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Emergency Water Fund Wrap Up Part II: The Stories

Throughout the Emergency Water Fund (EWF), we’ve been able to talk to our entrepreneurs and customers to get a better understanding of how they feel about COVID, clean water, and the free water program.

The water entrepreneurs were working really hard throughout this time, treating much more water than they had before (see Part I: The Numbers). We asked them several questions about the EWF and their feedback was really interesting and really helpful for Saha to consider.

First 98% of the entrepreneurs that we surveyed were satisfied with the EWF payments. We told the women that they were allowed to use the money earned for anything they wanted, and they did!  Some examples include:

  • Paying school fees for their children
  • Purchasing plots of land for farming
  • Purchasing seeds to store and sell later
  • Farming rice
  • Expanding stores/growing trading businesses
  • Buying cell phones
  • Planning new businesses
  • Investing in village savings and loan (VSLA) associations

Despite being satisfied with payments, 49% found the EWF “stressful” or “not easy” due to the tremendous increase in clean water demand and workload. This is not surprising, especially given the other responsibilities that the women entrepreneurs have at home, including farming and harvesting shea nuts, cooking, cleaning, and caring for their children. In the future, as we consider potential changes to our model aimed at increasing clean water consumption in Saha villages, it will be really important for Saha to acknowledge the increase in workload to the entrepreneurs and to explore solutions to burnout.

The first few months of the COVID response in Ghana included lockdowns in larger cities and limited public transportation which had economic impacts in Saha communities.  Most communities’ primary economy is farming or fishing, and the people rely on travel to larger market towns to sell their goods and to buy things that aren’t produced in the communities.  While there were no official lockdowns in the north, travel was restricted, and many people didn’t travel outside of their communities due to fear about the virus.  People had challenges both selling their goods and finding everything they would normally buy in market towns.  After the initial few months of this, markets returned to normal, with some changes.  There are “veronica” buckets for handwashing stationed at many places, and you need to wear a face mask to board public transportation.

Entrepreneurs reported that while their long-time customers were fetching water for free, so were many other people who had previously only fetch sporadically or not at all.  That’s exciting to us – we like the idea that the free water might have created new continuing water purchasers by removing the cost barrier to clean water.  When we polled customers about the free water, we heard 100% positive feedback, including:

  • “I was very excited for fetching water at the center for free!”
  • “It actually helped me and my family.”
  • “Very grateful for the free water project.
  • “Saha should keep telling the entrepreneurs to be active in treatment so that people will not miss drinking clean water at the center.”

We asked village “VIPs” – elders, assemblymen, chairmen, volunteers, and chiefs about their perception of the free water program. Feedback was overwhelmingly positive, including:

  • “Everyone had the chance of getting clean water available in the community!”
  • “It is very good and wished if could continue, because I’m the community leader I really liked the idea everyone could come for water and it prevents my people from various illness.”
  • “This initiative was the best, even though it wasn’t everyone who fetched, but most of the the community people fetched the free water so it has really helped my community.”

One VIP even told us that he refused to drink dugout water when offered in another community he visited recently! We asked them for advice about what Saha could do now that the EWF had ended, and they told us to keep visiting households, educating the community, and encouraging them to purchase.  Many told us that they want to be included more in that effort going forward, and using their influence to encourage people to drink safe water.

Overall, the response from entrepreneurs, customers, and VIPs was positive – more people were drinking clean water and seeing how it could fit into their lives over the EWF period.  Now the real work for Saha begins: how to keep those new customers, retain the old ones, and keep supporting entrepreneurs and communities with their clean water businesses.

Mma Damu, water entrepreneur in Balamposo (photo credit: David Gutierrez Gomez)

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