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Meet Our Field Reps: Caroline Awh

Caroline Awh picHi! My name is Caroline and I was a Saha Global Field Rep in June of 2014. I’m 22 years old, originally from Nashville, TN, but I’m currently living in Boston, MA, working as a research assistant and clinical research coordinator. I graduated this past May from Washington University in St. Louis with a major in Anthropology and a minor in Biology. I’m now applying to medical schools and have survived my first Boston winter!

As an aspiring doctor, I was motivated to work with Saha Global by the idea that by providing clean water, I was saving lives. I didn’t realize that just providing the clean water is not enough. I was blown away by the fact that the villagers had such a difficult time comprehending exactly why drinking the dirty, contaminated dugout water is bad for them.  Before the water business can ever be successful, the people must be taught (often repeatedly) to understand how dirty water can be harmful. Knowledge truly is one of the biggest barriers to good health, and that is a concept I will carry with me throughout my career.

I can’t even begin to explain how much I learned on the Saha Global Leadership Program about communication skills and teamwork. In just three weeks, four total strangers, armed with an amazing interpreter, are able to implement a clean water business in a village where you cannot understand more complex phrases than “Thank You” or “Good Morning.” I am confident that my work with Saha Global has immensely helped my non-verbal communication skills and my ability to work with others, skills that are invaluable regardless of what you want to do.

My favorite memory, though hard to choose, was probably when the chairman of Balamposo, Hannah, Julia, and sat cross-legged outside of his home, shucking corn. It was so wonderful, to be so warmly welcomed into their village and allowed to partake in their daily routines.

I had such an amazing experience as a field rep.  The feeling I had when we first saw clean, fresh water coming out of the spigot of Balamposo’s new water business was a feeling of relief, accomplishment, and hope I will never regret. I am currently organizing a letter-writing campaign to connect alumni with the villages they worked with, helping to keep alumni active and also to promote further adherence to drinking clean water.

You can reach me at caroline.awh@gmail.com with any questions about my experience as a Saha Global field rep. Also check to see what I am up to now!

Voices from the Field: Mekleet, Britt, Phoebe & Jessica

THE ROAD TO BELAMPUSO

Several years ago, you didn’t have to travel too far outside of Tamale to find a community without access to clean drinking water or electricity. Now, thanks to the work of previous Saha fellows, we are going further and further outside of the town center to find new communities to work with. As a newer project, there are nearby opportunities for solar implementation. Even so, Belampuso (formerly known as Balamposo!) is about an hour away by car, so our team spends a lot of time in the cab to and from GILLBT guest house, our home base in Tamale.

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Tejani (affectionately known as TJ or Teej) is at once translator, taxi driver, and friend. He usually arrives early, making fun of us, delayed as always, as we rush to gather our things and scarf down a carb-heavy breakfast. Recently, as we have entered the more rigorous building and training portions of our project, and out of consideration for the members of our communities who are fasting for Ramadan, we have been leaving at 5:30am!

Some mornings, when we aren’t falling back to sleep against the backseat cushions, we use the ride out to Belampuso to make final preparations for the day ahead, comparing notes and rehearsing prepared remarks for a community meeting or a training session or a monitoring routine. On the way home we reflect on the work that we did, or the interactions we had, and ways that we can improve the next day. Some afternoons we are quiet, looking out the window as Ghana unfolds around us. We have made the same round trip each day for more than two weeks now, but the beauty of this country and its people still amazes us.

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The drive to and from Belampuso is also a great time to get to know our team better. We are a very diverse group, with our own interests, backgrounds, and origins. We come from different schools and jobs, each bringing something unique to a project that requires a variety of skills and perspectives. Mekleet’s family is from Ethiopia. Phoebe’s family is from Hong Kong. Jessica is from Peru, while Britt hails from Boston and TJ from just outside Tamale. We have not yet met TJ’s mother, the famous baker of the soft fresh bread that, on the days we are lucky, greets us from the dashboard as TJ rolls into the parking lot. But we have met his cat, and a chicken with a new flock of chicks following behind her. Just this past week, one of the Fulani (nomadic cattle herders living on the outskirts of town, known for their milk and cheese) gave us a live chicken who we affectionately named Wagashi (the fried Fulani cheese we have grown so fond of!). Anticipating some push back if we tried to reserve a room for our new friend at GILLBT, TJ took it home with him. That day we were 6 driving back from Belampuso!

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In the car, we all have our idiosyncrasies.

Mekleet rides in the front where most of the dirt from the road whips up through the open window, so she has started wrapping her scarf around her face and securing her glasses over her pink nose, patterned eyes peeking out through the frames. It may seem like she can’t see, but she can, so beware of taking discrete selfies! Jessica can sleep anywhere, and the rocking of the moving car immediately lulls her to sleep as we make our way to and from town. Phoebe wears her safari style wide brimmed hat, despite the shade of the roof as she jots down project related notes. Britt gazes out the window, camera in hand, poised for the next kodak moment, of which there are too many to count. And TJ bobs his head and sings along to the music emanating from his cell phone, perched on the dash. The phone only holds two songs, but we have learned that he has many more favorites, and that he was in a band growing up. He promises to write a Saha rap before our time in Tamale is through!

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Monday afternoon, after a full day of distributing lanterns in anticipation of our opening night, we drove away from Belampuso, waving to the children who have gathered to say goodbye. “Tinya Taba” we call, and also, “Nawumni Labsena,” Britt throws in. The men laugh and wave. We think they are impressed by our Dagbani, but later Britt learns that she has said, “God grant you safe travels” which of course makes no sense when we are the ones heading out of town. Oh well. They laugh when we attempt the right greetings too!

A few minutes on the road and we run into a road block. Most days it is the Police stopping to ask us what our business is, but this day it is a full herd of cattle! We stop and get out to examine them up close before TJ informs us that they do in fact charge without warning. Back in the car we go. As the cows part and we make our way through we see several Fulani, sticks in hand, ushering the beasts to the side of the road. TJ yells something to the men. We have grown accustomed to what sounds like anger, but is often light hearted banter between drivers and pedestrians on the road in Ghana.

Tuesday night was the opening night of Belampuso’s solar charging center and as such we made our way home in the dark. The faint glow of the moon and the light from our highbeams guide our way through absolute darkness. We drive in silence, each gazing out through the windows as lights turn on for the first in Belampuso.

Usually, we keep the windows open, welcoming the breeze into the sun baked cab, even though the wind brings with it clay colored gusts of dust from the dirt road, coating everything in a layer of red. By the time we arrive back at GILLBT, often as much as 10 hours after we left, we are tired but satisfied, dirt clinging to the sweat on our brows, a new surge of energy carrying us quickly to the filtered water tanks and then to the welcoming cool of a cleansing shower.

Meet Our Entrepreneurs: Damu from Balamposo

Balamposo - Damu FEATUREDamu is one of our newest water entrepreneurs! She opened her business this past June after working with 2014 Summer Field Reps Haley, Hannah, Julia and Caroline. She is 48 years old and is the mother to six children. In addition to running her water business, Damu is also a farmer. Her favorite crop to grow is groundnuts (known to many of us as peanuts)! So far, Damu has really enjoyed her work and says that she is very happy to be providing clean drinking water to her community.

Voices from the Field: Team Sita (Haley, Caroline, Julia and Hannah)

The past few days in the village of Balamposo have been hectic, to say the least. We are almost ready to open up the CWS clean water center! Our two entrepreneurs, Bellamina and Damu, have been so wonderful to work with, and we are confident in their ability to keep the center up and running.

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Haley and Julia helpng Bellamina and Damu fill the 200-L Blue drums with dugout water. This is the water that the people in Balamposo are currently drinking.

Over the course of two days, we trained Bellamina and Damu in both water treatment and money management. We went into training thinking we would have to answer many questions and provide a lot of direction, but the women have proven to be tremendously intelligent and resourceful. We first demonstrated how to use the drums and polytank of the water center. The women of the village are much more skilled then us when it comes to fetching the water and balancing those buckets on their heads! We worked with alum to rid the water of its turbidity and then explained how to use the chlorine tablets to kill all the bacteria in the water. Although working with a translator during training can be difficult, it is obvious that Bellamina and Damu understand everything and are committed to providing a valuable service to their community.

Haley and Caroline teach Bellamina and Damu how to use alum to remove the turbidity from the water.

Haley and Caroline teach Bellamina and Damu how to use alum to remove the turbidity from the water.

The most incredible part of training these women is experiencing their own innovative ideas and eternal gratitude. Whenever an issue or question would arise, they would debate with the surrounding women and come to a quick solution. The efficiency of problem solving in Balamposo trumps any training we can provide. Additionally, they continue to thank Community Water Solutions despite knowing their own hard work is the key to success. During money management training, we stressed the importance of savings to ensure that all supplies are paid for and that they can adapt the center during changing seasons. Bellamina replied, ‘If we do not commit to this business and we let it fail, it means we do not love ourselves.’ They take their responsibilities very seriously and consistently express appreciation to us for giving them their start.

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We know that the future of Balamposo’s water center will not be completely smooth—there are bound to be bumps along the road to clean water for this wonderful village. We know that the success of the center will depend on Bellamina and Damu, but we hope that the training has provided them with all of the knowledge they will need. We can’t wait for opening day, when our wonderful entrepreneurs can put their skills to the test!

-Haley, Caroline, Julia and Hannah

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Our awesome translators, Khadijah and Sita, help Haley teach the ladies how to scoop water into the polytank where it will be treated with chlorine