Exploring real world injustices with a middle grade audience by Varsha Bajaj
One in ten people, or almost 800 million around the globe, do not have access to clean drinking water. When I learned this statistic, I was shocked. How could that be? Shouldn’t we be alarmed? Why weren’t we talking about it? Water after all is essential for life since we can only survive three-four days without it.
Water is linked to health, education and food. A disproportionate number of women and girls bear the brunt. Women because they are usually responsible for gathering the water which can use up a good portion of their day and often includes long walks to a source. And children as they are especially susceptible to illnesses caused by dirty water.
Water issues are familiar to kids in many parts of our country. The contaminated water problem in Flint, Michigan, made headlines. And a large portion of the Western United States face drought conditions. World Water Day was established by the United Nations in 1993 to bring awareness to the importance of access to fresh water for everyone. Visit www.un.org/en/global-issues/water or visit www.water.org.
I shouldn’t have been surprised by the scale of the water crisis. Many decades ago, I worked in a neighborhood like Minni’s and witnessed the effects of water inequity. I saw the storage containers needed to collect water outside of homes and the long lines that snaked around community water taps. I was lucky that many of the people I met shared their stories with me over cups of steaming chai. They’ve taught me Bollywood songs and dances and allowed me to create characters that I trust feel three dimensional.
The children I met still live in my heart. Kids are thirsty not just for water, but for a good, productive future. They shared their dreams of becoming doctors and teachers, of working in a store and learning to use the computer. Outwardly I hugged them and cheered for their aspirations, later I wondered how many would get the opportunity. Our privileged, idealized, view of childhood is not a reality for many children like Minni, who bear the burden of adult responsibilities. While most of us worry if our kids will get a kind teacher and whether they will find friends, many parents and children don’t know if they will get an education at all.
It’s my hope that Thirst will be a window into a global issue. I want kids to embrace Minni and feel like she’s a friend. Readers will hopefully gain awareness, and will empathize with what Minni is going through in her quest for both clean water and an education. Recognition of our own privilege is a first step toward action. As Elie Wiesel said, “There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.” Kids can become knowledgeable, speak up, conserve water, and raise funds. No amount is too small. Kids can change the world.
Thirst has been chosen as a 2022 Global Read Aloud selection and will be read by students in more than 85 countries beginning in October. To download a discussion guide, use this link https://penguinschoollibrary.com/ThirstGuide
Varsha Bajaj is the author of the middle-grade novels Count Me In and Abby Spencer Goes to Bollywood, which was shortlisted for the Cybils Award and included on the Spirit of Texas Reading Program. She also wrote the picture books The Home Builders and This Is Our Baby, Born Today (a Bank Street Best Book). She grew up in Mumbai, India, and when she came to the United States to obtain her master’s degree, her adjustment to the country was aided by her awareness of the culture through books. She lives in Houston, Texas.
I look forward to reading this book and sharing it with others. The global issue of water availability, usage, and awareness will open important discussions for the future of our world. Thanks for writing it.