To Be a Woman is Not Easy

When I was grocery shopping in Tamale a few weeks ago, I came across a woman selling bread at a food stand with a banner written across the top that read, “To be a woman is not easy”. Almost all the shops in Tamale have storefront names with powerful and sometimes silly sayings such as this one. To give you some examples,  “Everything by God”, “Serious Man Hot Food”, “Jesus Loves You Barber Shop” or “Home Sweet Home Kenkey”. The names usually make me chuckle but this one made me think.

Zenabu and her husband in Buhijaa
Zenabu and her husband in Buhijaa

I immediately thought of the women entrepreneurs that run the water treatment centers in the CWS communities. They are the complete embodiment of this very shop name… to be a woman is not easy in the slightest, especially in a rural village outside of Tamale.

Posing for the camera with 40 L of water on her head! - Sakpalua
Posing for the camera with 40 L of water on her head! – Sakpalua

Lydia, one of the women who runs the water business in Sakpalua, recently talked to Spring 2012 fellow, Chelsea Hodgkins, about what it means to be a woman in Sakpalua versus a woman living in Tamale. “The women in the city have it easy”, Lydia told Chelsea. “In the village, the women go to their farms very early in the morning and then are expected to come home, take care of the children then clean and cook for the family”, she continued. After hearing snippets of their conversation, I wanted to hear more about the lives of the women who run the water businesses on top of farming and taking care of their families.

A woman making shea butter in Kpanayili
A woman making shea butter in Kpanayili

Right now is one of the busiest times of the year for subsistence farmers because it is the peak of the harvest season in the Northern Region of Ghana. After the rains, everyone wants to collect their crops before it gets too dry. Some farmers leave as early as 4:00 AM so they can start working in the morning while it’s still cool. Farmers harvest groundnuts, maize, yam, soy beans, cassava, hot peppers, okra, tomatoes, rice, firewood, tobacco, cotton and cow peas to name a few. Not to mention that when it stops raining, the weddings and funerals start in the North.

So how do the women who run the water businesses find the time or the incentives to sell water during the peak of the harvest season? Well, it’s complicated.  For starters, people have run out of rainwater so the only option they have for clean water is treated water from the polytank. This means that the demand for clean water is there. And the incentive that drives many of the women to work at the centers is the same incentive that gets people to work at desk jobs back in the US, they want to make money to pay the bills. This monetary incentive has to be there because if women work at the centers strictly for the greater good of their communities, they will have no money to pay for aquatabs, broken parts or for the time they could have spent on their farms.

The beautiful Cheriba of Libi
The beautiful Cheriba of Libi

But what happens when people in the communities are collecting water from different sources? This is where the plot thickens. In Kpanayili, the people in the community are collecting water for cooking, cleaning and washing at nearby wells and streams. They will get water from these sources until they dry and then they will go back to getting water at the dugout. As noted before, the women in the communities already have long days so if they can lessen their load by shortening the walk to get water, then they will do it in a heartbeat. The problem is that the water treatment center is next to the dugout. This is not the case in all CWS communities at this time but there are several that deal with challenges such as this during the transition from the rainy season to the dry season.

The new moved and improved water treatment center - Tacpuli
The new moved and improved water treatment center – Tacpuli

So how can we convince people to make the extra walk just for clean water, while we wait for these other sources to dry? It’s not easy. While it may seem like clean water should be high on the priority list, the reality is that it’s not for everyone. Farmers are focusing on their harvest and prioritizing food over clean water because this is their sustenance. Farming is how people survive. If that means drinking contaminated water for 2 weeks so that they do not have to walk as far and as a result get more time on their farms, then they’ll take the risk.

Kusumi and her new baby girl, Fatima - Manguli
Kusumi and her new baby girl, Fatima – Manguli

In the long run, what will 2 weeks of diarrhea do if it means having more money for the family this year? If you asked this question to a public health official, they would answer A LOT. But the women working in these communities are not public health officials; they are simply trying to make their work as easy as possible. Because after all, to be a woman is not easy.



World Toilet Day!

Today is World Toilet Day! This meant nothing to me about a year and half ago. “World Toilet Day? Why on earth would we celebrate this? Wahoo! I have a toilet?” Now that I frequent Ghana, it takes a whole new meaning. I now have first hand experience of Ghana’s very different toilet situation.

In the more urban areas there is a lot of open sewage which makes for some interesting smells (*insert gag). But also the public toilets are less than desireable when “taking care of business”. You pay someone about 10 cents to use an un-maintenanced toilet. To be honest, I would rather just do my business openly.

toilet day

In the more rural areas that Community Water Solutions does it’s work, the “toilet” situation hits an all time low. Here are the two scenarios. Poo scenario: Open defecation/Bush of your choice. Pee scenario: concrete slab with a drain. This concrete slab with a drain is in a mud hut located within their compound that is used not only for showering but urinating as well. Just to give you a visual… a compound is about 4-7 huts hosting about 8 people; typically there is a man of the household, 1-2 of his wives, and kids galore. All 8 of these people urinate in one of these huts and the urine escapes through a drain which goes right into the footpath of the village. It makes us really grateful to think that in much more developed countries like ours, we have companies like FS Drainage to maintain our drainage and keep our drains clear from blockage. Fortunately, the professionals can quickly diagnose the problem and can provide solutions at a budget-friendly price. Moreover, the specialists can allow us to get guaranteed drain cleaning relief. Additionally, by providing drain unclogging services, the professionals happen to ensure that all our sewage and waste is never in close contact with us again.

Many a time we are doing our household to household monitoring, stomping through this pee. Kids playing, stomping through this pee. People with no shoes, stomping through this pee. (*insert gag). It is the only option they have and though it makes sense for them, its not doing much to control their contact with urine.

In fact, at times, the pipes clog as a result of the poor drainage systems, and water begins to pool on the surface. These occurrences may cause a slew of issues for the people who live in the house or neighborhood. In that situation, locals could directly look for the specialists comparable to Water Damage Restoration Experts in Ghana. The reason is that, while toilet clogs may appear to be a minor issue, they can lead to a variety of diseases, infections, and discomfort for a large number of people.

But water is just one step.

Now more than ever we need to get portable toilet hire companies and other waterworks businesses on board to improve the current situation.

So, come on, join the celebration of your toilet and increase the awareness of sanitation. Because that’s what we’ll be doing!

For more info on how to get involved go to


Social Enterprise Winners!

The CWS team is very excited to announce the winners of the CWS Social Enterprise Competition: Innova(Sun)!

CWS Co-Founders Kate and Chuck with Ben Powell from Innova(SUN) (Not Pictured: Ben’s Teammate Mark)

The Innova(Sun) team is made up of Fellow Alumni, Ben Powell and Mark Moeremans. Despite Mark being stuck in Europe for work and having to join the pitch via teleconfernece, the Innova(Sun) team did an incredible job of presenting their idea for solar-powered electronics charging businesses that will provide CWS villages with access to electricity.

Over the next year, Mark and Ben will be working with me and my co-mentor, Chuck, to develop a plan for piloting Innova(Sun) in a CWS village. Thanks to our amazing competition sponsors, Goodwin Proctor, Wolf Greenfield, and Foley Hoag, Innova(Sun) has $10,000 of funding for their pilot!

The Social Enterprise Competition Finalists!
The Social Enterprise Competition Finalists!

The Innova(Sun) pitch wasn’t the only great presentation at the competition finals. Kelsey & Zoe from Waste-to-Wealth, and Michelle & Alex from GroundNUTrition did an amazing job pitching their social enterprise ideas! I helped to moderate the final judging session, so I know that it was extremely difficult for the judges to pick only 1 winner. As mentors, Chuck and I are so proud of how far each of these teams have come over the past 11 weeks!

Finally, I would like to thank our judges: Una Ryna, Matt Tarditi, Vanessa Green and Mike Pomianek! As Innova(Sun) works to develop their pilot plan they will be writing a series of post on the CWS Blog. Make sure to check it out if you are interested in following their progress!


Meet Our 2013 Winter Fellowship Leader, Kristen!

It is with pleasure that I introduce you to our 2013 Winter Fellowship Leader, Kristen Felicione. Kristen was a fellow last year on the 2012 Winter Fellowhip Program and WOW-ed us with her fun, postive personality (despite her 2 hour drive on terrible roads) and her knowledge about the water crisis on a public health level. We are so thrilled that she will now be returning with us in December! Welcome to the team Kristen!


The second my foot touched American soil after my fellowship adventure, I knew I had to go back to Ghana at some point in my life. Luckily, the opportunity has come less than a year later, and I couldn’t be happier to be a part of the CWS team and ensure the 2013Winter Fellows have as great of an experience as I did.

I’m currently a second year graduate student at The George Washington University; I will be graduating in May with my MPH. Before my experience with CWS, I was passionate about philanthropy and health, yet all my work was on a domestic level. The fellowship allowed first hand experience of the health difficulties in the developing world. I tremendously support CWS’ mission and their continued work to mitigate the global water crisis. CWS’ model not only provides thousands of Ghanaians with clean drinking water, it enables villagers to take control of their health as a community. The project is also sustainable and monitored, two imperative aspects for survival of a public health intervention. Not only does CWS’ fellowship program aid many people lacking access to clean drinking water, but it also helps fellows become leaders, learn to think on their feet, and gain some perspective on their own lives.

Besides creating a water treatment center, there is plenty of fun to be had in Ghana! The translators are a blast to be around; I learned so much about Ghanaian culture from them (I listen to my HipLife music whenever I need to start the day out right)! I ate my first rat, realized some jokes just don’t make it through the language barrier, and taught 20 kids how to “High 5” all within 3 weeks! I can’t wait to be the 2013 Winter Fellowship leader and hear all about the fellows’ unique observations and achievements at the end of each day. See you in December!!!

-Kristen Felicione