Last December, a large portion of Rochester was issued a boil water advisory when a main line broke on Favor Street. The advisory stayed in place for about two days until the water line could be fixed.
As trying as that experience might have been for residents, it was a better situation than many Ugandans face in their home country. Nearly one in five people across the African nation face severe water shortages, a major factor in exacerbating existing issues of poverty.
“When you think of us (in Rochester), you want a glass of water, you need to do dishes, you have to do laundry, we can just turn on the tap or press a button,” says Claire Torregiano, executive assistant and events manager at the Ugandan Water Project. “We use it in so many things that when you imagine life without clean, non-contaminated water, things become nearly impossible.”
UWP, a nonprofit implementing and advocating for clean water solutions, is well aware of that importance. The Lima-based organization is hosting Nine Tanks Tonight, its 2023 concert fundraiser this evening at Lovin’ Cup.
Aside from an entertaining night filled with music from local bands, a raffle from sponsor donations, and special event cocktails, UWP aims to raise $35,000, which is enough money for a record target of nine rainwater collection systems.
Last year, the goal was to raise $18,000, enough to fund five systems.
“We ended up raising $32,000 instead,” says Torregiano, who sounds pleasantly shocked even a year later.
The annual event began with a connection between UWP founder James Harrington and local musicians Mike and Mel Muscarella. The duo, inspired by the organization’s efforts and their own travels to Uganda, decided to donate their time to the cause.
The result was an annual fundraising concert with their band, Violet Mary, and other groups from the community. Tonight, they will take the stage for the ninth event, this time also featuring performances from Banned from the Tavern and Blue 22.
This year, UWP challenged the three performing groups, who raised money for the tanks on their own outside of the concert, to a friendly competition. Blue 22 won with over $1,000 raised and will have a drink named after them at the event. The Black and Blue 22 is a special cocktail from Black Button Distilling, another sponsor of the event; it will debut at the concert.
The event will also feature a raffle, with prizes donated by Wegmans, Binging with Babish, Mendon Golf Club, Roc Ventures, Honeyberry Hill B&B, and others.
The nine tanks will go to help Ugandan children in primary and secondary schools, which UWP often prefers to focus on. Accessing water in the country can require a miles-long walk, which can keep children from attending school or place them along dangerous routes and could lead to a contaminated or a dry water source.
Placing these systems directly in schools means children are safer and can spend more time learning instead.
“One of the rainwater collection systems that was installed because of this event last year was installed on my birthday at a primary and nursery school, which felt like a really heartwarming gift to me,” Torregiano says.
UWP got started in 2008 with a chance encounter after Harrington crashed a neighbor’s barbeque. There, he met a visiting Ugandan pastor who shared the daily challenges people in his home country faced from a lack of clean water.
That conversation grew into a partnership and then a nonprofit, which today has funded and installed over 1,400 projects and served 500,000 people in Uganda in 2023 alone. UWP’s strategy follows a “today/tomorrow/forever” model, meaning it funds both short- and long-term projects.
Projects include rainwater collection systems, water well rehabs, drilling new wells, distributing water filters, handwashing units, and maintenance on boreholes through the AquaTrust service.
Torrengiano says the organization also feels truly international. While most concert attendees will see the eight UWP workers who work at their office in Lima, they have connections worldwide, including around a dozen Ugandan staff who work to install, educate and advocate in their country.
“They are remarkable men and women who are doing incredible work to help their own country,” says Torregiano. “To make sure that their people and their children can live sustainably with clean water.”
Jacob Schermerhorn is a Rochester Beacon contributing writer and data journalist. The Beacon welcomes comments and letters from readers who adhere to our comment policy including use of their full, real name. Submissions to the Letters page should be sent to [email protected].