He thinks back to the resilience of the people that he visits each summer in the East African nation.
Children in many villages are forced to walk miles and miles with heavy cans on their heads to bring water home. Yet, even then, they persevere and push forward.
The Dallas Mavs center also remembers his hospital visit in Tororo, Uganda, a couple summers ago when he went around and provided sugar, soap and toilet paper for patients suffering in deplorable conditions.
McGee decided he couldn’t just sit there and do nothing. The sight and need of the people only amplified his desire to make an impact, and each year McGee returns to build more clean water sources in Ugandan villages.
Basketball, he says, is a platform that he’s blessed to have to spread knowledge about a cause that’s near and dear to his heart.
“It’s really a humbling experience to visit Uganda,” McGee said. “You really see how they access their water. We [in the United States] grew up in neighborhoods where we have water fountains in parks and go play on the swing sets and get a drink however we want. These kids [in Uganda] have it much different.”
McGee and his business partner, Kez Reed, founded “The JUGLIFE Foundation” to help underdeveloped areas gain access to clean water in all corners of the world. The foundation is committed to bringing awareness to the lifestyle that drinking water can provide. They also connect with youth and communities through their water education tours, fitness events and fundraisers. JUGLIFE also takes annual trips to Uganda to build water wells.
Last week, the three-time NBA world champion visited with youth at a nonprofit called For Oak Cliff in Dallas to celebrate World Water Day. He also inspired the future generation to use their platform to spread goodwill in every way possible.
“What we do with JUGLIFE in Uganda is build water wells and also educate people on the importance of clean water,” said McGee, a native of Flint, Michigan. “These kids in Uganda are taking jerrycans, which are 20-gallon gas cans, filling it up with water and going to water holes. They then walk 20 to 30 miles back to their village.”
McGee says the water is often contaminated, so it’s brimming with bacteria and causes diseases to spread among people and animals. Water is life and so is the sense of community, so McGee and Reed are determined to do even more this year.
They announced last week that the JUGLIFE Foundation is opening a sports complex in Uganda this summer.
“Right now, I believe we are about 80 percent done,” McGee notes. “The JUGLIFE Sports Complex will have locker rooms, basketball, soccer and volleyball, or netball, I believe they call it. It’s just a blessing to be able to do it and bring the sports we have over here to their village, where they’re not even worried about sports. They’re worried about where they can get clean water. So it’s definitely an amazing thing to bring recreation to them.”
McGee’s passion for water was born from a place of curiosity. Back in 2013, he started reading up on the importance of hydration. He discovered that most athletes and people generally need to drink more water. So he set out to drink one gallon each day. He started posting pictures on social media each day with his water and the hashtag #JUGLIFE. People immediately took interest and a movement launched.
After he connected with Reed, they decided to co-found a nonprofit together.
They started “water education” assemblies across schools in America, reaching thousands and thousands of students. In the summer of 2015, JUGLIFE began constructing clean water sources in Ugandan villages.
Each year, McGee hosts a softball game in the summer that is often attended by some of the brightest sports stars and celebrities across the country. The charity softball game has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars in funds to go toward water education and building water wells.
JUGLIFE evolved from a word scribbled on a plastic container to a nonprofit that continues to grow. In fact, just this month, JUGLIFE started a three-city tour in Dallas, Los Angeles and Phoenix to spread the mission.
“The reason for those three cities is because they are places where JaVale used to play or currently plays,” Reed explains. “We have a market there. We have an audience there, and one of the things we are huge on is connecting each market with the other. Sometimes players will establish a foundation, and then they leave. So with JUGLIFE, we want to make sure we have a community in each place and engage with the kids there. We still visit Boys & Girls clubs and youth programs out in Arizona, and the same thing in LA and here. We’ll still come back.”
Students from Zumwalt Middle School participated in the event and learned about the importance of water for their physical health and conserving water for the environment. Following the session, McGee volunteered for a beautification project with the students. They planted new life at For Oak Cliff and demonstrated the importance of preserving our neighborhoods.
“The Mavs are extremely involved in philanthropy, especially when their players are the ones who initiated it,” McGee shared. “They never hesitate to help or try to figure out how we can make things happen. The Mavs are always a great organization to do philanthropic work.”
According to JUGLIFE, there is a water crisis happening around the world with over 780 million people lacking access to clean and safe water, resulting in millions of water-related illnesses and deaths. There is a health crisis happening in the United States with America’s obesity rates reaching record levels. The organization aims to address both crises by:
1. Providing clean, safe drinking water in underdeveloped areas of the world.
2. Promoting water as the best choice for an active and healthy lifestyle.
They say their mission and message is simple: drinking water is essential for a thriving lifestyle.
To learn more about the JUGLIFE Foundation, click here.