Arjun Vij was a freshman at Corona del Mar High when he took a school trip that enlightened him about the global water crisis — and now he’s written a book to inspire other young people to action.

Vij accompanied students enrolled in the school’s Academy of Global Studies, a program designed to expose participants to geopolitical and cultural issues across nations, as they traveled in February 2019 to the African nation of Eswatini, formerly Swaziland.

The Newport Beach teen visited a village in the district of Hhohho (pronounced HO-how) and was struck when he learned of the hardship many villagers had endured in their daily procurement of drinking water. Women and children often walked several miles, carrying heavy metal cans on their backs or shoulders that, when filled, weighed up to 44 pounds.

And the water they found, often in stagnant ponds, puddles and brown-hued streams, was just as likely to threaten their lives as sustain it.

A page and illustration from Arjun Vij's self-published book "In Bad Water."

A page and illustration from Arjun Vij’s self-published book “In Bad Water,” in front of his Newport Beach home. Vij hopes the book will inspire and educate people about the global water crisis.

(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

“They told me how bad the standard of living was with dirty water and how rates of cholera and typhoid fever were sky high,” Vij, now 18, recalled of meeting villagers. “They actually showed me where they used to collect that dirty water — a little hole in the ground about 6 feet wide. There were plants and weeds all around. It was all brown and murky.”

During the trip, students learned how the installation of a clean drinking water well in the village had become a life-changing addition. They learned a mere $25 could provide access to clean drinking water for one person’s lifetime. That a family of four could be sustained for $100.

“I never would have known there was a global water crisis if I had not taken that trip,” the teen said.

Upon his return, Vij was compelled to do something to help the 844 million people worldwide who continue to live without a reliable supply of clean water, according to an estimate by global nonprofit Water.org. He shared what he’d seen with his family and friends, raising $500 for Thirst Project, the nonprofit that had installed the well he’d seen.

But he wanted to do more.

So, when the coronavirus pandemic closed school campuses last year, leaving students stuck doing studies at home, Vij began to write a book that would convey what he’d seen and learned on his travels. He partnered for months, securing an illustrator and designer to help him complete the project.

The result of that months-long effort is “In Bad Water,” a self-published, illustrated book for preteens released May 17 and now available on Amazon.com.

The 58-page book tells the story of a fictional boy named Sanyu, who lives in Uganda with younger sister Masani. One day, the children are tasked by their parents to fetch water instead of reporting to school. After much effort, the children find the sought-after resource, but with deadly consequences.

Vij said the book aims to convey to young people, many of whom take for granted clean water coming on demand and on tap, the very real perils being faced by children and adults in other nations. In addition to telling Sanyu’s story, “In Bad Water” provides tips and resources to empower adolescents to act.

“I believe preteens are the most powerful societal agents for change,” he said. “If they can be educated about this at an early age, they can take action later in life.”

Since the book was released, Vij has been busy trying to promote it through social media, so he can spread its message. He recently appeared at a May 26 virtual flag salute assembly at his K-8 alma mater, Fairmont School, Anaheim Hills, at the invitation of Principal Dr. Jamie Bone.

Afterward, students were encouraged to place a Cougars mascot sticker on their refillable water bottles and be reminded of the global water crisis and the precious resource readily available to them at the turn of a wrist.

“I helped the kids understand we’re so lucky if we can turn a faucet in our kitchens and our bathrooms and get water,” Bone said. “We’re really lucky and it’s our job to help other people who are not so lucky. It was a nice moment.”

The virtual visit was a watershed moment for Vij — who’d come full circle, from shock to understanding to action — and something he hopes to recreate in the minds and hearts of young people everywhere.

“Collective action is the only way we can affect this crisis,” he said.

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