Why I Love Rivers - And You Should, Too

Emily Jovais

As we reflect on important people in our lives today, it's also a time to recognize all the different kinds of love around us. Growing up, I've always loved the outdoors and being in nature. For me, sitting in the sunshine or in a forest has always been the best medicine for a heavy heart or a clouded mind. Each time I stand at the edge of a river or the base of a mountain, I remember that these places exist not just for me to enjoy, but for the ecosystems and communities that rely on nature to survive – and that they have a right to exist uninterrupted and at peace. 

Today, International Rivers reminds us all to Love Your River. For the occasion, I’ll share a few river stories of my own and some upcoming events planned for the International Day of Action for Rivers on March 14 – which is one month from today!

While studying abroad in Buenos Aires, I traveled to Iguazu Falls located where the Iguazu River tumbles over the edge of the Paraná Plateau on the border of Argentina and Brazil. I’d heard incredible stories, but I was unsure what to expect. After an 18-hour bus ride, I arrived at Puerto Iguazu anxious and curious. I was exhausted from the journey but eager to see the place I’d heard so much about. 

There are two ways to see the Falls – from above and below. I started out on the upper circuit, which has elevated walkways. I came up to the first waterfall and found myself standing on top of it, watching it cascade over the edge. Its power and force was audible. Because of earlier rain, the water levels were seven times higher than normal.

As I walked through dense vegetation, I turned a corner and was instantly able to understand why this place is so special. The first waterfall was spectacular – little did I know that there were over 200 more! Every view was even more breathtaking than the last and each one revealed even more waterfalls, even more water, even more beauty. It was chilly and the sky was gray, but with the cascades of mist coming from the waterfalls it was eerie and ominous. I felt as if I had traveled back in time and was watching nature in action. I sat on a bench for an hour in silence just watching and listening in awe at what I was seeing. Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, every year…water flows.

The next day I decided to view the falls from below. Because the sun was shining, there were gigantic rainbows. It was the first time that I stood face to face with a rainbow.

I was lucky that the weekend I visited happened to be a full moon, because that’s when they open up the park for night tours. Seeing the waterfalls at night completely lit up by the full moon was magnificent. Because 80% of the insects and animals that live around the falls are nocturnal, nature truly comes alive at night. Overlooking the expanse of free-flowing water and the power of nature was an experience that hit me emotionally. At many points I was holding back tears. It’s places like this that make you feel so small – nature is truly more powerful than many of us can comprehend.  

While I experienced the inherent beauty of rivers in Iguazu, I’ve also witnessed the myriad ways water supports life. Last June, I traveled to Southeast Asia and spent time in northern Thailand, where I stayed in a small community alongside the Mae Tang River. I stayed with Lahu and Lisu hill-tribes where we cooked together, ate together, and even sang around the fire together. I was constantly impressed by their intimate knowledge of the land and their complete ease of living within their natural environment, something that’s far removed from my urban existence.

The village where I stayed was less than 50 feet from the banks of the river – and it was easy to understand why. The river was an integral part of daily life. For bathing, cooking, cleaning, fishing, and transportation, daily life without the river would not be possible. I feel very blessed to have shared such an intimate picture of the daily lives of these warm and caring people, and for the opportunity to glimpse the special relationship they have with their river.

These two experiences were part of what led me to join the team at International Rivers. I’m honored to be working with our international partners to coordinate the global effort to celebrate our rivers on March 14 for the 17th annual International Day of Action for Rivers.

Every year on and around March 14, thousands of people around the world lift their voices in celebration of the world's rivers and those who struggle to protect them. International Rivers has provided global coordination for this event since it was created during the first International Meeting of Dam-Affected People and their Allies in 1997. The Day of Action for Rivers provides proactive, positive, inspiring proof that our issues are not merely isolated and local, but global in scope.

Rivers link us in so many ways. That’s why the theme for this year’s Day of Action is #RiversUniteUs. We all have a stake in the health of our rivers and together we can elevate the issue of river protection. Be inspired, Get creative, Take action!

So far, there are over 25 actions planned in 20 counties. Events range from a river clean-up and ecology workshop in South Africa to a concert in the UK and a demonstration and rafting event in Chile. Actions are also planned around the world in Portugal, Egypt, India, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Macedonia. 

Looking for ideas for how to celebrate your river on March 14? Here are just a few:

  • Submit a photo with a message written on your palm with the hashtag #RiversUniteUs
  • Organize a river clean-up day, kayaking event, ceremony or community walk along a river.
  • Take to the streets and protest a destructive project threatening a river you love, or hold an event to educate your community about the dangers.

Whatever you choose to do, please let us know your plans and send us your photos, videos and stories! Fill out our online form or email us at dayofaction@internationalrivers.org

Happy Valentine’s Day.

Friday, February 14, 2014