Clear Water Doesn’t Always Mean Clean

In Kpanayili, this woman collects rainwater the right way! “She doesn’t joke with the clean water” – Peter

Two weeks ago while doing household visits with Wahab in Kpanayili, we entered the compound of a family that had a full safe storage container of clean looking water. We were delighted. “De viele, de viele” or “good, good”, Wahab and I said to Fati, the woman who showed us where her family keeps their drinking water. She smiled, shy but proud of what she had shown us. Upon further questioning, we found out; however, that while the rainwater this woman had collected in her safe storage container looked very clean, it was most likely contaminated and not suitable for drinking. Fati told us that she had used a clay pot to collect this rainwater from the tin roof above her husband’s bedroom, waiting five minutes for the rain to clear off the roof before collecting. She then told us that she had used her Guinea Worm filter, a mesh cloth that was distributed to her household by the Carter foundation to eradicate Guinea Worm (for more info on Guinea Worm click here or here), to filter water as she transferred it from her clay pot into her safe storage container. This clay pot had no lid and most likely stored dugout water (contaminated surface water) in it during the dry season, meaning that if tested in the lab, this water would come back positive for e-coli. Guinea Worm filters do not actually filter the water, they were used back in the day to make sure that these worms would not make it into the garrawas and buckets used for collecting water for household use. This mesh piece of cloth would remove some sediment at best, leaving all bacteria (the good and the bad) to multiply and stew. A water filtration system is the best and closest way to make clean water. If you are worried or concerned about the water you are drinking, it might be in your best interests to look for Best Water Filter Systems for maximum cleanliness.

It’s groundnut season in Zanzugu! Amin and I were given bags and bags full of groundnuts during household visits. We finally learned to say thank you but no thank you.

Wahab and I explained all of this to Fati, telling her that while her water looked clear, it was actually not clean for reasons X, Y and Z. “Awoomea”, Fati said or “I hear”. But would she actually get the message and follow through by properly collecting rainwater directly from the tin roof using her safe storage container? Wahab and I could only hope. We would not be there with her when the next rain hit. We would not be able to watch to see if she would use her clay pot again to store rainwater for drinking. The decision to make a behavioral change would have to come from Fati.

Amin uses salt-water solution to explain rainwater contamination to Wahab at a weekly office education meeting.

This is a common problem in many of the CWS villages that have tin roofs and collect rainwater during the rainy season. While we inform all of our communities on how to properly harvest rainwater, some people do not see a difference in using their clay pot versus using their safe storage container. After all, the clear rainwater looks so much cleaner than turbid dugout water. But how can we get them to intrinsically understand why this clear looking water is actually not clean? At our last staff meeting, this is a question that Peter, Shak, Amin, Wahab and I all pondered. We realized that we were going to need props if we were going to do this right.

Peter entertains a household in Kagburashe with some proper rainwater collection education! Which one would you choose?
Wahab uses a positive Total Coliform test to explain to a girl in Gariezegu how rainwater can get contaminated when collected in pots that once held dugout water.






Since then, we have been using water samples of contaminated rainwater that have tested positive for Total Coliform (a sign of contamination, shows up bright yellow in a test tube) and water samples taken from the polytank that have tested negative for e-coli and Total Coliform (shows up clear in a test tube). The CWS field staff has been using these two test tubes as a tangible demonstration given during household visits to show the difference between the clean and clear, the good and the bad. In order to get the children of these villages on board, we have also been conducting taste tests of a salt-water solution versus treated polytank water to show how clear water can have invisible germs inside and that you cannot always see what is in your drinking water. Almost every kid that tries the two spits out the salt-water solution in disgust! Clear does not always mean clean… or tasty.


Rain, Rain Won’t You Stay?

While it may be summer where you are, the rainy season is in full swing. There are two seasons in most of the areas– the rainy season and the dry season. So the terms “winter, spring, summer, fall” don’t mean much here. The rainy season usually lasts from June until October and August is the month when the rainy season is in full force. This year places are not getting the rainfall that they normally do in August. It has been raining about once or twice a week at most in comparison to last year where it rained heavily almost every other day. Rain is crucial for several reasons. Most farmers plant their crops (yams, cassava, groundnuts, corn, rice) at the beginning of the rainy season and rely upon the rain so that their harvest will grow. Irrigation systems are not common among these rural, subsistent farmers. The rainy season is also a nice break from the brutally hot sun that people endure for most of the year.

The flooded road. Amin contemplating– to cross or not to cross? After talking to the boys on the road, we opted for the latter when they told us that a moto had just stopped working after being submerged in mud and water. Until next time!
This woman keeps tally marks on the wall behind her safe storage container to track how many times she has gone to buy water since opening day!

For CWS villages, the rain is very much in line with drinking water. All of the 38 CWS communities rely upon surface water (usually in the form of dugouts) in order for their water treatment centers to function. When it rains, their dugouts fill with water and when it does not rain, this increases their chances of their dugout drying up during the dry season. A dry dugout means no water to treat, which means a closed water treatment center. For example, in Kpachiyili, a village that was implemented in during the winter 2012 fellowship program, they have not been getting much rain. The water level of their dugout is much lower than it usually is this time of year. And their dugout is not the only one. Rain dance anyone?

Sana, the lady who runs the water treatment center, gives Amin fresh milk to bring home.
Corn harvesting has just begun!
A donkey businessman— this boy carries water from the dugout for Azaratu to treat at the water treatment center that is now in town. In June, this businessman was charging 60 pesawas to fill one 200 L drum of water, an obscene amount considering what Azaratu rakes in! After holding a village meeting, this donkey man is now filling free of charge in exchange for his family to use the center for free.

Many of the villages (but not all) also have households that have at least one tin roof that they use to harvest rainwater. So many of the villages will collect rainwater with their safe storage containers to drink and rainwater with their pots for cooking, cleaning and washing. At this time of year, the rainfall is usually so frequent that people can rely upon this system to harvest drinking water. In fact, even in cities, many people purposefully build their homes in the same manner. That’s because it looks classy, and it’s also useful in areas prone to heavy rains and snowfall. They simply install an eavestrough to remove any water or snow that might get accumulated on the roofs. It can help to reduce the amount of extra cleaning that is required. Furthermore, they only need to visit the website like to get it cleaned on a regular basis and get it over with.

Homeowners in cities use a variety of methods to protect their properties from damage caused by rain. For example, they frequently install siding outside their homes to keep water out. The sidings can keep dampness away from the walls and ceilings. That is why so many people contact Greensboro siding contractors or those in their immediate vicinity to obtain these services. The siding can also rescue the homes from wild weather like rain, snow, and wind while also assisting in proper insulation. However, villages may not be able to incorporate these services into their homes (mud homes) because of a lack of facilities and cemented houses.

Anyway, now that it is not raining as often, their 20 L buckets of clean rainwater run out before the next rain comes. In several CWS partnership communities, such as Jerigu, Chani, Nyamaliga, Kpalung, Laligu, Libi, Kagburashe and Kpanayili, the CWS field staff has encountered households that transfer rainwater collected from their pots (that they also use to hold dugout water) into their safe storage containers. This is a big red flag –contamination alert!! And the water samples taken from these containers almost always come back positive for e-coli.

Wahab posing with Fuseina, the lady that runs the water treatment center, and some of the women making Shea butter!

The CWS field staff has been upping the household visits, encouraging people to buy drinking water from the water treatment centers rather than wait for a rain that may or may not come. The households that do this are usually unaware that their water is contaminated. If the rainwater looks clear, then how can it be contaminated? To address this issue head on, CWS field staff, Peter, Shak, Wahab and Amin, have proposed starting short, simple educational presentations to hold in classrooms and in village meetings, to promote germ theory awareness in villages where this has become a problem. As of now, we are all praying for rain, more updates to come.


Peter fixing a leaky bucket

Introducing our 2012 Fall Fellows!!!

We are so excited to announce our 2012 Fall Fellows:

steve cassle

nicole muntean

lauren pitts

joseph usenia

jessie ashbourne

brittany barrett

lubna ahmed

tiffany shannon

We can wait to meet you all in Ghana and wish you the best in all of your fundraising efforts!

Jealous? Get your application in for the Winter Fellowship Program which will take place from Dec. 27th through January 17th! Applications due September 24th at 5:00pm EST!

CWS On the Road: Togo

This July, Kate and I traveled around West Africa to scout some new regions for potential CWS expansion. We visited Liberia, Burkina Faso and Togo and are documenting our trip in a series of blog posts called “CWS on the Road.” The funding for CWS’ expansion trips came this spring from an anonymous donor – THANK YOU for supporting CWS and allowing us to explore the possibility of working in new regions!

After a whirlwind week in Burkina, Kate, Peter and I headed south into Ghana’s svelte neighbor, Togo. Though in terms of latitude Togo and Ghana are identical, in terms of attitude these neighbors are worlds apart. The first noticeable difference between Ghana and Togo is the official national language: Bienvenue au Togo, Ghanaians! Luckily, after a week in Burkina, Kate and I were confident in our ability to get food, shelter and water-related information out of any French speakers that crossed our path. Even our driver Abdullah, whose dislike of all things not Ghanaian was so extreme it was comical, got into the swing of things.  He quit CWS’ french class after ”bonjour” and ”merci”, but anything was an improvement from his initial, high – volume ”You Speak English?!*#?”.

CWS staff welcomes YOU to Togo!

For our first Togo trip, we decided to concentrate our efforts in its’ northern region, basing day expeditions out of Dapaong and Kara. We settled on this strategy for two reasons. First, we wanted to choose one region of the country and spend more time exploring it in-depth. Second, we thought that the geology, hydrology, social  and political conditions of Northern Region, Ghana, that makes CWS’ work particularly appropriate there might extend into parallel Togo.

Peter checks out a barrage in a small community outside of Dapaong. Though this village has a working pump, they use their dam to water their cattle and to wash their clothes.

Our strategy paid off. Over the course of four days we were able to explore many back roads and talk to Togolese people of many different walks of life. Everyone from the immigration officials to priests to farmers to (practically Togolese) Peace Corps Volunteers had a different take on the water problem, but (unlike our Burkina experience) most did view access to clean drinking water as a pressing regional concern. Though many communities do have groundwater pumps that supply them with clean drinking water, in many places the number of these pumps is inadequate to meet all drinking water needs, or the distance to the nearest pump is too far to make the daily walk worthwhile. In other smaller or more remote communities, hand-dug wells or streams are the only source of water at all.

In this community people rely on water from open wells to meet their drinking water needs. The community had a pump that broke and there are no immediate plans for repair.
Women collect gravel from a stream to sell for construction purposes. Water from this marigold will also be used for drinking.
Another long-standing well where people come for water.

In considering the northern region of Togo for potential expansion, we are evaluating several things. Obviously the first is need. From what we found this trip, the need in this area of Togo, though not as large as in Northern Region Ghana, is there. The second major thing we are evaluating is appropriateness of the CWS solution. Will we be able to w0rk the exact same way we work in Zanzugu or Yapelsi in a Togolese setting? No. Way. Community structures are different, water quality is different, language and staffing considerations are different; many important determinants of what we do and how well we do it in Northern Region  would need to be evaluated here in Togo before we could begin to consider setting up shop in Kara. And while we are a technologically-agnostic, small and flexible organization, we don’t want to re-invent the wheel or come up with a solution beyond our capacity. Basically, we will need to see a lot more, both in Togo and in other places, before we can decide where our time and energy will be spent most effectively.

However, these four days were a great introduction to a wonderful country! I look forward to using what I learned this trip in the next few weeks and months, and hopefully getting back for round deux to learn more!

– Kathryn

Ramadan: Fasting All Day Means Every Drop of Clean Water Counts

Today marks the 14th day of Ramadan. Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar where Muslims fast from dawn until sunset, going without food or water for 30 days. The only people who do not fast are nursing or pregnant mothers, children under the age of 18, the elderly and the sick. While Ghana is a predominantly Christian country, the Northern Region has a large Muslim presence. The majority of CWS villages are also Muslim and therefore fast during the month of Ramadan.

CWS field staff, Amin, Wahab, Shak, pose with the chief of Kadula and Azaratu, the lady who runs the water treatment center, after a long morning of household visits to promote rainwater harvesting in Kadula.

In the last 2 weeks, CWS field staff members have encountered many safe storage containers full to the brim with clean water. Storage containers usually are small drums containing safe, clean water; however, some humanitarian companies find that using storage container rental companies could aid with the transportation of safe drums and delegate to areas in need. This is something that we love to see because it usually means that the household has just recently filled from the water treatment center. However, this month we have found that it does not always mean just that. When CWS conducts household visits in our implemented villages, we always ask a member of each household: “When was the last time you filled your safe storage container with clean water?” –translated in Dagbani – “Ka bon dali kayi tougi?”. The average response that we get is that someone in the household filled 2-3 days ago. Lately, we have had people tell us that they filled their safe storage containers over a week ago! Now how is it that a household of 8-10 people can go over a week without drinking 20 L of water? Well because of Ramadan people are drinking much less water. Also, since it is the rainy season, it has not been as hot in Tamale. I’ve asked a few fasting Ghanaians if it is hard to fast during Ramadan. The responses have been the same, “With this weather? Oh no, it’s easy to fast when the clouds are in the sky.”

Rainwater harvesting in Baramini’s compound in Gidanturu
Peter chats with Kukuna, the lady that runs the water treatment center in Cheko, as she makes the “local maggi”

Since most people are fasting, they are drinking less water during the day. This means that when people are drinking water before sunrise or after sunset, they have to make every drop count! In our household visits, CWS staff members have been emphasizing the importance of drinking clean water once the fast is broken. Even though most parents are fasting, it’s essential that the children still have access to the safe storage containers throughout the day. It is so important that everyone has access to clean water all of the time as it can massively benefit your health. If you are interested in filtering your own water, you may want to contact Water Filter Advisors for further information.

A Family in Yapalsi keeps 4 clean cups on their safe storage container, ready for drinking clean water!
Amina pours water for a customer at the second opening day in the village of Galinzegu. 25 households came to fill their buckets!

One household that Wahab and I spoke to in Kpalguni explained to us that they had just run out of water that morning because the family had gathered together to drink water to ensure strength for a day of fasting. The community members of Jagberin have agreed to help Fulera and Aisha, the ladies that run the center, fill their blue drums with water from the dugout during Ramadan. Since many of the women who run the CWS water businesses are fasting, they are weaker than usual during this month. In Yapalsi, Amin and I came across one household that has four clean cups sitting on top of their safe storage container, so that eager family members can break their fast with clean water at sunset. It seems that Ramadan is bringing people together to share clean water in many of the CWS villages this month!


A woman secures her safe storage container to her bike after filling at the second opening day in Galinzegu!

CWS On the Road: Burkina Faso

This July, Kate and I are traveling around West Africa to scout some new regions for potential CWS expansion. We are traveling to Liberia, Burkina Faso and Togo and will be documenting our trip in a series of blog posts called “CWS on the Road.” The funding for CWS’ expansion trips came this spring from an anonymous donor – THANK YOU for supporting CWS and allowing us to explore the possibility of working in new regions!

After a couple hours back in Tamale – just enough time to enjoy some good food and friends, re-supply our travel bags with clean clothes, and catch some sleep in our own beds – we hit the road once more, with Project Manager Peter Biyam in tow. This time our destination was Burkina Faso, a francophone, landlocked country directly north of Ghana. Several hours of driving and one complicated border crossing later, we found ourselves lost in “the coolest name[d] … capital city in the world” (thanks, Lonely Planet): Ouagadougou. Wonderful Ouaga! Here we would score 1. the most detailed and handy map ever to grace my lap 2. a salad-and-rice-and-tomato sauce obsession that single-handedly fuel the Burkina and Togo exploits of our Ghanian travel buddies (something about the beans-n-rice/chicken-n-rice/food-in-general Burkinabé style did not sit right with the Tamale travelers – culture shock is not a solely Salaminga experience!).

CWS staff do Burkina Faso!

Over the course of a week, we managed to explore the south-west, north-east and south-east of this beautiful country. With our linguistic powers combined (high school French, small small Moré and Hausa), we were able to talk to college grads, cattle herders, chiefs and children that we met along the highway/road/trail/footpath about their water situations. Our strategy was simple: drive to the most remote communities in the least-developed regions, ask lots of questions (“Que’ce-qu’il y a un pumpe dans cette village? Une barrage? Ou allez-vous pour l’eau d’boire?”), and see for ourselves what and how people lived and drank. Along the way we learned lots of new words (puits = well, marigold = stream, fou = crazy, bizarre = you get the picture…) met lots of incredibly friendly, patient and hospitable people, drove down many back-bush roads and only headed for home when the sun set, the rain chased us back, or flooding turned our road to river.

Using rigorous scientific techniques, Kathryn and Peter asses water depth in a hand-dug well. This source was only used for laundry.
Peter and Kate smile as a storm blows past
While our 4×4 could handle a lot, this flooded “road” was too ambitious even for us.

What we found really surprised me. Burkina Faso is one of the poorest countries in the world; its GDP per capita is half that of Ghana’s. These sorts of economic indicators led me to expect potholed roads, few working pumps and lots of unimproved drinking sources. What we found were higher rates of french-speakers in remote villages than english-speakers in Northern Region (an indicator of educational opportunities and integration into the national economy) and well-maintained roads to put the Tamale – Kumasi highway to SHAME. Most importantly for our work, there seemed to be a consistent and pervasive network of functioning hand-pumps in place. Unlike in Liberia, our anecdotal experience suggested that there was an effective public/private supply chain in place to fix broken pumps – we found much fewer broken pumps, and where we did come across them, people seemed more confident about their repair. The two or three villages that we came across who were drinking from unimproved sources were usually small (less-than-five houses) and new: certainly not to be dismissed, but maybe just waiting to be incorporated into what seems like a competent existing water network.

Peter checks out a working pump – this was the oldest model we saw, working since 1985!
Just like in Northern Region, women and girls in Burkina are responsible for collecting their family’s water. Here a few gather by one of the village’s several pumps to fetch drinking water for their family. Looks clean!
Though most villages have pumps, surface water are still important sources of water for life in rural communities. This lake will be a source of drinking water for the five houses in remote Ambara until it dries up in the spring. The water situation in Ambara is atypical for Burkina, but still deserves attention.

All this is not to say that Burkina Faso is an under-the-radar utopia. Burkinabés’ lives seem to be difficult in many of the ways that life is difficult in Ghana, and the water situation in particular is far from ideal here. The people that we met in our travels, however, had a lot to teach us about a different way of life just north of the border. Fulani women with silver in their hair, Mossi men riding cows to their fields, goats that look like gazelles, poulet yassa and ancient mud-relief mosques took us by surprise and made our trip to our northern neighbor constantly intriguing.  For a place so geographically, hydrologically and socially similar to the northern region where we work, we were still forced to constantly reevaluate our assumptions. Though it may not be CWS’ most logical next move, Burkina’s capacity for surprise make me hesitant to draw any final conclusions from our week-long trip.

Fulani girls check out the strangers at their stream.
Ancient mosque (from afar); outside the northern Burkina town of Dori
Until next time, Burkina!

Au revoir, Burkina! Next up, Togo….

– Kathryn