It was the NBA’s opening tip and JaVale McGee, waiting to watch games in his home, was fighting a fire alarm sounding off every two minutes.
“They’re testing the alarm,” the Los Angeles Lakers center said as he briefly spoke about his team’s season.
“We’re the Lakers,” he said. “It’s an amazing organization. And to be able to actually be looked at maybe even being a contender is even more amazing. So we just have to make sure we stay focused, and really, it is exciting though.”
But McGee really wanted to discuss an off-court issue dear to his heart: water.
“We drink gallons of water, jugs of water every day,” McGee said. “Personally, my body feels better [when I drink water], and I wanted to let people know to drink more because 83 percent of Americans don’t drink enough water at all.”
There is also a water crisis. Around the world, more than 780 million people lack access to clean, safe water, resulting in millions of water-related illnesses and deaths every year.
McGee found himself wanting to do something about it.
So he partnered with entrepreneur Kez Reed in 2012 and co-founded JUGLIFE, an organization that promotes a healthy lifestyle by providing clean, safe drinking water in underdeveloped areas of the world. Its message is “water is essential to life and drinking water is a lifestyle.”
McGee began promoting his efforts on Twitter and Instagram with the campaign #JUGLIFE, built around the idea of drinking a gallon of water each day. Then he got a phone call from Reed, who was involved in missionary work around the world.
“There are people in the world that can’t drink more water because they don’t have access to it,” McGee said. “He [Reed] came upon this school with 500 kids who were HIV-positive. They were secluded by their village, so they didn’t have the access that everybody else had to water. He messaged me and communicated they need water out there. Reed said, ‘It would be a blessing for you to be able to build a water well just for that one community.’ ”
McGee answered the call. He traveled to Uganda in the summer of 2017 to build wells and returned in 2018 during the offseason.
“When I went over there, especially the first time, I had never been to Africa before. The second time, it’s like you know what you’re going to see and what’s going to happen,” he said. “It was extremely humbling. Just seeing people not having anything and not complain, smile, happy, running around, just enjoying life. And it really just changes perspective on things that we complain about, for me personally. Like, we’re worried about traffic and things like that and people are walking 26 miles from the water source to their village, daily.”
McGee said he saw villagers with little to no knowledge of water preservation and waterborne diseases drinking contaminated water from a pond.
“They are bathing in this water, washing their motorcycles, pets, animals, feces, all in the water,” McGee said. “And then kids are coming and taking big jugs of that water. But from them taking that water, it really brings diseases to the village.”
JUGLIFE chose to build the wells next to schools to teach students how to maintain the well.
The experience taught McGee to humble himself.
“I learned that there are people with bigger needs than the needs that we have out here in our own backyard,” he said. “So the feeling that I get helping someone who literally doesn’t know me, never even met me before, is a passion. I want to go forever, every summer.”
He also wants to travel to South America to educate citizens about a clean water environment.
“Hopefully JUGLIFE will become big enough where we don’t just do it once every year,” McGee said. “Like we can do it all year long and have people go out there and experience everything and it becomes a program.”