It was just 2 weeks ago to the day that our 2014 Winter fellows were headed into their communities to say their last goodbye! The office life is now a lot quieter without them busting in to fill us in on their exciting days out in the field! Whether it was laughs about a taxi driver attempting to pump up his flat tire with a bike pump, an awesome day in the schools teaching kids about the importance of drinking clean water, a thrilling soccer game played amongst two neighboring villages or the fellows explaining the eagerness of their communities to taste the clean water for the very first time! Your enthusiasm and passion will continue on within CWS and in the communities that you worked in!
We had such a blast with all of you and can not think of a better way to ring in the new year than to bring clean drinking water to more than 2,608 people!! You should be so proud of what you accomplished. We thank you for your hard work and dedication and wish you the best in your life adventures! You most definitely will be missed by all of us!
Next fall, after two great years working for CWS in Ghana, Brianan will be heading to Ireland for Graduate School. We could not be more proud of her or more grateful for all of the work that she has done for CWS! We are also very excited to welcome Chelsea Hodgkins to our team who will be taking over as Ghana Country Director this summer!
We first got to know Chelsea when she came in Ghana as a 2012 Spring Fellow. I think it’s safe to say that Chelsea fell in love with this amazing country because she quickly returned to Ghana to study abroad for a semester and is now back again for 9 months as a Fulbright Fellow! We’ve really enjoyed getting to know Chelsea throughout her time in Ghana and are thrilled to officially have her on the CWS team next year! Without futher ado, meet Chelsea:
I’ll begin this post in the same way Kathryn, Brianan, and Sam all began theirs: by expressing my enthusiasm and joy to be joining the CWS team as the Ghana Country Director this June! I feel incredibly privileged that my first ‘real’ job out of university is to work with such an amazing, dynamic organization impacting the lives of thousands of Ghanaians and US college students/young professionals.
I graduated from West Virginia University with a dual Bachelor of Arts in Geography and International Studies with a concentration in International Development. Prior to taking part in the fellowship program in April 2012, I had vague thoughts of pursuing a career in international development; after a month-long program studying climate change and livelihood systems in Malawi with WVU’s Geography department, I knew that being in the field and working collaboratively to solve challenges that would improve the lives of others was exactly what I wanted to do with my life. I had yet to find a specific area of development where I felt I could make the biggest contribution. That all changed over the three weeks I spent in Ghana with CWS.
I can still remember how emotionally jarred I was when I and my teammates Rich, Colleen and Nick entered Sakpalua with Shak for the first time and saw the community’s water source: a dugout shared by livestock and community members alike, heavily contaminated with fecal matter and so turbid one could not see an object submerged an inch under the water. Going back and forth every day between the bustling streets of Tamale to the more tranquil setting of Sakpalua to implement the water treatment business was exhilarating. Opening day was one of the most amazing, fulfilling and rewarding experiences of my life: as I watched the line grow of people waiting to fill their blue buckets for the first, of many times to come, I saw two pregnant women heading back to their homes, carrying the clean water on their heads. Their children would be the first generation to have access to clean water and all of the health benefits that it brings. It was an ‘aha’ moment for me, as I realized that water is the most fundamental key to living a life of dignity. When I went back to the US, I left Ghana knowing that CWS was an organization I wanted to stay a part of because the work that the team does is really serving a critical need.
Since the fellowship, I have been very fortunate to have had more than one opportunity to return to Ghana. Each time I have visited Lydia and Damu, the women entrepreneurs that are running the business I helped establish in Sakpalua. During every visit, I am reminded of how CWS is providing sustainable, not ‘band-aid,’ solutions to the water crisis in Ghana when I am told by Lydia and Damu of how much the treatment center has improved the health of everyone in Sakpalua and how grateful everyone is to have clean water. And there are thousands of more stories like this from each of the communities where CWS has established centers! I cannot describe how truly excited I am to work with everyone at CWS and how much I am looking forward to June!
Since the solar center opened in Wambong , Salima and Abiba, the solar center entrepreneurs, have charged more than 1,000 cell phones, earning more than 200 GHC (about $100) in profit. Abiba, known by friends and family as “Chang Chang”, reports cell phone sales are high. When people run out of cell phone battery, they immediately come back to charge. Abiba can also help out her customers by looking into cell phone parts wholesale just in case their phones break, making her business more open to other avenues if required. However after reading some of the latest phone security statistics, it might be time for people to understand the risks associated with having a cell phone and look into how to get their phone, and consequently any of their private data and details, safe and secure from any harm.
Even people from neighboring communities travel to Wambong to charge their cell phones. At 20 pesawas (about $.10), it’s a bargain deal! The only community in the area with electricity is Sankpala, a much larger community, about 6 miles from Wambong located on the main road to Kumasi. They charge 50 pesawas (about $.25) per cell phone charge.
Yesterday morning, CWS Project Manager, Peter and I monitored Wambong. We drove up to the solar center only to see customers pouring out of the InnovaSun door with Abiba seated, taking payments and rearranging cell phones. She was almost too busy to meet with us! Customers kept coming. After a half hour, sales slowed and she had time to chat. She told us that people always come with their cell phones but lantern sales have been low. Only 2 people had come to charge their lanterns in the last 10 days. The quality of the lanterns that were distributed is not great, the battery lasts anywhere from 30 minutes to 3 hours. So families do not think it is worth the 10 pesawas (about $.05) and 12-hour charge time to get only 30 minutes of light. CWS is in the process of researching better quality lantern options for future pilots.
Abiba and Salima have also been talking to the CWS field staff about opening a bank account with the money they have saved so far. They will be the first CWS entrepreneurs to do so! While the center has been running smoothly, there has been some backlash from men in the community who are interested in getting a cut of the pie for themselves. In Wambong, the men are the family breadwinners, so the fact that these female entrepreneurs have been raking in the profits, seems threatening to some. CWS field staff offset initial interest from the men by informing them that the solar panels are expensive and if anything breaks, the women need to have money set aside to fix them. In the near future, CWS hopes to work with men and women who are interested in using the solar center to start businesses of their own, which will take some of this negative attention away from the entrepreneurs.
Men own the majority of cell phones in Wambong, which makes them Abiba and Salima’s biggest customers. Most households report during monitoring that the phones in the house are owned and used by men. CWS field staff usually sees men at the solar center picking up or dropping off phones. There are a few women who own their own cell phones but female participation at the solar center could be higher. The CWS field staff is making women’s access to cell phone use a priority during household monitoring through survey questions and family dialogue.
For more information about the solar center in Wambong visit the CWS Crowdmap page: https://ghanawaters.crowdmap.com
Greetings from Emily, Sara, Thalia and Alex aka team TJ!! TJ is our friend and translator, also known as T to the J, Teeg, or 2Chainz. For the past two weeks we have been implementing a shared water treatment center that will serve Kuldanali, a village of 58 households and Yapalsi, a smaller village of 25 households. Both use the Volta River as their water source, which we have found to be contaminated with E. coli among other things. Our two most recent visits to the two villages have been for opening day as well as the first day of monitoring.
Our opening day, in which water sales officially began, was a huge success. With over a 90% household turnout it was clear that the two villages were excited about their new access to clean water. The day began as we viewed the first group of women walk down the hill towards the treatment center with their staple CWS blue buckets. It was encouraging for us to see their excitement in the impending purchase of clean water. The enthusiasm spread across generations—middle-aged mothers arrived confidently balancing the safe storage containers on their heads and small girls ran down with multiple buckets. We were extremely impressed by the confidence in our three women entrepreneurs – Florence and Akweeya from Kuldanali and Adamoo from Yapalsi. The day began somewhat hectically as this was their first day as business owners. While it was somewhat chaotic for the initial sales, the women entrepreneurs quickly organized the process along with the assistance of the young girls who washed the safe storage containers. From then on the business owners meshed together as they successfully distributed the day’s worth of buckets.
We were thankful to have our first day off after our opening day! We ventured to the Fuller Waterfalls with TJ and attended a lively concert in the evening.
We were enthusiastically greeted by our women entrepreneurs upon arriving at the water center—this was easily the most excitement we have seen from them so far. Our team got a strong sense that the women were taking ownership of the center. As we asked them questions about their sales they beamed and seemed confident about the future of their business. After visiting the center, we started our first day of monitoring. We visited 13 households, all of which were using the safe storage container correctly and were enthused about their access to clean water. As we monitored, there were a few leaky buckets between the two villages but they were quick fixes by TJ. It was fun to chat with each household and ask them about what they thought of the taste of their new water.
Yesterday was opening day for CWS’s new water treatment center in Chandanyili. Several Fulani women (a nomadic group from Mali and Nigeria) were the first to arrive at the center near the dugout. The two entrepreneurs, Abiba and Zaharawu, were excited to begin filling safe storage containers and began right away. At first, only ten or so households arrived, but before we knew it, a large crowd formed near the Polytank, all ready to fill their buckets with safe, clean drinking water. Bimala helped several women clean their safe storage containers with soap and clean water from the Polytank before filling up, while Rachael and Anna helped record the number of customers at the center, and Jenna and Wahab distributed the last few safe storage containers on the list. Since some of the Fulani women don’t speak Dagbani, Jenna and Wahab worked to triple- and quadruple-translate the proper way to use each safe storage container.
Excitement amongst the women grew as the first few safe storage containers were filled with clear, clean water. Several women filled their lids with clean water and passed it around to get a taste. Abiba and Zaharawu quickly got into a rhythm – one would fill safe storage containers while another collected money and helped others lift the buckets to carry on their heads. After three hours of successful clean water distribution, the Polytank was empty and we counted our sales. We filled 64 (of 67) safe storage containers! We can’t wait to check in on each household and see how they like the water next week!
Today was an exciting day for Community Water Solutions: four new water treatment centers opened for business and the CWS staff were interviewed live on 89.3 Fiila FM Tamale.
It all started yesterday when CWS Director of Operations, Sam, went to the Tamale radio station Fiila FM to buy the fellows tickets to a concert they were promoting for this weekend. What started off as jokes and pleasantries with the radio broadcaster Samiell, soon turned in to a serious discussion about bringing a few members of the CWS Ghana staff in for a radio interview. Samiell informed Sam that Fiila FM aired a program that morning about the water crisis in the Northern Region of Ghana and that they would be interested in having CWS live on his show the following day.
My phone rang soon after- it was Sam, “CWS is going to be on the radio tomorrow morning! Call Peter!”
“Wait what, how did you pull this off?” was my immediate reaction. But knowing Sam, she was serious. Peter, the CWS Project Manager for Ghana, had been talking about getting CWS on the radio in Tamale for months now; he was going to be stoked.
In the Northern Region of Ghana, everyone listens to the radio. There are broadcasts in Dagbani and English, meaning that you do not need to be literate or need to know English in order to listen. In a recent survey from 2011 run by the Government of Ghana, UNICEF, USAID and Ghana Health Services found here: they reported that in the Northern Region 41.2% of women between the ages of 15-49 years and 62.1% of men between the ages of 15-59 years had listened to the radio in the last week of being interviewed, making it the most popular form of mass media in the Northern Region.
Sam, Peter and I got to the Fiila FM radio station at 8 am this morning. “You’ll be on in 30 minutes”, the receptionist told us. At 8:38 am we made our way in to the recording studio. Samiell, the Fiila FM broadcaster, greeted us as the host of the program. I smiled upon hearing his smooth talking, radio announcer voice as he said, “Nice to have you Community Water Solutions”, putting extra emphasis on the end making it sound like “Soluuutions”.
We had prepped for the interview so that Peter would do the talking; Sam and I figured most people listening would be unable to understand our American accents. But Samiell wanted to hear from all of us. He asked us about CWS, what we do, where we get our funding, the districts in which we are working and about our most recently implemented communities. What a great day to be interviewed! Sam announced that as we were being broadcasted, there were four new water treatment centers opening in the communities of Dundo, Namdu, Guremancheyili and Chandanyili. Tomorrow will be the opening day for Kundanali/Yapalsi! Bringing the grand total of CWS communities up to 60!
Peter and I finished up the interview by making an announcement to all Fiila Fm listeners North of the Volta, which also applies to all of you blog readers out there: if you are living in a community without pumps, pipes, boreholes or filters drinking from a river, dam or open water source then contact CWS Project Manager Peter at (+233) 020- 639-8391.
At the end, Samiell asked Peter to summarize the interview and final announcement in Dagbani for all the non-English speakers tuning in to the show.
Without further ado, here is the live broadcast recording. Enjoy!
Desibah (Good Morning in Dugbani)!! Our names are Meghan, Bryan, and Jazmin, aka the Dream Team. We, along with our awesome translator Shak, were assigned to the village Dundo for the CWS water sanitation center implementation. Our first day was short: we entered the community, which is approximately 70 households, and introduced ourselves to the elders, and learned the chief was away traveling. The elders were rocking Ray-Bans and lounging under a tree, so needless to say we had a good feeling about the village. Bryan delivered a stunning proposition to the elders, telling them about CWS and gauging their interest in the clean water project. With a quick yes, we were on our way.
The second day we got to meet the actual chief, and we entered into his palace to introduce ourselves. He already had the down-low on the project, and gave us his blessing to start our work. In leaving, Meghan fell off the bench and into the arms of an elder, which she soon learned meant that he was now her husband. Things move quickly in Ghana, apparently. Afterwards, we headed to the dugout accompanied by the village mason to start building the stand for the treatment center. Other men jumped in, and the foundation was set in no time. Bryan attempted to help but ended up breaking two bricks instead, and was consequently sent to go play with the kids. An hour of catch and a few games of soccer later, and it was time to go.
The next day, we held a community meeting. Around 70 people were there, and each of the group members took turns explaining the project. This was met with many “Mmmmm’s” and we soon headed to the dugout. The men had already filled the foundation and the stand was ready to be plastered. The mason got right to work mixing the concrete, and used a trowel to spread it over the foundation. Bryan again attempted to help, and while tossing the plaster onto the stand ended up missing completely and nearly hitting one of the workers. He was once again sent away to play with the kids.
The next morning was a hectic search for all the items needed to start training the women. Shak led us fearlessly through the back alleys of Tamale, and after lots of bartering and getting pulled over by the police, we made it to Dundo. Jazmin took over with the training of the women, and helped them fill the blue drums and use the alum on the water to make the particles settle. She also mastered balancing a small bucket on her head, to the amusement of all the women carrying giant drums of water on their heads with ease. After the center was all set, it was time to distribute the safe storage containers. Meghan took over now to give instructions to each household, and with Shak they managed to hand out 20 containers. Thoroughly exhausted, the team headed back to Gillbt.
Next, it was time to set up the polytank and complete the water treatment center. Walking from the village to the dugout, a few of the braver kids decided to hold our hands. Shortly after, each of us had a kid dangling off each finger. We set up the tank and the two women filled it with the clear water from the blue drums, with the help of the other women whom they coerced. After that, Bryan and Meghan did more distribution, tackling around 30 households. A train of about 15 little kids helped carry the safe storage containers for us, and were slightly distracting when we were trying to instruct the women.
Today was filled with more training of the two women running the center and more distribution. They learned how to use the aquatabs, how to manage their money and profits, and more about the bacteria in the dugout water that makes them sick. We then distributed containers to the other side of the village and gave the chief his own container. The kids were all in school, so our lunch was very quiet, and we got to ask Shak all about polygamous marriages. Our taxi driver, Ibrahim is planning on having 4 wives and Shak is planning on having 23 kids, fun fact. After lunch we had nothing else to do, so we went home. Opening day is just two days away, and we feel prepared and excited for the villagers to taste the clean water from the treatment center!
It is crazy for us, a group of American college students, to think that for years the small village called Namdu 2 has been without a source of clean drinking water. We have now traveled to Namdu 2 for four days working to implement another CWS site.
Since our first visit, the village has been excited for a future of good health due to the water treatment center. Jimmy led the chief meeting and community meeting and got a good response from all involved. However we are still not sure if the chief is more excited about the clean water or the chance that one of these days we might bring him gin. but more to come on that.
You are probably wondering how we have gotten our equipment out to the village thus far. It’s definitely an African art to fit one taxi driver, one translator, three girls, 6’4″ Jimmy, plus the equipment in the taxi for our 1.5 hour drive. But Implementation must go on, and to date we have successfully taken our blue drums and polytank stand out to Namdu 2. game on Ghana!
With the exception of a few children who have run away screaming, the community has responded well to our presence. I think that from their point of view, everyday has a little bit of comedy from us, whether it be them laughing at our “work in progress” Dagbani, trying to carry water on our heads, or trying to play American classics (duck duck goose, Simon says, etc.)
We are excited for the days to come. We will train the women, distribute safe storage containers, and prepare for opening day, improving our Dagbani and farmers tans along the way. Namdu and CWS will now forever hold a place in our hearts. Who knows maybe the four of us will come back with Namdu tattooed on our arms (they could probably do that for us.) Each day we are excited to immerse ourselves in this village and see all the faces of Nambu on opening day.
Yesterday was our second day in our village, Guremancheyili. Just the day before, we went to the village and met with the chief and elders to explain what Community Water Solutions is and our vision for the village. They welcomed us with open arms so we went back today to meet with the entire community. It was a little intimidating at first, as the entire village was there surrounding us (we were in the middle and had to spin around to talk to everyone). One thing we noticed is that all of the men sat together, all of the women in a different spot and all of the kids filling in the gaps. We had broken up our speech so all of us got to explain a different part of the process and bond with the community. They especially loved the beginning when we said “Despa” (good morning) and “Ebeera” (how did you sleep) to the entire village, and that helped set the tone for the meeting. At the end, our village asked a lot of questions but sometimes other village people would answer for them which showed us they were really getting the concepts down that we’d been explaining, which made us feel great. Afterwards, the entire village wanted to get in a picture with us followed by all of the women and then by the chief himself. Upon leaving we felt very welcome in the community and are excited to work with them over the coming weeks!!
After our visit to the village, our translator, Nestor, invited us over to his house for Pito, a homemade beer his mom makes. We were all extremely excited that Nestor was opening up to us and inviting us to meet his family. His house was a cute little area right off the road and was bustling with people while we were there (as he’d promised). We got to meet his parents, older brother, friend of his sisters, his best friend, his goat, his puppy (junior el Tigre), his many chickens, and his nieces and nephews. Everyone in our group LOVED the Pito, except Brittany, and would definitely drink it again. We drank it out of a calabash, which are bowls made out of dried plants, which made us all feel like a big part of the culture. After we were done with our Pito, there was a parade going on outside for a new chief of the village. There were people on motos, people drumming, some dancing and some walking in front of the taxi that held the new chief. It was another awesome bit of culture we were lucky enough to experience!
Today we’ll start building the stand for our treatment center and we couldn’t be more excited to go back to our village!!
We had a great first day of 2014 here in Tamale! After a late night spent ringing in the New Year, we all slept in and then met at GILLBT for another day of orientation. It started off with an awesome monitoring presentation by our field staff: Peter, Shak, Eric, Wahab and Amin. The fellows had great questions for the staff! Bimala asked the guys, “What motivates you?” Shak, who has worked with CWS for over 4 years, replied, “This is my country and everyone deserves to drink clean water. I feel proud for my people, they feel proud to have clean water to drink and you all should be very proud for what you are able to provide for your new communities.”
After the presentation we all headed to the CWS office just down the road for a tour of the water quality testing lab. Brianan, CWS’ West African Regional Director, led the tour and gave an introduction to the lab work the fellows will be doing once they are done implementing in their communities. The Fellows will taking water samples from the safe storage containers that people will keep in their homes to test for recontamination. Testing for recontamination will help pinpoint additional education for the households.
Later in the afternoon, orientation continued with alum training. Alum is the first step in CWS’ water treatment model. It works to remove the particles and turbidity from the water. As the fellows have never worked with alum before it is important that they know how it works so they can teach it to the women entrepreneurs in their village.
The fellows then broke off into their groups to practice Dugbani (the local tribal language) with their translators. First they practiced greetings and then went through some mock household monitoring. The mock-monitoring conversations are a great way for the Fellows to get used to the format of questions and to practice working with a translator.
Yesterday, the fellows put their monitoring skills to the test in some of our current CWS villages! It was their first time in the field with just their translator and everyone had a great time! Today, they are off to their new villages for the first day! We can’t wait to hear how their first meetings went!