Blog

Opening Night in Kurugu Vohoyili

IMG_7436
“Calm before the storm” — The solar center in Kurugu Vohoyili on opening night

The solar center is officially open in Kurugu Vohoyili! Last night, Shak, Wahab, Amin, Eric and I all went to KV to celebrate the opening. We pulled up to the solar center and there was already a queue forming next to the shop window with community members lining up, Burro lantern in hand.

IMG_7451
Customers line up with their Burro lanterns outside of the solar shop

Ayi and Fuseina met us at the door to the center and opened up the shop for business. It was Wahab, Amin and Eric’s first time seeing the solar business in KV and they were impressed! We immediately got to work unwrapping more power strips and plugging them in to make slots available for people to charge cell phones. There wasn’t much time. The crowd was getting rowdy outside the shop. People were demanding batteries.

IMG_7457
Ayi and Fuseina on opening night

Shak and I had a quick pep talk with Ayi and Fuseina. “Ok so who is going to run the window taking battery orders and handling the money? Who is going to load batteries and keep track of sales?” Fuseina took the window and Ayi grabbed the sales book. The shop window was pushed open for Fuseina to take the first customer.

IMG_7454
Ayi keeping track of sales
IMG_7455
Fuseina counting change to give to customers out her shop window

Within a few minutes, there was a problem. Everyone had come to the shop with big bills! Customers were holding 5 GHC and 10 GHC notes to purchase 10 pesewas batteries. The women did not have enough small change for these kinds of transactions. Shak and I hadn’t thought of this. We had a quick meeting with the chairman who suggested that those who have small change pay for their batteries tonight and the rest of the households will be held accountable to pay the women tomorrow. I was worried. I wanted to make sure Ayi and Fuseina actually received their money. The chairman reassured us that the women would be paid back the following day and that in the future, people would come to the center with smaller coins. That’s the plus side of doing business in a community network like Kurugu Vohoyili.

IMG_7463
Huseini, Fuseina, Ayi, Ibrahim,  the chairman and Shak standing with the solar panels on opening night!
IMG_7465
Fuseina, Huseini, Amin, Ayi, Wahab, Ibrahim, Eric, me and some children from KV standing with the solar panels

We got back to work. Ayi and Fuseina were getting overwhelmed. With the rate of sales, Ayi had too much on her plate: recording sales, handing Fuseina charged batteries and replacing batteries in to the empty slots. Shak helped Ayi with the sales book, Wahab, Eric and I handed Fuseina charged batteries and replaced the empty slots. Opening night will be their busiest night because in the future, community members can come buy batteries or bring their cell phones to charge at their leisure throughout the day. It will take time for the women to get used to the process of counting money, replacing batteries and keeping track of sales. Shak and I will continue our training with the women later this week when we go back to monitor.

IMG_7469
Eric helping Ayi load batteries in to the chargers

The women ran out of charged batteries, it would take a couple of hours to charge up more. There are only 15 battery chargers (4 battery slots per charger) at the center. Meaning only 60 batteries can be charged at once, giving 20 households 3 batteries each for their lanterns. This would only be a problem opening night.

Amin had been outside helping customers put batteries in to their lanterns and socializing. He came in to the shop when the women finished sales and said, “Oh, the people are happy. I saw one man just playing with his lantern trying all 4 light settings about 15 times, then he ran home to show his family. Wow!” Indeed, customers had all run home with their new solar charged, battery-powered lanterns. I peaked outside and only the chairman and some small children were left. Ayi and Fuseina let out a sigh of relief. They did it!

IMG_7466
Amin with Ayi and Fuseina!

What a whirlwind of a night but overall a success. We are looking forward to monitoring the solar center’s progress and talking to families to see what they think of the center and the lanterns. A big thank you to Next Step Living for funding this solar pilot, Burro for our new partnership in bringing solar gensets and lanterns to rural communities and Mark and Ben who developed the first solar pilot in Wambong. Monitoring and household survey reports to come!

Cheers,

Brianán

Training the Women Day 2 and Introduction to the Lantern Program

IMG_7391
The Solar Center in Kurugu Vohoyili

Yesterday, we arrived in Kurugu Vohoyili nice and early to finish training the women and to start approaching households with lanterns. It has been HOT in Tamale, so we wanted to beat the heat. Ayi and Fuseina were ready to start when we got to the center. As we had explained to them yesterday, they would have to wire the solar panels to the battery and set up the genset all on their own. Ayi laughed when I told her this and said, “oh we will try.” They were able to do it!

IMG_7392
Ayi on the left and Fuseina on the right attach more cable to the solar panels
IMG_7394
Shak observes the women as they wire the panels
IMG_7396
Ayi assembles the genset

We started plugging in power strips and battery chargers in to the genset to ensure that everything was working. Shak and I gave Ayi and Fuseina a few scenarios to see if they were comfortable with all of the information. We pretended to be customers, asking how much it would cost if we charged x amount of phones or x amount of batteries and what that would look like in the sales book. We also tested the entrepreneurs on how many cell phones and batteries could be plugged in at once and had them look to the genset infographic for guidance. They got everything right! We decided to teach them how to use tally marks in groups of 5 to make it easier to keep track of sales. Ayi said they had never gone to school and asked if it was even worth it to try and teach them. Shak and I said yes! And within a few minutes they grasped the concept. Ayi and Fuseina are sharp. We completed training by practicing to insert batteries in to the chargers, opening the battery slots of the lanterns and turning the genset on and off. We decided to let the solar panels charge up all day. This morning, the women will charge the batteries to open for business tonight!

IMG_7400
Fuseina explains to Ayi how to count the tally marks on the Burro genset operating guide, this infographic helps the ladies use the battery level to determine how many batteries and cell phones can be plugged in at once
IMG_7406
Ayi smiles as she holds up the battery charger, it was her first time putting batteries in!
IMG_7409
Fuseina watches as Ayi marks the sales book

After training, Shak and I visited all 22 households in Kurugu Vohoyili asking families if they would like to participate in the lantern program for 1 GHC. Every single household joined! We briefed each family on the lanterns and the solar center. We told them that they had to pay for the batteries and to charge their cell phones so the women would have money to fix broken parts, to buy more batteries and to earn a profit for their hard work. We also discussed the health benefits of using this lantern instead of kerosene or lead acid battery powered torches. If any household loses a battery, they will have to pay the women 3 GHC to replace it. Everyone seemed excited and receptive to the system. Tonight is opening night. We will head to Kurugu Vohoyili after dark with the rest of the CWS Ghana staff. We can’t wait!

-Brianán

IMG_7421
Nina, myself and Ayi, as they hold their new household lanterns!
IMG_7418
Shak sits with Baba and Ibrahim, checking off their household names after they purchased lanterns for their families
IMG_7417
The Botonaayili family with their new lantern!

Meet the New Solar Center Entrepreneurs in Kurugu Vohoyili

And the solar center entrepreneurs in Kurugu Vohoyili are (drum roll please)… Ayi and Fuseina!

IMG_7385

The chairman told Shak and I that Ayi and Fuseina were chosen because they are the most hardworking women in Kurugu Vohoyili. Interestingly enough, Ayi and Fuseina are also the water business entrepreneurs. Now this has pros and cons to it. As we have seen in Wambong, the solar center makes much higher profits compared to the water treatment center. This will allow Ayi and Fuseina to grow their businesses and eventually open a bank account. The entrepreneurs will also be able to market the water business using the solar center. Community behavior change and priorities are different around drinking clean water vs. charging a cell phone. Cell phones are sexy. The immediate reward of being able to call a friend is much more gratifying than drinking a cup of clean water, where the health benefits are only seen over time and are hard to measure. Had the community selected two different women to run the solar center, there would be four women with business opportunities in KV rather than two. Our plan for now is to let the communities select the women for the pilots and go from there.

We were pushed back a day again because of a funeral in a nearby village. The dry season is peak funeral season in the Northern Region of Ghana. In the rainy season, the weather is unpredictable, the roads are bad and families are busy farming, which makes travel difficult. Usually when people pass away in the rainy season, they wait until the dry season to have the big family funeral.

IMG_7350

Today, we arrived in KV and the center was looking great, fully plastered and beautiful in the hot sun! We brought the steel poles and solar panels to mount outside the solar charging hub. Community members helped mount the panels. We faced the panels due south at 81 degrees to get the most sunlight possible throughout the year, using this Solar Angle Calculator recommended by staff at Burro. Shak was resourceful and found a protractor to bring to the welder for the poles. He got the angle just right. I was impressed! We used a compass to get the panels perfectly due south!

IMG_7358

IMG_7362

Once the panels were mounted, Ayi and Fuseina came to start their first day of training. They showed up with big smiles, saying “Nawuni ni dey suhugu”, which means God answer your prayers (also used for thank you) in Dagbani. From past experience monitoring and working in Kurugu Vohoyili, I can vouch for these women and confidently say they are “on their game”. Since implementation in January 2012, their water business has flourished. There has not been one occasion where CWS field staff showed up to KV and found an empty polytank. You rock ladies!

For the solar training, we started with the basics, going over how the solar panels use light energy from the sun to generate Direct Current (DC) electricity, which is stored in the battery and then converted to Alternating Current (AC) electricity through the inverter. AC electricity or “mains” as it is referred to in Ghana is what we use to charge our appliances at home. We explained to the women how to wire the 2- 100 W panels together in a “series” connecting the positive cable of one panel to the negative cable of another panel, which builds the voltage. Then connected the negative cable of one panel to the negative charge of the battery and the positive cable of the other panel to the positive charge of the battery. The women did all the wiring and electrical taping themselves! When it was wired, we turned on the genset and voila! There was power! We plugged in a cell phone and a battery charger to make sure the equipment was working. There were oohs and ahhs from the surrounding crowd.

IMG_7372
Ayi connects the negative cable of one panel to the positive cable of the other
IMG_7374
Ayi’s hands up close, taping the cables together!
IMG_7377
Fuseina attaches some more cable to the positive cable of one panel to be attached to the positive charge of the battery.
IMG_7381
Huseini plugs in his cell phone to the power strip. Electricity!

We discussed how to calculate watt/hours and how many devices can be plugged in based on the battery level. Burro put together some useful infographics: Genset Operating Guide that helped us explain this to the women. To start, the solar center will be charging cell phones and Burro AA batteries for the lanterns. We went over using the sales book to keep track of daily cell phone and lantern sales. We gave the women two containers – one for daily earnings and the other for long term savings. We also went over prices with the chairman and the entrepreneurs and agreed upon 10 pesewas (~$.04) per battery rental and 20 pesewas (~$.08) per cell phone charge. This money will go to Ayi and Fuseina, who can use their profits to invest in their families and to replace batteries or broken parts at the solar center.

IMG_7389
Fuseina, the chairman and Ayi stand surrounded by children at their new community solar center!

Tomorrow,  Shak and I are going to continue training day 2 with the entrepreneurs, further discussing battery charging, watt/hours calculations and keeping track of sales. We are also going to have the women completely rewire and put together the genset on their own without our verbal guidance. We are confident they will do great! Tomorrow, we will also be approaching households with lanterns to see if they want to invest 1 GHC in a lantern to be able to rent batteries at the center. More updates to come!

-Brianán

A Community Made, Locally Sourced Solar Charging Shop

Build 10
Children in Kurugu Vohoyili standing around Shak’s jeep and the newly built solar center charging shop!

It has been a productive week of building in Kurugu Vohoyili. Our efforts were pushed back a day because of car trouble and a funeral in the community on Wednesday. On Thursday, Shak and I arrived around 7:30 am to get an early start on the roof. The carpenters unfortunately were not as punctual as we would have liked, so the morning was spent sitting and chatting with the elders and some of the children.

Boys
From left to right: Saimu, Abukari, Deen, Mohammed, Ibrahim, Afizu, Arafiki and Issaka. The young, helpful boys we have gotten to know throughout the building process!

 

Girls
These girls were laughing because Shak was asking them to show him their teeth so he could count how many they’ve lost. It didn’t help that I was the silly salaminga saying “lama”, which means smile in Dagbani. From left to right: Arashia, Serena, Nabari, Bamu, Najatu, Pana, Badila and Nasiba.

 

When the carpenters finally did show, they got right to work. The round zinc roof was too complicated for me, Shak or community members in Kurugu Vohoyili to construct. So the chairman called his carpenter friends in the nearby community of Tolon, who have extensive experience in the village roofing industry. Most community members live in round village huts like the one we are building but they use straw to roof the house. We decided to use a zinc roof for the solar center to keep the battery, inverter, cell phones and appliances safe and dry in case of a heavy rainstorm. Straw roofs have more seasonal maintenance compared to zinc roofs, so it made sense economically to go with zinc.

Build 1
Carpenters Asma and Wumbina of Tolon get right to work!

 

To construct the roof, the carpenters started by adding supportive beams to hold up other pieces of wood in the nailing in process. They went around in circles several times adding wood, nailing it in, taking measurements, cutting more wood, adding supportive pieces to nail in the zinc. At one point the carpenters ran out of wood, so Shak and I headed to Tolon to get more. When we got back to KV, one of the carpenters said they had just run out of nails and that we had to turn around and go back out to get more. It took us a few minutes to realize he was kidding. Shak replied, “That it a very hard joke to make Carpenter”, which ended in roars of laughter amongst the chairman, elders and even some of the small kids. The carpenters completed the wooden roof structure in 4 hours, then took another hour to nail in the zinc.  It was a long day but overall a success. We left Kurugu Vohoyili with an almost complete, locally sourced and community made solar center charging shop!

Build 2
The chairman and Mr. Iddrisu help the carpenters.

 

Today, we returned to Kurugu Vohoyili to finish some of the wood work for the door frame, window and faceboards. We started plastering the outside of the hut with cement to make it durable in the rainy season like families do to their own houses in the community. The center is looking great! Tomorrow we will return with the solar panels, inverter, battery, cable, Burro AA batteries and Burro battery chargers to start training the women! We can’t wait to meet them! Check below for pictures detailing the building process.

-Brianán

Build 4
Taking a break in the hut!

 

Clean water 1
Clean water from Ayi and Fuseina’s water business was brought to the work site. Huseini fills up his cup!

Build 3

Build 5

Build 6
The wooden roof structure — bottom view.
Build 7
Nailing on the face boards.
Build 8
Measuring the distance for the face boards.
Build 9
Shak and I cheesing out the window of the new solar center charging shop!

 

 

Kurugu Vohoyili Solar Pilot Day 2: Construction Begins!

When Shak and I arrived in Kurugu Vohoyili this morning, the location for the solar center had been selected and there were bricks laid out to show the structure outline. The community chose a great spot for their charging hub – nicely secure in the center of the community with plenty of sunlight!

IMG_7205

 

We went to the chairman’s house and he said they were ready to get to work! Before we knew it, there was gravel (clay-like substance from the ground used to build all the huts in the community) being mixed with water and small boys carrying out gravel bricks to construct the center.

IMG_7209

 

In planning for the pilot, we decided that building a village hut would be perfect to house the solar charging hub – it blends in with the community and is made from local materials. The community agreed. Families donated gravel bricks already cut and dry and about 30 men came out to help build the structure.

It was a fantastic day. Within only a few hours we had the basic structure built. Shak joked (although somewhat serious) that he would use this technique to build a chicken coop; he had never built a village hut before and neither had I! Below are some pictures that show the progress of our day. Tomorrow we will be building the doors, window and securing the zinc roof.

-Brianán

IMG_7206
Chairman (on the right) stands with an elder on the left in the outline of the solar center structure!

 

IMG_7210
Shak holds up his muddy hands! The building is getting underway.

 

 

IMG_7211
Getting up close and personal with gravel.
IMG_7216
Shak piles on muddy gravel to secure the bricks

 

IMG_7219
Taking a break with some kiddos.

 

IMG_7221
Elders and young men came to help out!
IMG_7223
The chairman oversees the window outline. They used a tree branch to secure the window frame!
IMG_7225
Young boys get in on the action!
IMG_7231
An elder with an awesome hat uses his machete to flatten the gravel as it begins to harden in the sun.
IMG_7237
Day 2 solar charging hub building structure complete! The community members who helped gather for a picture.
IMG_7247
Standing in the doorway, thanks Baba for the picture!
IMG_7242
Kurugu Vohoyili community members who were central in the building process!

 

Second Solar Pilot Begins in Kurugu Vohoyili!

Community Meeting
The community members of Kurugu Vohoyili gather around Shak and the chairman for a photo.

Today marks Day 1 of the second CWS solar center pilot. Shak and I will be leading the pilot in Kurugu Vohoyili. We have been monitoring the progress of the first solar center pilot in Wambong over the past 5 months. The first solar pilot has been a success, Chang Chang and Salima, the solar center entrepreneurs in Wambong, report that cell phone charging sales are high, they are making a substantial profit and they have even opened a bank account! The lanterns used in the first pilot were of poor quality, lasting anywhere from 20 minutes to 3 hours. The solar charging station was not big enough for customers and posed some logistical challenges during implementation. Shak and I hope to address both of these issues in the second pilot!

Burro light
Baba holds up a Burro lantern. He can’t wait to try it out at night.

In February, we took a trip to visit Burro in Koforidua. Burro is a bottom-up, social business founded by American entrepreneur, former Microsoft executive and co-founder of the board game Cranium, Whit Alexander. Burro operates off of their business slogan, “Do More” and markets high quality products to low income, rural populations, allowing people to save more and earn more. CWS is working in partnership with Burro for this pilot using their high quality lanterns, NiMH (nickel metal hydride) batteries, battery chargers, solar panels and solar panel generator (holding the battery and inverter for the panels). We are excited to see their products in action!

CWS decided to implement in Kurugu Vohoyili for several reasons. The village is a

Shak and entrepreneurs
Shak stands with Fuseina as she sells water to a customer at the water business

CWS independent community, Ayi and Fuseina run their water business well. Upon arrival today, Fuseina was selling water at the center. Kurugu Vohoyili is located in the Tolon District, it’s a small, remote community of 22 households and is on the lower income threshold of CWS communities (it does not have a school, most households do not have tin roofs, there is no visible farming machinery).

Shak and I arrived in Kurugu Vohoyili this morning and went right to the chairman’s house. The chairman is water business entrepreneur Fuseina’s husband and coordinates community development. We told the chairman that we would like to schedule a meeting with the chief and the elders to discuss a new proposition for Kurugu Vohoyili. The chairman said he would have everyone organized shortly to have the meeting today. Twenty minutes later, Shak and I were seated around a nice, shady tree with the chief, the elders, about 20 small children and some women (including Fuseina and Ayi).

Women
Women of Kurugu Vohoyili gather around to listen in on the chief meeting

Shak and I gave our pitch for the solar center. We started off by congratulating the community on their water business participation rate and operations. We asked them about their current energy situation. It was as we expected. Most households use cheap lead acid batteries (Tiger Head or Sun Watt) to power low quality flashlights and use kerosene lamps. The elders said that most households own cell phones and have to travel several miles to charge them. We told them about an alternative, cleaner energy option for the community. CWS would be bringing the capital for a solar center (solar panels, battery, inverter), that we would like the community to elect two women to run the solar center and that each household will have the option of participating in the lantern program, paying 1 GHC to receive a lantern. The women will have Burro AA batteries, Burro battery chargers and power strips at the solar center for people to come rent batteries or to charge cell phones for a small fee.

Burro NiMH batteries are better for the environment compared to lead acid batteries or kerosene and are approved for landfill disposal in Europe and the US. Burro batteries do not leak and last longer than Tiger Head and Sun Watt batteries. The women will use the money they earn to invest in their business, to save in case something breaks and to earn a profit. Studies conducted by the UN and the World Economic Forum show that when women make money, they are more likely to invest in their families compared to men.

PanelsLCD Screen

 

The community members were excited and the meeting ended in a round of applause. They asked a few questions and we concluded the meeting by requesting that the community elect two women and choose a sunny, secure location so that we can start building the solar charging hub tomorrow. We can’t wait to get started, more blog posts to come!

-Brianán

 

Summer Fellowship Application due in 2 weeks, Update to March Tour dates & a VIRTUAL Info Session

The Summer Fellowship application deadline is just 2 WEEKS AWAY and spots are filling up fast! Get your application in today for an opportunity to join the CWS Team in Ghana and bring clean drinking water to an entire community!

Image

We’ve had some updates to our March tour list! CWS representatives will be on campus talking more about our organization and the fellowship program. We would love to meet you!

Tuesday March 11th 4:30pm Goucher College Chemistry Club Meeting, Location: Huffberger 223

Tuesday March 11th 8:15pm Goucher College International Student Association Meeting in the Welsh Piano Room

Wednesday March 12th 7:30pm St. Mary’s College of Maryland Amnesty International Club Meeting, Location: TBD

Wednesday March 12th at 8:15pm St.Mary’s College of Maryland Sociology Club Meeting, Location: TBD

Thursday March 13th 6:00pm University of Maryland, Global Health Planning Class in SGUMD Bldg lll Room 5129

Tuesday March 18th 3:00pm MIT Drinking Water Treatment in Developing Countries Class, E25-116

Wednesday March 26th 5:00pm Loyola University of Maryland Info Session, Location: Maryland Hall Room 241

Don’t see your school listed or can’t make it to the scheduled times? Join us for our first ever VIRTUAL info session! Executive Director and Co-founder Kate Clopeck will be hosting a live info session on Tuesday March 11th at 7:00pm EST. Tune in from where ever you are to learn more about the program! You must REGISTER beforehand!