Do Something Awards!

Yesterday, I received this exciting email:

A nomination was submitted on your behalf for the 2010 Do Something Awards.  After reviewing your nomination we want to encourage you to complete the Do Something Awards application.

The Do
Something Awards identifies exceptional young (25 and under) social entrepreneurs, activists, and community leaders who have made a significant social impact. Do Something Award nominees and winners are the pivotal “do-ers” in their fields and causes.  Five nominees will be rewarded with a $10,000 community grant, participation in a live VH1 TV show,media coverage and continued support from The grand prize winner will receive $100,000 during the live broadcast.
We have received over 600 nominations, but so far have only recommended 30 of those nominated move to the next step and fill out the award application.   While I cannot guarantee that you will be selected as a Do Something Awards Finalist or Nominee,  I can guarantee that your application will be reviewed in the internal semi-finalists selection round (typically about 60 out of 700 applications make it to this round).
THANK YOU to whoever nominated CWS for this awesome award! We are honored to be considered!

The Ultimate Test of Patience and Perseverance: My Experience Buying a Truck in Ghana

In a previous post, I discussed how my work in developing countries has taught me a lot about patience. I pride myself on my ability to “go with the flow” when working in the field and I rarely let the many roadblocks that I encounter get to me. This week, however, my patience was truly put to the test, and while I have survived the experience, it was not pretty.

I think the best way to describe the past three days is through a timeline:

Monday February 22

4:15 am: Arrive at Metro Mass Bus station with Peter and Abass (our mechanic). We are actually 15 minutes late for the scheduled “report time” but, having travelled via bus in Ghana before, we are not worried.

5:00 am: Schedule departure for Kumasi (city in the Ashanti region of Ghana where we are planning to search for a truck for CWS).

5:20 am: Load bus.

5:45 am: Actual departure time. (this actually isn’t even that late by Ghana standards!)

12:05 pm: Arrive in Kumasi

1:00 pm: Arrive at guest-house (it was a little tricky to find). I get settled while Peter and Abass leave to go look for trucks. Our plan is to have them search for a good truck all afternoon and negotiate prices without me (if anyone knows that the truck is for a white American, the price will automatically double). They are then supposed to return to the guest-house with a list of our options that I can review.

3:45 pm: Peter and Abass return to the guest-house with a list of 5 trucks, all out of our price range by a long shot. I inform them that there is no way we can afford those prices and begin to get nervous.

4:00 pm: Peter and Abass leave for round 2 of truck-searching.

5:00 pm: Peter calls to inform me that they found the perfect truck! Abass says its in great shape and it’s the right price. I hop in a taxi and rush to the car “dealership.”

5:20 pm: I arrive at the dealership and see this:

It’s the perfect truck. Peter was right, it was just what we were looking for and he was able to negotiate an awesome price! We take it for a spin and I get very excited! The one downside – we have to pay in cash. Not money orders, not traveler’s checks, not checks, just cash. Now, having worked in Ghana for some time now, I knew that this would probably be the case. But, since I was (a) not sure how much cash we were going to end up needing and (b) very uncomfortable with the idea of traveling on a crowded bus with loads of Ghanaian Cedis in my bag, I figured that I would have to deal with this issue once we arrived in Kumasi.

5:30 pm: We leave the dealership and tell car salesman that we will return tomorrow but we are very interested in the truck. Maybe getting some cheap car insurance near me would be a good idea if we decided to get it. After all, insurance is a good idea, particularly for when/if an accident occurs, especially if you are able to get the best-priced car insurance available to you. Accidents can unfortunately happen even if you are driving carefully. As a side note, if you have recently been in a car accident then it might be a good idea to get a lawyer involved (you could use someone like this Georgia truck wreck lawyer) to help you with your lawsuit.

5:45 pm: We pass about a thousand Western Union signs and get the brilliant idea of having someone wire us the cash from our CWS bank account.

11 pm (5pm US time): First attempt to wire cash from the states. Failure.

11:30 pm: Second attempt to wire cash from states. Failure.

12:00 am: Third attempt to wire cash from states. Failure. Finally informed that the Western Union computer system in NYC has been down all night but should be working in the morning.

Tuesday February 23

9:00 am: I visit Bank #1 to see if I could withdraw the cash that I need from the international teller. The teller informs me of the maximum withdrawal limit and I realize that I may have to stay in Kumasi for 5 days to get the cash that I need from the bank.

9:30 am: Peter, Abassa and I return to the car dealership and explain to the salesman that we want to buy the car but may not have the cash until the evening (a slight fib on our part). In the meantime, we ask if we can start making the small repairs on the truck and take care of the paperwork. The salesman agrees.

9:45 am: We pull up to the Kumasi branch of the motor vehicle registration and insurance agency to get the necessary stickers for the truck. The line is very short, and we are thrilled!

11:30 am: Despite the very short line, we wait almost two hours, but leave with our stickers in hand! All in all, a success!

12:00 pm: We begin our search for the two new tires that we need for the truck. While Abass ensures me that “we will find,” after visiting 7 tire shops I am not so sure. Again, I have to wait in the car every time we go to a new shop so we can get a good price. It is about 100 degrees out. The car is very hot. While waiting, I try to brainstorm other ways to get cash.

2:30 pm: We find our tires!! However, on the way back to the car dealership, Abass informs me that he is not happy with the engine of the truck. He didn’t realize the problem at first, but now that we have been driving around, he is worried. Not a good sign.

3:00 pm: Abass and Peter re-negotiate the price of the truck, since we now need a new engine. The salesman agrees with the new price. We are happy.

3:30 pm: Abass and Peter leave with the truck to get the oil changed. I have them drop me at an Internet café to work on our cash problem.

4:30 pm: We tell the car salesman that we still don’t have the cash, but will hopefully have it by tomorrow morning.

5:00 pm: Return to guest-house, sun burnt, covered in dust, but still very excited about our truck.

5:15 pm (12:15 pm US time): Fourth attempt to wire cash to Ghana. Failure.

5:45 pm: Fifth attempt to wire cash to Ghana Failure. Abandon New York money-wiring mission and begin Boston mission.

8:30 pm: Sixth attempt to wire cash to Ghana commences.

11:00 pm (6:00 pm US time): SUCCESS! Wire transfer is complete! I just have to show up at Western Union in the morning with my MTN number and the money will be there for me!

Wednesday February 24

8:30am: Show up at first Western Union branch right as it opens, with a smile on my face and my MTN number in hand. Bank teller types in my number and this conversation commences:

Bank Teller: your number is not in the system. It is the wrong number.

Me: Can you try again. I am pretty sure that it is correct.

Bank Teller tries again.

Bank Teller: It is not in the system. This is the wrong number.

8:45 am (3:45 am US time): I call the states and confirm that I do, in fact have the right number.

Me: This number is definitely correct. Maybe the transfer has not been completed.

Bank Teller: No. Even if the transfer has not been completed, the number would be in the system. The number is wrong.

Me: The number is not wrong, is there anyone that we can call at Western Union.

Bank Teller: No. You should try another bank.

Me: Why should I try another bank if the number is wrong?

Bank Teller: You just should.

9:00 am: I try another bank. Repeat exact conversation with Bank Teller # 2.

9:25 am: Visit EcoBank, large international bank. I withdraw the max. amount of cash allowed and call Peter and Abass to meet me. Process takes just over an hour.

10:35 am: Hand over cash to Peter and Abass, tell them to go buy the new engine and the other random things that we need while I try to figure our cash problem. Also tell them to try to keep the car salesman happy, who is beginning to grow impatient.

10:45 am: Devise brilliant plan to visit as many different banks as possible and withdraw the maximum amount.

10:50 am: Enter bank #2.

11:15am: Leave bank empty-handed. Bank of America apparently does not like my brilliant plan and has put a hold on my account after withdrawal from bank #1.

11:20 am: Attempt to call Bank Of America. Failure.

11:30 am: Finally get customer service number for Western Union!!

11:31 am: Talk to rep. from Western Union who informs me that my number IS correct! They just need to confirm some “things” with the sending agent. No, they do not need any information from me. No, they cannot tell me what these “things” are. They ask me to hold.

11:40 am: Rep comes back on the line and asks me to continue to hold. I explain that this is an (expensive) international call. She asked me to hold.

11:45 am: Rep comes back on the line and tells me that our money is ready! YES! No, she cannot explain they delay nor tell me what “things” they needed to confirm.

1:00 pm: Return to car dealership and hand over cash to a very cranky car salesman. He finally cracks a smile and starts to count his cash.

1:05 pm: This conversation commences:

Car Salesman (while counting his money – all in 20 GHC bills might I add): Kate?

Me: Yes?

Car Salesman: I like you.

Me: Of course you do, I just handed you a bag of money.

Car Salesman laughs hysterically.

Big Alex bears an uncanny resemblance to his counterparts in the US

1:08 pm: This conversation commences:

Car Salesman (while still counting his money): Kate?

Me: Yes?

Car Salesman: You never asked me my name.

Me: That’s because I know your name. It’s Big Alex. It is spray-painted in huge letters all over the walls in this office.

Big Alex (while laughing hysterically): Kate you are my new daughter.

Me: Ok. Thank you Big Alex (secretly thrilled that he decided that I should be his daughter and not his fourth wife…)

3:00 pm: We leave for Tamale!!!!

Despite this trying process, I am so thrilled to be back in Tamale with our truck! Buying this truck has been a goal of ours for the past year and half and it is so exciting to have accomplished it! We will not be able to reach so many more villages more quickly and more efficiently and will not be wasting our money on taxis!! Next maybe I’ll look into getting a new quote on my car insurance from Money Expert. Thank you everyone who has supported CWS over the past 2 years, especially this holiday season, for making this possible.

Side Note: Mike and my Mom could each write their own post on the US-versions of this same story. Thank you guys for enduring all of your challenges with Western Union!!

Back to Work

Meeting with Alhassan, Soufoo and Sanatu to discuss the monthly payment plan in Nyamaliga

Today was my first official day back in the field.  I spent the morning checking up on Nyamaliga and Jarigu and was so excited to see everyone again!

Nyamaliga had recently decided to switch from a daily to a monthly payment system at their water treatment center. This was the village elders’ idea and it seems to be working well. I was excited that leaders in the community took the initiative to devise this payment plan and put it in action! Each family pays 50 peswas (~50 cents) each month and then can collect water from the treatment center as much as they like. Big families seem to be collecting everyday or every other day while smaller families are going about twice a week. The first month using this payment method ends on Monday. I am planning to meet with Sanatu and Hawa (the women who run this center) to review the revenue and make sure that 50 peswas is enough to cover the cost of treatment while still leaving some left over for their wages. Based on the sales that Peter has observed so far, we expect the 50 peswas to be fine.

While I was gone, the Nyamaliga men got together and built a shade for the treatment center. It looks great and keeps the water in the polytank nice and cool! It was exciting to see that the village came together and worked on something for the water treatment center. Like their new payment method, it shows that Nyamaliga really feels ownership over the water business-which is one of our main goals!

The Nyamaliga water business. Check out the new shade!

After visiting Nyamaliga, I spent some time with Alhassan at the Jarigu water business.  He is doing great, but for the past two weeks, water sales have slowed down a bit. This was a little confusing because Jarigu has had consistent sales ever since we opened the water business last October. Tomorrow, Peter and I are going to visit some households in the community to see if we can get to the bottom of the drop in sales and may suggest the monthly payment method for Jarigu as well.  I’ll keep you posted on what we find!

Thank you!

I just wanted to write a quick Thank You post to everyone who help organize and everyone who attended the CWS Medfield Fundraiser on February 6th. It was a huge success, and we raised over $6,000 for Community Water Solutions! Every little bit can make such a huge difference here in Ghana and we raised much more then we were hoping to!

A special thanks to Jill Moran for teaching me all about planning an event, the Rhythm Room for their amazing performance, the Kingsbury Club for hosting our fundraiser, and our FOUR new village sponsors!!

The Community Water Solutions Boston Team (we missed you Mike!)
The Rhythm Room!

Back in Ghana

Thats right friends, I’m back! I arrived in Accra on Tuesday evening and will be spending a few days here before heading up to Tamale on Friday morning.  I am excited to be back in Ghana and have had a great time so far catching up with my friend (and old roommate in Tamale), Lisa!  Lisa is an intern with the World Food Programme and spent 4 months in Tamale and is now in Accra for her last few months.

Stay tuned for more updates from Tamale soon!