It’s an unseasonally warm day here on the south east coast. I left the house this morning in boots, a hooded jacket and a warm coat, wishing I’d thought to find my woolly hat. By lunchtime I was carrying my coat over my arm, jacket unzipped, and wondering whether I might need to find my sunglasses instead.
I’m more aware of the weather these days, because I’m outside in it every morning, walking the dog. We’ve walked through thick fog, in depressing drizzle, in bright sunshine and on dull grey days. If it’s been raining lately, I make sure I wear boots instead of my thin-soled pumps, and if it’s really hot I carry water for both of us.
Nevertheless, the weather is more of a footnote to my day than a major issue. Even really bad weather isn’t often life-threatening here. A typical British drought means brown lawns and unwashed cars, and most British storms just damage trees and distrupt broadband connections. When it’s really cold outside, I make cups of tea and huddle over them for warmth, or warm myself up with a hot bath. On hot summer days I freeze diluted fruit squash to make home-made ice lollies, and take a lukewarm shower to cool down.
Water is so mundane and everyday, but it’s critically important. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that when we can so easily turn on a tap and get clean, safe drinking water. I first began supporting WaterAid at the height of the Ebola crisis, because I suddenly realised how essential it must be to be able to properly wash when you’re caring for someone with such an infectious virus. I couldn’t invent a vaccine or manufacture cheap diagnostic tests, but I could help people to wash their hands.
I don’t know why it hit me so clearly in relation to Ebola; I grew up being constantly reminded not to waste water, and I knew that water-borne diseases cause millions of deaths every year, but it was an intellectual kind of knowledge rather than the deep, visceral, urgent knowing that leads to action. It was the realisation that nurses in remote villages in Western Africa would need clean water to practice the sort of hand hygiene I’d had drummed into me during midwifery training that spurred me into becoming a monthly WaterAid donor.
I’ve now been asked to work with WaterAid and trnd on Project Sunshine, which is an awareness campaign featuring Claudia, a teenage girl in Zambia who now has access to clean water and toilets thanks to the charity. When I was fifteen I was worrying about whether my crushes were reciprocated and arguing with my parents about the state of my bedroom, not singing for joy because I could collect water in a bucket.
I’ve been feeling a bit flat this week, a bit down and joyless. The thing about depression is that it can make you, or at least me, incredibly self-centred. Getting an email asking me to share the first video from Project Sunshine shook me up a bit and reminded me that not only do I have it good, I have the power to do something to help people who have it far less good than me. I can spread sunshine and help bring clean water to Zambia, even while I’m sitting on my sofa feeling glum and directionless. Listening to that happy song helped too – Claudia’s song was my bit of sunshine on an emotionally rainy day.