I am thrilled to share some exciting news: Community Water Solutions has changed our name to Saha Global!
The new Saha identity is a reflection of our tremendous growth over the past six years. In November 2013, with the help of Ben Powell and Mark Moeremans, we piloted our new solar electricity program in the village of Wambong. This pilot was a huge success and lead to a new partnership with Boston-based company Next Step Living. Thanks to funding from their philanthropic program, Next Step Giving, we have been able to rapidly grow our solar program and have now launched five solar businesses that provide access to electricity to 2,500 people. We have also continued to expand our impact in water and are currently serving 38,108 people in rural Ghana with our 71 water businesses.
As Saha Global continues to grow our water and solar businesses, we remain committed to long-term monitoring in our current partner-communities, which we believe is the key to our 100% sustainability rate.
I am also very excited to share our new video, which you can view above. When you watch this video, I hope that you feel as proud as I do about Saha’s impact, which would not have been possible with your generous support.
One of my favorite Ghanaian expressions is “small small” or “bayla bayla” as it’s known in Dagbani. Ghanaians use this expression all the time. Let me give you a few examples. You go to a chop bar in Tamale to get waakye, a local, favorite dish of rice, beans and other delicious, spicy toppings. The woman working at the chop bar starts to serve you waakye and motions towards the palm oil. You say, “small small” to mean just put a little, not too much. Or you are learning Dagbani, the most widely spoken language in Tamale, trying out some phrases with Dagomba friends. They say, “Oh you try” and you respond, “small small”. You are a CWS field staffer riding around on motos day in and day out. It just so happens you need to replace the piston and the rings on the moto. The fitter (mechanic) tells you to move “small small” so that the moto will be “free”. The list goes on… What I’ve taken from this whole “small small” business is that as long as you are moving “small small”, you are moving forward!
When I moved to Ghana in June 2012, I did not think I would live here for 2 years, although I am very happy now that I did. It all started “small small”… learning to ride a moto, figuring out where to buy food, navigating Tamale, learning Dagbani, working with the CWS team, meeting the entrepreneurs for the first time, encountering various challenges in the CWS communities and out on the “rough roads”. In the beginning, I didn’t feel like I was adjusting well. I found the heat unbearable, I felt lonely, I did not think I was qualified for the position but I kept trying and moving “small small”. And “small small” turned in to feeling comfortable in Tamale, being confident in my role at CWS, truly enjoying my work and getting to know my coworkers, developing good relationships with the CWS communities and entrepreneurs and feeling like I was positively contributing to this idea and project greater than myself. This upcoming September I am heading to Dublin, Ireland to get my MSc in Global Health at Trinity College. I hope to focus on women’s health and technology in developing countries. I know I would not be on this path if it were not for my experience with CWS in Ghana.
So without more small small babble… here are some pictures looking back on the last 2 years. The “small small” moments to the big ones. A big thank you to my CWS family: Kate, Sam, Kathryn, Chelsea, Shak, Peter, Wahab, Amin, Eric, Mark, Yacabu, the CWS board members, the fellowship translators, the fellows, the fellowship taxi drivers and all of the CWS partners for this fantastic opportunity. It has been a pleasure working with you! To all my friends and family who supported me and continue to support me, thank you! It has been quite the ride. Ghana, I will miss you-ohh! Until next time.
Hey everyone! Robert, Sofia, Claire, and Phoebe here – along with our aptly named translator, Blessing! The village Team Blessing was assigned has smiling faces and warm hearts like all CWS selections, but the unique history sets it apart. Team Blessing’s village, Original Kabache, has an ongoing feud with their neighboring village, Indigenous Kabache. From what we understand, Kabache was once a unified community, but in recent years has split in two – each community striving for Kabache as the village name. Both villages claim that they are the true Kabache; both chieftaincies claim to be the first Kabache. In 2013, CWS implemented a clean water business in Original Kabache’s rival village, which we can only imagine brewed tension. The feud is neither here nor there; Team Blessing came to implement a clean water business. Our goal was realized just 20 some hours ago!
Prior to our first village visit, our team was briefed on three aspects of Original Kabache: it was a community of ~60 households, community members fetched water from a dugout ~2km from the center of the village, and of course the intra-Kabache-naming-feud. We petitioned the village chairman to hold a meeting with the Chief and village elders to discuss the CWS proposal to implement a clean water business, and minutes later were walked to the chief’s compound. The meeting began riddled with tension punctuated by the sounds of children playing and chickens mulling about. Once all the elders had gathered, the discussion lightened and we were met by overwhelming support and gratitude from the chief and elders of Original Kabache. Throughout our time in the village, the chief has provided positive support and clearly forward-thinking wisdom at each juncture. He genuinely wants to set a positive, sustainable and longstanding example for his people for, as he said, “generations to come.” The chief was also very excited about having clean water because he didn’t like that Indigenous Kabache had access to clean water and they didn’t. He believed that with the implementation of the water business they would once again be the best Kabache. Our careful, yet excited nods of approval were satisfactory.
Following our chief meeting, we invited any elders to accompany us on the 25-minute walk to the dugout to test the water for E-coli bacteria. With a water sample, we could incubate E-coli and total coliform bacteria on special 3M agar to provide a visual representation of dugout contamination in order to show the community when we met with them the following day. Thankfully, our community meeting was an inspiring success; almost all members of the community were present, attentive, and excited to begin working with CWS to create their own clean water. As asked, the chief and elders selected two driven, strong, and personable women entrepreneurs to run the center. Later, on the chief appointed a third woman since one of the original two was pregnant and might need to take some time off after giving birth.
The CWS model stresses a few key tenants in order to promote sustainability in the water businesses, of which two are female empowerment and autonomy. The women entrepreneurs of Original Kabache decided to sell the water for 10 GP (~$0.03) per 10 liter bucket, aspiring to match the price of Indigenous Kabache. For several days following our introduction to the entrepreneurs, our team worked long days to build the water treatment center, train the women on business management skills and water treatment procedures, and take time explaining clean water procedures to almost every member of every household in Original Kabache.
Come Thursday morning – our opening day for business – we could honestly say that nearly all of the work and decisions in Original Kabache had been smooth, exciting, and inspiring. Of course, “this is going GREAT” are famous last words, and as we’d been warned during our initial training, “Everything that can go wrong, will go wrong.” For starters, our team was not on it’s “A-Game” – Sofia had previously missed two days with a stomach bug, Rob had missed the previous day with the same, and Phoebe and Claire later found that they were on the cusp of illness themselves. The morning consisted of a few final home visits, followed by a school visit in an attempt to separately capture the attention of the children and prep them on safe drinking habits. “School” is a loose term in Original Kabache – more often used as a word of reprimand or as a command analogous to “get out of here,” we were shocked to see that the 6 classroom school really functioned as a one room schoolhouse. That being said, our visit was successful and the children seemed to take to heart the two lessons: “Clear doesn’t necessary mean clean” and “DON’T DRINK THE DUGOUT WATER!”
By midday, we ran into our first real roadblock – our strongest and most punctual women entrepreneur was “out traveling” for the day. Furthermore, a wedding had been scheduled for the same hour as the business opening, a problem compounded by the surprise that the entrepreneurs had neglected to make an official community announcement when opening day would be. Scrambling quickly, the chief helped make an announcement – a drummer boy clanged down the road, and within a matter of minutes, women, children, and safe storage containers emerged from houses and huts. Opening day would happen after all.
The walk to the treatment center was euphoric – down the footpath we could see silhouettes of the CWS logo, women balancing the safe storage containers on their heads. In total, ~40 buckets were cleaned and filled with treated water. Some women were pleased with the taste of chlorinated water; others thought it strange. Rob tried to grab as many costumers who expressed discomfort and explain that the unusual taste was just a clean taste – a conversation most often met with a smile, excitement, and even a few laughing slaps and handshakes.
Following our debrief session with our strong entrepreneurs, the fellows were unusually tired; Phoebe was showing a loss of color from possible heat exhaustion. It wasn’t until a reunion with the other Salaga fellows from Sabonjida that the Original Kabache Team Blessing could properly stand back, admire the hard work of the people of Original Kabache, and take a moment to pat each other on the back for successfully bringing clean water to the homes of another 52 households under the CWS program.
Hey everyone! It’s team Peter here today. We are Josh, Camille, Brandee, and Claire. We’ve been braving the “road” to Sabonjida for four days, picking up pedestrians and hoping we don’t get a flat. The journey is about an hour and fifteen minutes each way, and despite the quotation marks around road, not too bad of a trip except a stretch where rain runoff exposed the bedrock.
Once we get in to Sabonjida the view of the lake and surrounding countryside is well worth braving the road. Sabonjida is a fishing community of about 70 households on the northern coast of Lake Volta. The majority of the people speak Ewe as their first language, but we communicate with them through Peter in Twi. On our first day in the village we met Clint and Haley of Mercy Project. They first called CWS’s attention to Sabonjida as a village in need of clean water. They have been working in Sabonjida to address the root causes of child slavery on Lake Volta. You can read more about their approach and what they’re all about on their website.
The first person we met when we got into the village was Mercy. She has shown us abundant hospitality each time we visit, offering food, bringing us chairs and being helpful in any way she can. In addition, she has had a very strong presence in all the meetings with community leaders. This makes us very optimistic for the future of Sabonjida, as she will be one of the four women running the water treatment center there. The other three women the community selected are Florence, Mary, and Elizabeth. We look forward to getting to know them better when we train them over the next few days. One thing that was disconcerting to see was during the community meeting when a woman had a question she initially addressed one of the men. Since they were speaking Ewe, a language Peter does not understand, it was hard for us to know whether it was legitimate question or if they were simply asking for clarification from a man sitting near them. After a little encouragement they began to speak up directly and we hope this trend continues as they see their friends in roles of power and respect within the community.
The concerns raised in the community meeting were largely centered on the nuances that come with living in a fishing community. One major concern was the mobility of the center given that Lake Volta is prone to flooding at the combined discretion of Mother Nature and the people in charge of regulating the dam that maintains it. We explained to them that their polytank would be lifted up on a metal stand that can be moved according to their needs. Another concern was the irregularity of their income. Since most of the community fishes they might not have cash on hand, even though they have plenty of fish in net. To address this concern we explained to them that the ladies running the center had the liberty to run the business whichever way is most conducive to getting everyone clean water. In Tunga, a community we monitored on Wednesday, the woman entrepreneur had a system of giving out interest free credit or accepting payments in advance in order to give everyone access to clean water, and we relayed this idea along to them.
There was another unfortunate yet encouraging issue that came to light during the community meeting. There happened to be an old man from a neighboring community at the meeting who wanted to know why we were doing this project only for Sabonjida when the lake water is unhealthy for all the communities who drink it. We had to explain to him that although CWS aims to continue implementing clean water businesses all around Lake Volta, we unfortunately can only reach one community at a time. However, we were excited by his approval of our project and excitement for when CWS might reach his village. We were also very encouraged by the community’s questions about how they would access clean water while traveling, which preliminarily implies that they accept the idea of always drinking clean water when they are at home.
Our plan for the next two days is to train our four women to treat the water and become the entrepreneurs of the water center!
TAMALE, GHANA – Last Friday May 2, 2014, Chris Anieze, a talk show host and entertainment specialist from Kesmi FM 107.1, invited West Africa Regional Director, Brianán and Assistant Project Manager, Shak of Community Water Solutions to come in for a live interview. The radio station had recently visited Kuntalaga, a community in the Sagnarigu district of the Northern Region, and was shocked to see what the community is drinking for water. Kesmi FM invited CWS to the studio to inform them of the community and to hear more about the CWS approach. Check out the live recording below to find out more!
On Wednesday April 23rd, 2014, the 4th CWS solar center opened for business in Chani! As you may have read on the blog, opening night was pushed back a few days because of a faulty inverter. While the setback was a disappointment, the opening was still a big success. The CWS full time Ghana staff along with my family (who was visiting from the US and Ireland) made it to the big event. Muneera and Salamatu, the CWS solar and water entrepreneurs, were very enthusiastic about the opening. Salamatu (famous for Salamatu’s story) said she was excited for the opportunity to run another business that would improve the lives of Chani community members.
Here are more pictures from the night. Photo credit goes to my aunt Tara Canellas visiting Ghana from Ft. Lauderdale, Florida!
It has been almost 3 weeks since the solar center opened in Kurugu Vohoyili. The solar center entrepreneurs, Ayi and Fuseina, report that business is going well. Community members say the lanterns are useful for cooking, studying, working at night and make them feel safe from scorpions lurking in dark corners. The entrepreneurs say people have been coming to exchange their dead batteries for “fresh ones” and cell phone charging sales are high, especially at night.
Last week on April 2, CWS Assistant- Project Manager: Shak, and I had the privilege of visiting the solar center in Kurugu Vohoyili with the Burro team, Burro founder: Whit Alexander, Burro Country Director: Carol Brown and Business Development Manager: Caleb Darko. Burro is a bottom-up social business based out of Koforidua that markets high quality, life-improving products to low-income and rural populations. CWS has partnered with Burro to bring lanterns, gensets and solar panels to the solar center pilots.
When we arrived at the center, Fuseina was there open for business! There were 34 batteries charging but no phones just yet. Fuseina said that some people still had charge in their phones but they would come. We checked out the solar panels, which had a layer of dust and some mud splotches. The Burro team was helpful in advising Ayi and Fuseina to clean the panels every morning with a cloth and water to remove all dust in order to get the most sunlight possible. Whit also advised the women to use alcohol to remove any residue build up on the AA batteries to make them more efficient. Burro’s mantra of “Do More” shined throughout the community visit.
Shak and I visited 6 households with the Burro staff. All 6 households still had charged batteries in their lanterns. 4 out of 6 households had charged cell phones at the solar center. The 2 households without charge still had charge remaining from before the solar center opened. These households have been conserving their cell phone battery to keep fuel costs down. They used to travel several miles to Tali to charge. I predict that cell phone charging demand will rise over time as the solar center is conveniently located in the center of Kurugu Vohoyili.
Burro Founder, Whit, started asking households about what they used to do for energy prior to the solar center. Most households used kerosene, spending 5-6 GHC on kerosene every 3 days. Now they no longer use kerosene, opting for the cleaner, cheaper energy offered at the solar center! KV community member Alimatu brought out her kerosene lamp to show us what she was using before. It was striking to see the kerosene lamp and Burro lantern side by side. Alimatu asked us if she could use the Burro lantern as a night-light to fall asleep, she had been using a kerosene lamp before. We said yes and her face lit up!
It was encouraging to monitor with the Burro team and to see the fruits of our labor after the pilot. A big thank you to Whit, Carol and Caleb for coming all the way to Tamale to check out the solar center and for all of their consulting.
The solar center is officially open in Kurugu Vohoyili! Last night, Shak, Wahab, Amin, Eric and I all went to KV to celebrate the opening. We pulled up to the solar center and there was already a queue forming next to the shop window with community members lining up, Burro lantern in hand.
Ayi and Fuseina met us at the door to the center and opened up the shop for business. It was Wahab, Amin and Eric’s first time seeing the solar business in KV and they were impressed! We immediately got to work unwrapping more power strips and plugging them in to make slots available for people to charge cell phones. There wasn’t much time. The crowd was getting rowdy outside the shop. People were demanding batteries.
Shak and I had a quick pep talk with Ayi and Fuseina. “Ok so who is going to run the window taking battery orders and handling the money? Who is going to load batteries and keep track of sales?” Fuseina took the window and Ayi grabbed the sales book. The shop window was pushed open for Fuseina to take the first customer.
Within a few minutes, there was a problem. Everyone had come to the shop with big bills! Customers were holding 5 GHC and 10 GHC notes to purchase 10 pesewas batteries. The women did not have enough small change for these kinds of transactions. Shak and I hadn’t thought of this. We had a quick meeting with the chairman who suggested that those who have small change pay for their batteries tonight and the rest of the households will be held accountable to pay the women tomorrow. I was worried. I wanted to make sure Ayi and Fuseina actually received their money. The chairman reassured us that the women would be paid back the following day and that in the future, people would come to the center with smaller coins. That’s the plus side of doing business in a community network like Kurugu Vohoyili.
We got back to work. Ayi and Fuseina were getting overwhelmed. With the rate of sales, Ayi had too much on her plate: recording sales, handing Fuseina charged batteries and replacing batteries in to the empty slots. Shak helped Ayi with the sales book, Wahab, Eric and I handed Fuseina charged batteries and replaced the empty slots. Opening night will be their busiest night because in the future, community members can come buy batteries or bring their cell phones to charge at their leisure throughout the day. It will take time for the women to get used to the process of counting money, replacing batteries and keeping track of sales. Shak and I will continue our training with the women later this week when we go back to monitor.
The women ran out of charged batteries, it would take a couple of hours to charge up more. There are only 15 battery chargers (4 battery slots per charger) at the center. Meaning only 60 batteries can be charged at once, giving 20 households 3 batteries each for their lanterns. This would only be a problem opening night.
Amin had been outside helping customers put batteries in to their lanterns and socializing. He came in to the shop when the women finished sales and said, “Oh, the people are happy. I saw one man just playing with his lantern trying all 4 light settings about 15 times, then he ran home to show his family. Wow!” Indeed, customers had all run home with their new solar charged, battery-powered lanterns. I peaked outside and only the chairman and some small children were left. Ayi and Fuseina let out a sigh of relief. They did it!
What a whirlwind of a night but overall a success. We are looking forward to monitoring the solar center’s progress and talking to families to see what they think of the center and the lanterns. A big thank you to Next Step Living for funding this solar pilot, Burro for our new partnership in bringing solar gensets and lanterns to rural communities and Mark and Ben who developed the first solar pilot in Wambong. Monitoring and household survey reports to come!
Yesterday, we arrived in Kurugu Vohoyili nice and early to finish training the women and to start approaching households with lanterns. It has been HOT in Tamale, so we wanted to beat the heat. Ayi and Fuseina were ready to start when we got to the center. As we had explained to them yesterday, they would have to wire the solar panels to the battery and set up the genset all on their own. Ayi laughed when I told her this and said, “oh we will try.” They were able to do it!
We started plugging in power strips and battery chargers in to the genset to ensure that everything was working. Shak and I gave Ayi and Fuseina a few scenarios to see if they were comfortable with all of the information. We pretended to be customers, asking how much it would cost if we charged x amount of phones or x amount of batteries and what that would look like in the sales book. We also tested the entrepreneurs on how many cell phones and batteries could be plugged in at once and had them look to the genset infographic for guidance. They got everything right! We decided to teach them how to use tally marks in groups of 5 to make it easier to keep track of sales. Ayi said they had never gone to school and asked if it was even worth it to try and teach them. Shak and I said yes! And within a few minutes they grasped the concept. Ayi and Fuseina are sharp. We completed training by practicing to insert batteries in to the chargers, opening the battery slots of the lanterns and turning the genset on and off. We decided to let the solar panels charge up all day. This morning, the women will charge the batteries to open for business tonight!
After training, Shak and I visited all 22 households in Kurugu Vohoyili asking families if they would like to participate in the lantern program for 1 GHC. Every single household joined! We briefed each family on the lanterns and the solar center. We told them that they had to pay for the batteries and to charge their cell phones so the women would have money to fix broken parts, to buy more batteries and to earn a profit for their hard work. We also discussed the health benefits of using this lantern instead of kerosene or lead acid battery powered torches. If any household loses a battery, they will have to pay the women 3 GHC to replace it. Everyone seemed excited and receptive to the system. Tonight is opening night. We will head to Kurugu Vohoyili after dark with the rest of the CWS Ghana staff. We can’t wait!
And the solar center entrepreneurs in Kurugu Vohoyili are (drum roll please)… Ayi and Fuseina!
The chairman told Shak and I that Ayi and Fuseina were chosen because they are the most hardworking women in Kurugu Vohoyili. Interestingly enough, Ayi and Fuseina are also the water business entrepreneurs. Now this has pros and cons to it. As we have seen in Wambong, the solar center makes much higher profits compared to the water treatment center. This will allow Ayi and Fuseina to grow their businesses and eventually open a bank account. The entrepreneurs will also be able to market the water business using the solar center. Community behavior change and priorities are different around drinking clean water vs. charging a cell phone. Cell phones are sexy. The immediate reward of being able to call a friend is much more gratifying than drinking a cup of clean water, where the health benefits are only seen over time and are hard to measure. Had the community selected two different women to run the solar center, there would be four women with business opportunities in KV rather than two. Our plan for now is to let the communities select the women for the pilots and go from there.
We were pushed back a day again because of a funeral in a nearby village. The dry season is peak funeral season in the Northern Region of Ghana. In the rainy season, the weather is unpredictable, the roads are bad and families are busy farming, which makes travel difficult. Usually when people pass away in the rainy season, they wait until the dry season to have the big family funeral.
Today, we arrived in KV and the center was looking great, fully plastered and beautiful in the hot sun! We brought the steel poles and solar panels to mount outside the solar charging hub. Community members helped mount the panels. We faced the panels due south at 81 degrees to get the most sunlight possible throughout the year, using this Solar Angle Calculator recommended by staff at Burro. Shak was resourceful and found a protractor to bring to the welder for the poles. He got the angle just right. I was impressed! We used a compass to get the panels perfectly due south!
Once the panels were mounted, Ayi and Fuseina came to start their first day of training. They showed up with big smiles, saying “Nawuni ni dey suhugu”, which means God answer your prayers (also used for thank you) in Dagbani. From past experience monitoring and working in Kurugu Vohoyili, I can vouch for these women and confidently say they are “on their game”. Since implementation in January 2012, their water business has flourished. There has not been one occasion where CWS field staff showed up to KV and found an empty polytank. You rock ladies!
For the solar training, we started with the basics, going over how the solar panels use light energy from the sun to generate Direct Current (DC) electricity, which is stored in the battery and then converted to Alternating Current (AC) electricity through the inverter. AC electricity or “mains” as it is referred to in Ghana is what we use to charge our appliances at home. We explained to the women how to wire the 2- 100 W panels together in a “series” connecting the positive cable of one panel to the negative cable of another panel, which builds the voltage. Then connected the negative cable of one panel to the negative charge of the battery and the positive cable of the other panel to the positive charge of the battery. The women did all the wiring and electrical taping themselves! When it was wired, we turned on the genset and voila! There was power! We plugged in a cell phone and a battery charger to make sure the equipment was working. There were oohs and ahhs from the surrounding crowd.
We discussed how to calculate watt/hours and how many devices can be plugged in based on the battery level. Burro put together some useful infographics: Genset Operating Guide that helped us explain this to the women. To start, the solar center will be charging cell phones and Burro AA batteries for the lanterns. We went over using the sales book to keep track of daily cell phone and lantern sales. We gave the women two containers – one for daily earnings and the other for long term savings. We also went over prices with the chairman and the entrepreneurs and agreed upon 10 pesewas (~$.04) per battery rental and 20 pesewas (~$.08) per cell phone charge. This money will go to Ayi and Fuseina, who can use their profits to invest in their families and to replace batteries or broken parts at the solar center.
Tomorrow, Shak and I are going to continue training day 2 with the entrepreneurs, further discussing battery charging, watt/hours calculations and keeping track of sales. We are also going to have the women completely rewire and put together the genset on their own without our verbal guidance. We are confident they will do great! Tomorrow, we will also be approaching households with lanterns to see if they want to invest 1 GHC in a lantern to be able to rent batteries at the center. More updates to come!