A Reflection on the First Day in the Village

Yesterday watched the fellows prepare to go into their villages for the first time. Armed with information from orientation about Ghana, the water crisis, and a deeper familiarity with the CWS implementation system and lab testing, their enthusiasm reminds me of my experience last year. It feels like the endless fundraising emails, plane flights and bus rides all lead up to the implementation process, and its hard to not feel some pressure to make sure that all the hours, dollars and energy has not gone to waste. Family, friends and the rest of our donors have put their faith in each of us to come into Ghana and change one small but essential piece of people’s lives. The challenge to seize the opportunity before us is an integral part of the CWS Fellowship program, and I wanted to share my experience in that it might give you an idea of some of the emotions hitting many of the fellows.

Almost exactly a year ago, my three teammates (Chris, Sharifa and Ianthe) climbed into our translator and friend Shak’s Jeep to set out for our village, called Kushini. I felt uneasy, although I didn’t betray my anxieties to the rest of my team. I felt like I was intruding on somebody else’s village, coming to inform them that what they were doing was wrong and how we would fix it. Even though I knew my intentions, the intentions of my team and of CWS as a whole were good, I feared what we were doing reeked of paternalism. I was anxious our village wouldn’t be receptive to our system – to us. As Shak’s Jeep slogged over the rain eroded dirt road leading to our village, the bumpy road only compounded my uneasiness in a physical way.

The first thing we saw pulling into the village was a goat perched on a log in the middle of a field of cassava. When the car pulled up, children peered at us curiously but excitedly. We approached a few older men resting in the shade who smiled warmly at us and insisted we sit down where they had been as they gathered more plastic chairs for themselves. We exchanged pleasantries, introducing ourselves and why we were there and after only a few minutes we learned that although the chief was not there that day, we would be able to meet with him and the village elders the next morning. We agreed.

The next morning we presented the CWS clean water system before a group of the men we had seen the day before – we noticed that they wore hats to signify their leadership positions in the village – and the Chief, a tall man who seemed to be in his early 50s who wore a patterned shawl, dark jeans and a small hat. He stared thoughtfully at Sharifa as she spoke, only shifting his attention to Shak for the translations and nodded affirmation after most of the passages. His reactions assuaged my fears, but his reaction took me back.

He told us that he knew the water the village was drinking was dirty and he knew that it made the village sick. He knew that it made his children sick. They had no alternative, he explained, but he recognized the opportunity that we brought and he thanked us for coming, considering it a blessing. We weren’t imposing our value systems on him or his village, we were simply giving them the chance to drink clean water, something he unequivocally and graciously accepted. The rest of the elders nodded as if to affirm the chief.

A few days ago, I returned to Kushini and had the chance to speak with the woman in charge of the water center. She told me through Amin, another CWS translator, that she had been well and that the water center was still open and supplying clean water to the village. A 4 year old I believed to be her son extended a bottle of clear water to me proudly. Monitoring and lab tests we took that day told the same story: Kushini was still drinking clean water.

Although I  find it validating to see the system in Kushini being so successful and refer to it as “my village,” its not. The clean water system in Kushini is working, buttressed by ongoing monitoring and support from CWS, because its theirs. That local ownership is what makes CWS projects work.