets to play with other children at the well, and the way she and her mother have the courage to sing and dance as they make the arduous daily trip.
At the end of the book, there are two pages dedicated to explaining the global water crisis. Readers learn that nearly one billion people around the world – one out of every six– don’t have access to clean water. In addition, illnesses from contaminated water – plus the time it takes to collect water every day – prevent many children from attending school. Clearly, clean water affects every aspect of life. Children without it not only suffer from thirst and illness but might be trapped in a never-ending cycle of poverty because they do not have time to get an education or learn a trade.
Reading The Water Princess with our children is a wonderful way to discuss how we need to appreciate all of our blessings from Allah, particularly water. It helps us stand in another person’s shoes and see the world from a new perspective. It shows our children simultaneously how Gie Gie is a child just like them – with family and friends and ambitions – but also unlike them in the sense that she must walk several miles each day, merely for a sip of water.
The Water Princess will help our families be more grateful for what we have. After reading about Gie Gie, we can also make duaa for our brothers and sisters who live in dry lands without access to clean water. Perhaps the book will even motivate us to give charity toward building wells in parts of the world that need them.
Laura El Alam is a freelance writer and editor and the author of the book Made From the Same Dough, as well as over 100 published articles. A wife and mother of five, Laura lives with her family in Massachusetts. You can visit her online at www.seaglasswritingandediting.com.