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Voices from the Field: Camille, Josh & Hallie

Today Team Nestor hits up the blog with details in building the solar charging center and their time in the community of Vohyili.

We have now spent a long and rewarding 11 days in Ghana. Our journey began with a gust of hot, humid air as we unloaded the plane and got our first taste of Ghana. Once we all had arrived safely in Accra, the team of 40 Saha field reps boarded a bus and drove on a meandering two-lane road primarily made of uneven cement with the occasional stretch of dirt and ditches. The ride took us from the southern capitol city of Accra to Kumasi (the 2nd largest city) for a lunch break and then to our final destination, the northern city of Tamale. This was the only “highway” connecting these 3 major cities, so it was a very popular route. We passed through cities, villages, and expansive forests. Many of the communities seemed to be centered around this main road – using it as a way to attract outside customers. In each town, people watched and sometimes waved to our bus as we rolled through the middle of their marketplace.

Ghana lies 6 degrees latitude north of the equator, so the sun sets punctually at 6:30pm all year round. The view from the bus window shifted from vibrant, bustling markets to dark, quiet shacks lit only by a couple flashlights. Many rural villages are not electrified and people must rely on generators and batteries. Even in electrified cities, energy is expensive. Tamale is the fastest growing city in the region of Northern Ghana and its increasing population leads to a higher demand for electricity. Drive just 15 minutes outside of Tamale’s urban landscape and it becomes apparent that electricity and basic resources are beyond the purchasing power of families in rural villages.
The representatives in Saha’s solar program are tasked to establish a solar power station designed and built with the help of community members. In order to construct the station, we are utilizing local building materials and techniques to build a watertight mud hut for the electrical equipment. From the outside, a mud hut appears to be an easily built structure, however, the technicalities involved in its construction surprised us. Each step in the construction process has been passed down for generations, even down to assembling mortar and plaster used to glue bricks together. The villagers we have met and bonded with take pride in their skills and the artistry they use in assembling buildings. Seeing this has shed light on the immense amount of skill involved in building seemingly simple structures. The hut building process exemplified the idea that simplicity is the ultimate form of sophistication.IMG_2876IMG_2874 IMG_2878 With scarcity of resources constantly in mind, villagers must understand how to effectively use their land and maximize available resources. For those of you haven’t built a mud hut, here’s what you need to know:

Recipe for “Mud Hut”
Ingredients:
200 Blocks— made of cement, clay soil, and dugout water
Mortar— made of clay soil and dugout water
Plaster— made of cement and dugout water
Tin Roof— 10 zinc sheets
Nails— 2 types: cement nails and wood nails
Carpenter + tools— local carpenter, buddy of our translator
Wawa Boards— AKA planks of wood
MotoKing— a motorbike with a trailer attached to transport material from the market

Step1The Dagomba people have established a way of life based around a closed loop resource system. The mortar used for all buildings is mixed together in a pit with clay-laden soil and water carried from a dugout a mile away. The villagers stomp the mix with their feet, carefully adding water until the perfect consistency is reached. Mortar is used not only to secure layers of bricks, but is added as a coating around the entire structure with a throwing technique requiring grace so as not to splatter others around you, but ensure the mortar stays firm to the wall. The mortar and brick is then left to dry for a day. After this, fine sand is sifted and mixed with cement and water to create a smooth plaster bolstering the hut walls. These processes were basic community knowledge and everyone had a role to play in the hut construction.

Step2

After 3 days of enthusiastically joining the village in this process by carrying blocks on our heads, accidentally getting mortar in our eyes, and marching knee-deep in mud (to mix the mortar), we could never look at a mud hut the same way again. As Americans, it is easy to see the mud hut as an icon of the “African village.” But it is much more challenging to convey its underlying complex processes and beautifully simple design. Someone asked us if we built our own homes in America and we had to admit that we knew far more about the homes of Ghanaian villagers than our own. It dawned on us that we sincerely wished we had constructed our own homes out of local materials with the help of our entire community. The efficiency with which the community members of Vogyili used their available resources amazed and humbled us. Through the process of constructing a mud hut, we ended up deconstructing our own perception of rural Ghanaian life.Step3

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