After having set up our Solar Panel System we needed to start looking for things to charge. With that in mind, Shak, Ben, and I took a trip to Melcom in downtown, Tamale. Melcom is a huge store with lots of furniture and appliances as well as some grocery items… imagine Target meets Ghana? We were able to find four different types of rechargeable “lamps” that we decided to test. We wanted to make sure the lanterns we ended up distributing to the community were bright, easy to charge, long lasting, and durable, and thought it would be a good idea to have options before narrowing down our selection. We came back to the CWS office and had all four lanterns and two cell phones charging at once from the electricity we’ve been collecting the past two days.
This morning it was go time, and Ben and I were up and out by 6:30 AM on our way to pick up Shak and make our way to Wambong. Wambong is approximately an hour and fifteen minutes away on a nicely paved road, so it’s actually not a bad trek at all. Ben was anxious to get back to “his” village and see some familiar faces from three years prior. The first day in the village is critical because they have no idea that we are coming or what we are planning, so it’s important that we have a plan to explain who we are and what we’d like to accomplish in order to get their buy-in and support. We also had to be prepared for the possibility of having our chief meeting. All major decisions in the community are made by the village chief – typically a very old man responsible for the well being of his community. In order to get the green light to start building our center we would need his approval and wanted to have our pitch ready to go.
Unfortunately, our arrival was temporarily overshadowed by a death that had just occurred that morning. The average life expectancy in Ghana is 60 for men and 62 for women; however death in the villages always seems to be a reality, with people attending funerals with some frequency. It was a sobering reminder of the challenges that people here face and the importance of development work.
After learning about the death, we offered our condolences and suggested coming back tomorrow, however the village elders were eager to meet with us and started gathering in the chief’s hut. We were going to have our chief meeting right then and there, and luckily Ben and I were prepared. The chief meeting is always fascinating. The chief is always seated or laying on a raise platform with his elders sitting on the floor around him. Meanwhile, Ben, Shack and I are sitting on a bench across from him. We pass around a Cola nut as is customary when meeting a village chief and start go into our pitch, with Shak translating every other few sentences. We tell them we are with Community Water Solutions and because they were so successful with their water program we wanted to
introduce a new project to help bring Solar Electricity. Immediately the elders are on board and the chief started thanking us and God for all of our help. Their gratitude was obvious, and even when asked if they had any questions, their “question” was to keep saying thank you and to let us know that we were blessing from God. Not sure about all that, but glad that they are as excited as we are about getting started.
After a successful chief meeting we began to survey the village in preparation for construction. We needed to find a spot that was centrally located for convenience and security, a plot of land that would get plenty of sunlight at any time of day / year. After walking around a bit we settled on the perfect spot, the vacant lot is right in the heart of the village and right next to a few other huts but, ironically, is currently being used as kind of a dump with lots of garbage collecting there. The community assured us that the space would be cleared by tomorrow so that we could “break ground”. Just another example of having to look past what’s there to see what’s possible.
We were also able to talk to members of the community to get a sense of the demand for electricity in the village. We were told that each household has multiple cell phones and that people travel close to an hour two to three times a week to charge them, and while many households have a flashlight, they have to replace the battery every 4 to 5 days. Wheels turning, Ben and I began to realize just how significant an impact this solar center could have, not just for the women who would be running it and earning profit, but also for the entire village as they would be saving tremendous amounts of time and money having their energy needs met locally.
Energy in Ghana is a huge issue right now. The government recently announced a 36% increase in energy costs and people are already threatening to strike. It’s a pretty staggering increase considering approximately 40% of the country still doesn’t have access to electricity. We witnessed the government’s oversight first hand in Wambong. In the center of the village there is a massive pile of electrical poles that were distributed by the government to connect Wambong to the grid. The poles were delivered over 5 years ago and still haven’t been touched, forgotten by their owners, symbolizing a promise unfulfilled.
Tomorrow we begin construction so be sure to check back for pictures of our solar center!