It’s crazy to think that less than a week ago we were saying farewell to the 2017 Winter Field Reps. Thanks to this group of awesome, driven individuals, Saha was able to partner with with 9 communities in Northern Ghana to open 7 new water treatment businesses and 2 new solar charging businesses, which provide jobs to 21 new entrepreneurs. 1,664 people now have permanent access to safe drinking water and 752 people have access to reliable, clean solar electricity. Additionally, 5 of our water entrepreneurs have now been trained to run solar businesses, increasing their earning potential!
Alex C, Alex K, Ann, Becky, Caleb, Caroline, Celine, Elijah, Erin, Joanne, Kalin, Kevin, Laura, Lexie, Louis, Matt, Maureen, Micah, Mona-Mae, Morgan, Nikita, Olivia, Qingyi, Sarah, Shaminika, Shane, Shanelle, Shannon, Terynek, Tess, Walker, Wyatt, Yu and Zulean,
We can’t believe that just under a week ago, we packed our bags and loaded up in front of GILLBT for the last time! We are so grateful for the excitement, enthusiasm, hard-work and positivity that you brought to team Saha. Because of you, thousands of people are living their lives with more opportunities for health and happiness. It was such a pleasure to work with all of y’all, and we consider ourselves lucky to count you as part of Sahayili! As you head off to your next impactful adventures, please don’t forget your community and all of us here at Saha, and let us know what we can do to further your missions.
They may have left Ghana, but we’ve got one last update from a Saha team written on their (first) last day in their community. Take it away Team Sita:
As we were sitting on the thin wooden bench in the middle of our village, we began to reflect. We had sat on that thin, wooden bench two weeks earlier when we were asking permission from the chief elders, and community to implement a water treatment center. However, this time we were sitting on that bench to say goodbye to Kombonaayili and thank them for all of their help. There was no doubt in our minds that the past three weeks have been an adventure and some of the best we’ve ever had and with those three weeks came a lot of firsts for each of us.
This trip was my first experience in Africa. I have never ever been across the Atlantic before- a useful fact for those Never Have I Evers. I was not sure what to expect in the “city” I would be staying in or the village I would be working in- I didn’t even know if they used bathrooms, for example, and if so, what kind. Through my weeks, the thing that struck me most were not the differences between what I felt would be a strange planet and the U.S., but the similarities. The city doesn’t have the sky scrapers I’m more familiar with, but it bustles all the same. The people I encountered loved to tell jokes and laugh with me about them. It was a way of welcoming me that surpassed any greeting. The children love to play with us, completely ignoring the fact that we are bizarre-looking strangers. After three weeks here the differences are hardly noticeable. I’ve been welcomed by so many people, both directly and indirectly, that this place has started to feel like a home away from home. I am sad to see it go- Komonaayili, Tamale, Ghana, and Africa in general.
This trip was my first time using a bathroom that essentially was a separated “room” and a cement floor with a small hole in this wall to drain everything to the outside. At first it was somewhat scary, but after 2 weeks of using the restroom around 10 am every day, it became part of my daily routine. You only really get to know a village if you use their bathroom.
I can honestly say that this trip was the first time I have ever made a baby cry just by looking at it. .I wish I was exaggerating. Some of the children in our village have never seen “salameenses” (It means white people, but is used to describe all light-skinned foreigners) before or even heard of one for that matter so we must seem like aliens to them. I remember walking into one household and seeing a bay about two years old screaming and running away from me. Unfortunately, he ran into the house I was about to go into so the screaming continued. While I was in the house one of the women picked up the small boy and shoved him in my face as to say “see they aren’t that scary” but it just made him scream louder and squirm until the woman let him go. For the remainder of the time he sat on another woman’s lap with a shawl over his face to keep him from seeing us and to silence his screams. This is of course just one instance out of many, but it is definitely one I’ll never forget and one that I can hopefully look back and laugh at.
I never ever in my 22 years of life imagined that I would be betrothed so early. I was one of the fortunate ones that had been chosen by one of the village chiefs to be a second or even third wife (polygamy is a normal practice in Northern Ghana). This was obviously just said in jest, and no rings were ever exchanged. No, mom, there is no reason to alert the U.S. Embassy. I am indeed coming back home, promise! But it was not uncommon to hear a man ask Sean, my teammate, if he could have one of “his” women. Sean would very graciously decline and try to explain that we belonged only to ourselves. But after two days, he was practically giving us away for free.
Now, this may make the villagers seem as if they treat the women as a commodity, however that was not the case. All of the women we met were powerful and outspoken. It was almost surprising to me at first. They could carry babies on their backs and a bucket of water on their heads, as they carried other items in their hand. They did not seem to hold back on their thoughts, even when there were men around. And even today, as we sat on that wooden bench, when we were trying to make sure to reiterate the importance of the women in the village and their role in the treatment center, we were received with only reassuring agreement. It was one of the top moments in that village, probably next to getting “engaged” numerous times.
Overall, no matter what our firsts have been, they have only served to open our eyes, our minds, and our hearts. So if you ever decide to apply as a field rep, be prepared to have many interesting firsts!
Today began with uncertainty… Last night we lay restless with the thought that our Poltyank water could be contaminated. On the ride to Futa today, we anxiously waited for Kathryn’s call to disclose the water tests. To our relief, the water was clean! Although we were one man down (feel better Jess!) we were so excited that opening day had finally arrived!!! We got to Futa and quickly realized the key to the Polytank was with our fallen team mate back at the guesthouse. Yet there was a solution: our translator TJ, a rock, and a screwdriver after much effort cracked it.
There was a buzz in Futa upon our arrival. Several women had sent their children ahead to queue up for the opening. Our three entrepreneurs, Fati, Mariama, and Sanatu, met us at the treatment center, ready to make their first sales. Quickly a line formed and it seemed all of Futa’s women were ready to claim their clean water with their safe storage containers in hand. We eagerly jotted down ever family that came to the center, remembering their households during the container distribution days.
Many women tried the water firsthand and loved the taste, comparing it to sachet water locally found in town. The transformation from mucky dugout water to clear, safe drinking water was amazing. In order to celebrate the success of the center and the water’s outcome, many laughs were had and there was even a dance off between Jeremy and Fati (Fati clearly won). Out of the 32 households, 27 were present at the center. Fati, Mariama, and Sanatu did a wonderful job running their business and were beyond thrilled to be providing their community with clean drinking water.
To finish off the day, a few egg and bread sandwiches were in order to commemorate the business’ opening. Now for some Fanmilk and much needed naps! More to come, stay tuned…
Over the course of the of the past week and a half our team has been working in the village of Vogu-Gundaa which is about an hour’s drive outside the city of Tamale. Saha Global implemented a clean water system in this community 2 ½ years ago and now we are working to install a solar center to provide the community with clean electricity. During our meetings with the chief and the community we learned that they are currently using kerosene lamps and lead acid batteries to power flashlights for lighting. They have experienced the harmful effects of these products but do not have other options to have light in their homes. Our goal is to install a solar center that can charge reusable batteries for lanterns as well as charge cell phones and other small appliances.
These past few days we have been working to construct the physical structure that will house the solar center. Yesterday we worked with the community to set up the solar panels. We also started to train the women who will be running the business. We are very lucky to have 4 women that currently run the water business in the village and who will also run the solar business. Miriam, Abebeta, Awaab, and Fati have all been very excited about learning how the system works and getting started with the solar business. The typical Saha business only has 2 women running it but we have found that with 4 women there is a lot of energy for this project and they are wonderful at working together. We are very proud of how well they are doing and excited for them to run this business!
The next step of training was putting the system together. Today we disconnected everything and they put it back together independently so they knew how everything works. We have been talking them through the processes and it was so great to see their excitement when they flipped the switches and the lights came on showing that the batteries and phones were charging. This is great progress for this community and it was awesome to see how happy they are about this potential.
Now that we have installed the solar system itself and begun training the women, our next steps are finishing their financial training and beginning distribution of the lanterns to the community. We have 43 households in our community and each will have the chance to purchase lanterns for a very reduced price so every household can afford it. Everyone we have talked to is very excited about the prospect of having lanterns in their households to provide light for cooking, studying and nightly chores. They are also very excited to charge their cell phones in their own community rather than traveling to town to do so. We have had a great time working with the women and the community, and are very excited to see this business prosper for the social and economic benefit of all members of Vogu-Gundaa.
“Despa! Despa!” The children shouted, running after our car as we drove up. Today was our sixth day working in Sagbarigu; we finished construction of the solar charging center, held our community meeting, and installed the solar panels.
The community we’re working in is very small, located about an hour outside of Tamale. They already have a Saha water business, and the owner, Sanatu, has been taking good care of things for the past year and a half.
The initial chief meeting went well, so we started building on Monday. Most of the women in the community were traveling for the first few days, so we didn’t have a chance to meet with the whole community until today.
We started off by going over the details of the business model, making sure to emphasize that the entrepreneurs are the owners, not Saha Global. Then we passed around a lantern and showed them its functionality, explaining the procedure for renting batteries and charging cell phones at the center. They had mentioned getting a television yesterday, so we mentioned that the charging center is expressly not for large electronics.
Near the end of the meeting, we opened the floor for questions. They asked how much everything would cost, whether they could buy extra lanterns, and when opening night would be. We told them that prices were up to the women running the business, but that they could buy extra lanterns from them later on if they needed to, and that we are scheduled to open next Wednesday!
Team Nestor is having an amazing time working with Saha Global! The past couple days have been so rewarding for everyone involved in this mission to bring clean water to our village of Naha. Yesterday we had our community meeting with the village of 45 households. After we explained the entire Saha process, the village told us how appreciative they were for our effort to bring them safe water and we said we were so excited to begin working with them. We had our taxi loaded up with a Polytank stand and two big blue drums- a funny sight to see driving through town and down a dirt road to our village.
After we unloaded our supplies, we played a game of soccer with some of the many children of Naha. It was us and Nestor vs. the kids. Needless to say, the kids were much better than us and Nestor carried the whole team. Soon after, we too Nestor out to a surprise lunch of TZ because its his favorite dish and he’s the best translator (in our opinion). We headed back to the office to check on our lab results of the dugout water that they drink, untreated. We found some of the worst results that have been seen in a while. Our 3M test was covered in blue dots, which indicate E. Coli. It was a sad sight, but the good news is today we started training Aranhanatu and Madamu how to clean the water.
We started by cleaning the inside and outside of the Polytank and 3 blue drums. The Polytank is so big that Nicole had to go inside of it to clean it. Nestor and Cayla may have rolled it around a little to scare her… it was all the kids’ idea! All of us helped collect water to fill the blue drums, and yes carrying things on your head is as hard as it looks. After we finished alum training, we headed back to the Saha office, blasting “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” and teaching Nestor the words. Tomorrow, we hope to finish the training process and start distributing safe storage containers! We can’t wait for our opening day on Sunday!
We can’t believe that it was just a little over a week ago that we were sitting at the top of Giddipass cheers-ing all your hard work, closing the 2015 Summer Global Leadership Program with an epic dance circle.
YOU DID IT! We are so grateful for your dedication to fundraise, visit doctors, and struggle with visas, sit on a 12+ plane ride followed by an 18 hour bus ride, smush into a taxi for a ~2 hour ride out to your village, work under the sweltering African heat and sun, eat the chicken and rice, jump in the cold showers, and own the layer upon layers of dirt.
Working in some of the most remote villages in the Northern Region is hard work. The work to get these businesses up and running is grueling. Some days you may have asked yourself, “What the heck am I doing here?” But each day you rose to the occasion. Each day you were quickly reminded of the end goal, maybe from watching a child run to the dugout to grab a drink of extremely turbid water, talking to a mother about the effects of kerosene she has seen within her family, or chattin’ with the chief and elders about their community’s options for water or electricity.
Words can hardly express our gratitude. We really enjoyed getting to know each of you. Your passion and drive are infectious. From the moment you arrived in Ghana we were impressed by your energy, go-getter spirits, and ability to learn on the fly. You all were exactly what we needed on our team to reach our goal of 11 new businesses this summer. We are so proud of the work that you were able to accomplish and feel fully confident in the sustainability of the businesses that you implemented during your time in Ghana. Thanks to each of you, approximately 1,320 people now have a permanent source of clean drinking water, 2,240 people have access to solar electricity and 28 women have become business owners.
Welcome to the Saha Family!
Kate, Shak, Peter, Sam, Amin, Kathryn, Wahab & Eric
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.
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.
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!
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.
Many of the Warivi families are out of the community attending a funeral in a nearby village. But we are two days into monitoring and have reached 41 of our 48 households. In between household visits we’ve had many opportunities to play with the kids and talk to them about clean water.
Along with the other children of the village, Queen Z accompanies us on our household visits where we check in with the families about the use of their Safe Storage Containers (SSC). We ask about the last time they refilled their SSC, the taste of the water and the business hours of the water center. We ask whether or not they continue to use dug out water, reinforce the benefits of clean water, and inquiry about any problems they might have.
The women and men of the households share stories from the difference in taste of their teas with the clean water to their vows to only drink clean water–all highlights of our household visits. We say our “M bos” (That’s great!) and our Tipayas (Thank you) and give out a clean water bottle for the household.
The business ladies are proud of their center and it is always a joy to hear them talk of their sales and share news that people from nearby villages (who are in the process of moving their own water center) are buying clean water from them. They are grateful that they can provide this service to their communities and it shows in their dedication to the water center!
“Despa” from Team Shak! After two weeks of implementing our solar business and distributing lanterns to the village of Namdu 2, we had our opening night on June 23rd! Every household had received lanterns and had been trained on how to best use them earlier this week, but no batteries were available to be rented until opening night. In accordance with the Saha Motto, “Everything that can go wrong, will go wrong” we
arrived half an hour late to our village after losing Andrew while searching for coins; but we were on time according to Ghanaian time. And don’t worry, we found Andrew!
After four days of training, Wumbe, Rabi, and Fuseina were well equipped to run the business. Rabi and Fuseina are the water entrepreneurs, while Wumbe was chosen by the village because of her enthusiasm in helping to build the center. The women rented the batteries for 10 pesowas each, after changing the price to match the pricing in Namdu 1 so that one village does not lose business to the other.
People from the village were already lined up with their lanterns waiting for us so that they could rent their batteries. 41 of the 44 households in our village showed up to receive batteries. As soon as the window was opened, a steady stream of lanterns were shoved through by the eager community members. It took a small amount of time for the women to establish a rhythm of giving batteries, recording in the sales book, and exchanging money. However, the business was on fire, and in the end the women “killed it.” Everyone was super excited about their lanterns and wanted their pictures taken with the light illuminating their faces. All the customers who stopped by the charging station that night ended up walking away satisfied.