When Robin Wheatfall heard her former church would be putting on a benefit concert to bring awareness to water issues, she wrote a letter to show her support.
"I never knew what a blessing it was to have clean, potable water at my disposal 24 hours a day until I moved to Africa," she wrote. "Thanks for bringing attention to this world issue."
Wheatfall now lives in Uganda with her husband and two daughters, and says she now fully understands how water is a luxury. No water flows into her town. Instead, she hires water tanker trucks — which she says is not always an option for members of her town — to fill up their 3,000-liter tank weekly, which is equivalent to about 800 gallons.
"If I used water here like I did in the States, it would not last three days," she wrote. "I have a whole new appreciation for turning off tap while brushing teeth, and turning off the shower while soaping up ... [and] thinking twice about how dirty the laundry is. ... Conservation is key."
The "Water" Concert, the theme for the second annual "Who is My Neighbor?" charity event at , aimed to bring awareness to water issues around the world — and raise money to help solve those issues at the same time.
Proceeds from the event amounted to $2,350, which will be split between two nonprofts: Seattle-based Water 1st International and Lands and Waters in Falls Church, said Carole Tomhave, Unity music director and the event's founder.
Water 1st International serves the poorest communities in the world to integrate water supply, sanitation and health education. Lands and Waters is dedicated to watershed protection, education and conservation in Northern Virginia.
The concert switched between performances from New Day — a six-member band of Unity members — and the Unity Chorus, and a few chorus members served as guest vocalists with New Day. Between the performances, speakers stuck with the water theme, whether to educate on water issues or to recite Maya Angelou's "Equality" or to give information on the nonprofits benefitting from the concert.
Information booths were set up in the church's lobby, allowing people to learn about water issues and various ministries of the Unity church working to make a difference.
Jeannette Stewart, president and founder of Lands and Waters, attended the concert. She also hosted a booth in the lobby of the church and spoke to the audience to thank them for their generosity and to tell them about her organization.
"It is difficult, if not impossible, for me to see water separately from land. The interaction between the two is so great, so integral, they define each other ... The degradation of one will lead to the degradation of the other," she said.
She explained how water and land work together and how the partnership has been interrupted by development. She also laments the loss of native plants over the years.
"I would venture to say that in our developed setting, there are more plants from Asia represented than our own native plants. When this happens, our native wildlife, including our pollinators, lose food and shelter," Stewart said.
She also lauded the church for its continual commitment to environmentalism, and held it up as an example for others.
Pinnacle Academy, which rents its space from Unity, now has a vegetative roof, which reduces stormwater runoff and mitigates temperature. The stormwater basin on Unity's land is now vegetated with native plants, which has increased wildlife and allowed the land to better absorb and filter stormwater. They have slowed water flow with a terrace wall and replaced turf with native gardens. And more.
These changes came from , two Unity members who took one outdoor project and turned it into an ongoing environmental mission for the church. They formed an EarthCare Ministry at Unity to help keep the issue at the forefront.
Hartley and Clifford have sought Stewart's guidance in various aspects of their work on the church and suggested Lands and Waters as a beneficiary of the concert as soon as they heard this year's theme.
"[The concert] gave us an opportunity to bring in one of our support organizations, Lands and Waters. They've been very active working with us and showing us how we can improve the water quality that flows through here and native plants for this property," Clifford said. "We hope to use them in our educational program, which will be coming up this spring."
Zenovia Liendo, who is not a member of the church, said she was surprised at how much she learned through the event. She picked up alternatives to toxic household products from the EarthCare Ministry table and learned from Wheatfall's letter.
"She compared her water situation in Africa to here and it was very touching," she said. "I learned to appreciate what we have."
Water facts presented to the audience:
- Ancient Romans had better water quality than half the people alive now.
- Only 63 percent of the world's population have access to improved sanitation.
- 70 percent of the world's fresh water supply is devoted to agriculture.
- Waterborne diseases cause 1.4 million children's deaths every year.
- Half of the world's hospitalizations are due to water-related disease.
- Women spend thousands of hours each year collecting and carrying water.
Unity of Fairfax will continue to raise awareness of global water issues with a viewing of the documentary at 1:30 p.m. March 13. Admission is $10 and proceeds will benefit Water 1st International and Lands and Waters.