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Voices from the Field: Cassie, Paul and Dannie

After an amazing three weeks in Ghana, the Saha US Team and the Summer Field Reps are all a little sad to be back home to our “normal” lives in the States. Luckily, we have a chance to go back and re-live our summer program through this final blog post from Team Sharifa! Our apologies for the delay in this post, but we promise it will be worth the wait!

After opening our solar business in Yakura on Tuesday, we spent the next few days monitoring (checking on lantern usage and answering questions). This morning, the community bid us farewell with an incredible dance ceremony, even allowing us to participate in several of the dances. After this morning, we’re pretty sure the residents of Yakura have learned that Salamingas aren’t as apt at dancing as we are at installing solar panels. We’ve really enjoyed getting to know everyone in Yakura and watching our entrepreneurs, Ayi and Hawabu, grow as leaders in the community.

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Below, our team members reflect on some of our most memorable experiences in Yakura.

Paul: One brief image from opening night, emblematic of that night as a whole, has stuck with me. A Fulani man showed up about an hour after our 6:30pm opening time. His compound, the most remote in the village, lies more than half a mile from the solar center (I remembered him specifically because of our walk to his residence during lantern distribution). He bought his batteries and left within two minutes. We watched from about 10 feet away as Ayi and Hawabu installed the batteries, took his money, and gave him change. That was it. No ceremony, no outpouring of thanks. Just a simple transaction. At that moment, I thought to myself: this is the point, this is exactly why we’re here. This kind of commerce didn’t exist in Yakura and now it does. We then checked in on this Fulani man’s household this morning during monitoring: he had no questions for us and he reported that he’d been using the lantern for additional cooking and working time at night. His life hasn’t been radically altered: his family remains beset by many of poverty’s harshest challenges. But this family now has a few extra hours of productivity each night without the adverse health effects of using a kerosene lamp. And those few hours matter.

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My experiences in Yakura and, more broadly, the Saha business model have taught me something about how best to enable communities to develop. Whether you’re distributing batteries or billion-dollar aid packages, it’s best to empower rather than instruct, to collaborate rather than chastise.

Cassie: The monitoring process these past few days taught me so much in my design thought process. As a future engineer, much of the work I will do will involve products for others. Following up on your product is a really important aspect of the process I had never given too much thought to until now. Working with the women multiple days after opening night to see how sales are going and work through any problems they have encountered was both encouraging to me, to see how well they have taken the business, and to them as they have continued support for the next few years. Ending our time with the the Yakura community with some dancing was the perfect way to conclude such an incredible experience. There was one moment when I was dancing with the women and all of the sudden they all got to the ground dancing so I joined, but they all stood up as I stayed. I’m pretty sure they were making fun of me, but it was all in good fun. I greatly enjoyed learning some of their dancing, a trade off of sorts, for the solar business we shared with them. I look forward to continued success in the women’s solar business and hopefully a dance with them again sometime soon!

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Dannie: Leading up to this trip I had learned numerous pieces of information about poverty and the various methods by which people look to aid those in need. However, despite all the knowledge I had accumulated there is, and always will be, vast amounts that I will never know. When I walked into Yakura for the first time, in fact, when I walked into the village of Takpili (our first village visit: part of training in which we monitor a previously established business) for the first time, I was nervous. It’s funny because you wake up every day and you want to change something, make someone’s life better, make the world a better place then you had seen it the day before; but when I walked into these villages everything I had learned became real and the people , although always willing to throw a joke your way and a smile to follow, they are suffering. I didn’t know how to cope with everything and it never fully came together until opening night and today when we left our village for the last time. We watched as people brought their lanterns to the charging center for the first time, it wasn’t as if anything different had happened in the village, and that was the beautiful part. Paul, Cassie, Sharifa (our translator), and I with the help and support from Yakura and our incredible entrepreneurs, successfully implemented a new business that did not change day to day life in the community. This is crucial to the success of the business as well as the consistent monitoring that Saha will continue to do in the future. Today we were able to dance with the community and joke with not a worry in the world about the success of the business in the future. Not only are the women extremely intelligent but Saha will be there every step in the way. If I could tell the girl who walked into Yakura on the first day, nervous if waking up everyday hoping to make a difference was enough, what I know today, I wouldn’t, because I thoroughly enjoyed calling Kate every single day annoying her with questions :)…thank you to everyone who has helped us through donations and support, you were crucial in establishing a solar charging center in Yakura.

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