Logo Let’s Gooooo!

I love our logo and I throw it on everything, so getting it on our business signboards was long overdue! Talented local artist Osfa paints a sign for each of our 49 businesses and was more than happy to break out the sky blue for the newest one in Jarayili. 

What do you think?


The posse poses in front of Jarayili's new sign! This village is so small that busses forget to stop here and giving directions is difficult... or WAS before this beauty!
The posse poses in front of Jarayili’s new sign! This village is so small that busses forget to stop here and giving directions is difficult… or WAS before this beauty!



Hamza, our faithful taxi driver, gets in on the action
Hamza, our faithful taxi driver, gets in on the action

TroTro Rodeo

Fellows give us lots of feedback (thank you fellows! We love you guys!) One standout response we get pretty much across the board is that everyone LOVES the transportation situation. 6 person taxi rides? An intimate bonding experience! Push-starting Shak’s Jeep? Awesome bicep work-out! Ok, so it isn’t everyone’s favorite aspect of the program, but it is an authentic look at the difficulties getting around where we need to get around.

In fact, many of the people you’ll meet on the Tamale streets or in your new adopted village will jealous your private transportation. For the most part, getting places in Northern Ghana is an experience people share with each other, with strangers, with stranger’s livestock, with stranger’s yam harvest, and with that ubiquitous juju medicine guy (everyone else thinks he’s just as weird as you do). All of which I have gotten the pleasure of knowing as I’ve bused, trucked, and tro’d around this beautiful country. In this blog post we’ll explore what my traveling companion Redgie and I have come to call the…

TroTro Rodeo!

Where would we be without our motos? CWS staffer TJ poses for a picture.
Where would we be without our motos? CWS staffer TJ poses for a picture.

As you may have read, CWS is growing! That means that we are going a lot of different places at once. Of course, there’s the trusty CWS motos that help us monitor villages.

But for longer distances our Rasta-flagged cycles just aren’t going to cut it. Which is where Metro Mass comes in!

Posing with my favorite logo. Metro Mass: Moving the Nation
Posing with my favorite logo.
Metro Mass: Moving the Nation

Metro Mass Transit is a public bus service

that can get you to any big city your heart desires. They leave before dawn, they don’t believe in shocks and the get you places fast. My tickets average $3 USD for 6 hr journeys. America, take note! Affordable public transport is a beautiful thing. Ghana take note! So is air conditioning … maybe someday, Metro Mass, but for now a cracked window will do!

If you are heading somewhere closer, somewhere smaller, or if you just don’t see yourself getting to the station at 5 am, tro-tros might be your vehicle of choice. These mini-buses are mostly older than I am and fit upwards of 25 people, plus roof riders! They leave when they are full, stop in every village on your way and (fingers crossed) mostly make it to your destination. Accidents are known to occur, so be wary, but they are a nice/the only option for roads without much traffic. And, if your moto happens to have broken down by the side of the road in some remote farmland, they will stop and find space for you. Scoot on over tro-mates and blast that hip-life!

Accra-based artist Gyimah Gariba takes on the trotro. This be Ghana, oh!
Accra-based artist Gyimah Gariba takes on the trotro. This be Ghana, oh!

Last but not least, there’s the market truck. When our ladies come into the big city (Tamale, that is) to sell and shop, they mostly come in large groups in big mac trucks that can hold them, their friends and their wares. These ‘market trucks’ run only on market days (the chronology of which is still elusive). But they are also willing to pick up stranded pedestrians and are always good for conversation (or a nap). Beware during rainy season, however – rooves are not featured on these models!

The author catches a quick market truck nap
The author catches a quick market truck nap

If this all seems a bit uncomfortable, well, it can be. But nowhere is Ghanaian hospitality more apparent than when passengers are willing to squeeze just one more in, or when you are “invited” to a refreshing orange by the man you are sharing a seat with. So, future fellows, count your blessings and don’t forget to give lifts in your private vehicles when you can – you’ll never know when you need that good travel karma!


CWS On the Road: Togo

This July, Kate and I traveled around West Africa to scout some new regions for potential CWS expansion. We visited Liberia, Burkina Faso and Togo and are documenting our trip in a series of blog posts called “CWS on the Road.” The funding for CWS’ expansion trips came this spring from an anonymous donor – THANK YOU for supporting CWS and allowing us to explore the possibility of working in new regions!

After a whirlwind week in Burkina, Kate, Peter and I headed south into Ghana’s svelte neighbor, Togo. Though in terms of latitude Togo and Ghana are identical, in terms of attitude these neighbors are worlds apart. The first noticeable difference between Ghana and Togo is the official national language: Bienvenue au Togo, Ghanaians! Luckily, after a week in Burkina, Kate and I were confident in our ability to get food, shelter and water-related information out of any French speakers that crossed our path. Even our driver Abdullah, whose dislike of all things not Ghanaian was so extreme it was comical, got into the swing of things.  He quit CWS’ french class after ”bonjour” and ”merci”, but anything was an improvement from his initial, high – volume ”You Speak English?!*#?”.

CWS staff welcomes YOU to Togo!

For our first Togo trip, we decided to concentrate our efforts in its’ northern region, basing day expeditions out of Dapaong and Kara. We settled on this strategy for two reasons. First, we wanted to choose one region of the country and spend more time exploring it in-depth. Second, we thought that the geology, hydrology, social  and political conditions of Northern Region, Ghana, that makes CWS’ work particularly appropriate there might extend into parallel Togo.

Peter checks out a barrage in a small community outside of Dapaong. Though this village has a working pump, they use their dam to water their cattle and to wash their clothes.

Our strategy paid off. Over the course of four days we were able to explore many back roads and talk to Togolese people of many different walks of life. Everyone from the immigration officials to priests to farmers to (practically Togolese) Peace Corps Volunteers had a different take on the water problem, but (unlike our Burkina experience) most did view access to clean drinking water as a pressing regional concern. Though many communities do have groundwater pumps that supply them with clean drinking water, in many places the number of these pumps is inadequate to meet all drinking water needs, or the distance to the nearest pump is too far to make the daily walk worthwhile. In other smaller or more remote communities, hand-dug wells or streams are the only source of water at all.

In this community people rely on water from open wells to meet their drinking water needs. The community had a pump that broke and there are no immediate plans for repair.
Women collect gravel from a stream to sell for construction purposes. Water from this marigold will also be used for drinking.
Another long-standing well where people come for water.

In considering the northern region of Togo for potential expansion, we are evaluating several things. Obviously the first is need. From what we found this trip, the need in this area of Togo, though not as large as in Northern Region Ghana, is there. The second major thing we are evaluating is appropriateness of the CWS solution. Will we be able to w0rk the exact same way we work in Zanzugu or Yapelsi in a Togolese setting? No. Way. Community structures are different, water quality is different, language and staffing considerations are different; many important determinants of what we do and how well we do it in Northern Region  would need to be evaluated here in Togo before we could begin to consider setting up shop in Kara. And while we are a technologically-agnostic, small and flexible organization, we don’t want to re-invent the wheel or come up with a solution beyond our capacity. Basically, we will need to see a lot more, both in Togo and in other places, before we can decide where our time and energy will be spent most effectively.

However, these four days were a great introduction to a wonderful country! I look forward to using what I learned this trip in the next few weeks and months, and hopefully getting back for round deux to learn more!

– Kathryn

CWS On the Road: Burkina Faso

This July, Kate and I are traveling around West Africa to scout some new regions for potential CWS expansion. We are traveling to Liberia, Burkina Faso and Togo and will be documenting our trip in a series of blog posts called “CWS on the Road.” The funding for CWS’ expansion trips came this spring from an anonymous donor – THANK YOU for supporting CWS and allowing us to explore the possibility of working in new regions!

After a couple hours back in Tamale – just enough time to enjoy some good food and friends, re-supply our travel bags with clean clothes, and catch some sleep in our own beds – we hit the road once more, with Project Manager Peter Biyam in tow. This time our destination was Burkina Faso, a francophone, landlocked country directly north of Ghana. Several hours of driving and one complicated border crossing later, we found ourselves lost in “the coolest name[d] … capital city in the world” (thanks, Lonely Planet): Ouagadougou. Wonderful Ouaga! Here we would score 1. the most detailed and handy map ever to grace my lap 2. a salad-and-rice-and-tomato sauce obsession that single-handedly fuel the Burkina and Togo exploits of our Ghanian travel buddies (something about the beans-n-rice/chicken-n-rice/food-in-general Burkinabé style did not sit right with the Tamale travelers – culture shock is not a solely Salaminga experience!).

CWS staff do Burkina Faso!

Over the course of a week, we managed to explore the south-west, north-east and south-east of this beautiful country. With our linguistic powers combined (high school French, small small Moré and Hausa), we were able to talk to college grads, cattle herders, chiefs and children that we met along the highway/road/trail/footpath about their water situations. Our strategy was simple: drive to the most remote communities in the least-developed regions, ask lots of questions (“Que’ce-qu’il y a un pumpe dans cette village? Une barrage? Ou allez-vous pour l’eau d’boire?”), and see for ourselves what and how people lived and drank. Along the way we learned lots of new words (puits = well, marigold = stream, fou = crazy, bizarre = you get the picture…) met lots of incredibly friendly, patient and hospitable people, drove down many back-bush roads and only headed for home when the sun set, the rain chased us back, or flooding turned our road to river.

Using rigorous scientific techniques, Kathryn and Peter asses water depth in a hand-dug well. This source was only used for laundry.
Peter and Kate smile as a storm blows past
While our 4×4 could handle a lot, this flooded “road” was too ambitious even for us.

What we found really surprised me. Burkina Faso is one of the poorest countries in the world; its GDP per capita is half that of Ghana’s. These sorts of economic indicators led me to expect potholed roads, few working pumps and lots of unimproved drinking sources. What we found were higher rates of french-speakers in remote villages than english-speakers in Northern Region (an indicator of educational opportunities and integration into the national economy) and well-maintained roads to put the Tamale – Kumasi highway to SHAME. Most importantly for our work, there seemed to be a consistent and pervasive network of functioning hand-pumps in place. Unlike in Liberia, our anecdotal experience suggested that there was an effective public/private supply chain in place to fix broken pumps – we found much fewer broken pumps, and where we did come across them, people seemed more confident about their repair. The two or three villages that we came across who were drinking from unimproved sources were usually small (less-than-five houses) and new: certainly not to be dismissed, but maybe just waiting to be incorporated into what seems like a competent existing water network.

Peter checks out a working pump – this was the oldest model we saw, working since 1985!
Just like in Northern Region, women and girls in Burkina are responsible for collecting their family’s water. Here a few gather by one of the village’s several pumps to fetch drinking water for their family. Looks clean!
Though most villages have pumps, surface water are still important sources of water for life in rural communities. This lake will be a source of drinking water for the five houses in remote Ambara until it dries up in the spring. The water situation in Ambara is atypical for Burkina, but still deserves attention.

All this is not to say that Burkina Faso is an under-the-radar utopia. Burkinabés’ lives seem to be difficult in many of the ways that life is difficult in Ghana, and the water situation in particular is far from ideal here. The people that we met in our travels, however, had a lot to teach us about a different way of life just north of the border. Fulani women with silver in their hair, Mossi men riding cows to their fields, goats that look like gazelles, poulet yassa and ancient mud-relief mosques took us by surprise and made our trip to our northern neighbor constantly intriguing.  For a place so geographically, hydrologically and socially similar to the northern region where we work, we were still forced to constantly reevaluate our assumptions. Though it may not be CWS’ most logical next move, Burkina’s capacity for surprise make me hesitant to draw any final conclusions from our week-long trip.

Fulani girls check out the strangers at their stream.
Ancient mosque (from afar); outside the northern Burkina town of Dori
Until next time, Burkina!

Au revoir, Burkina! Next up, Togo….

– Kathryn

Reflections of an (almost-former) Ghana Country Director

I can’t believe its been a year. A year already? A year only?!

Volunteering with Community Water Solutions this year was an experience that I am struggling to summarize. I could go by those landmark successes (and failures):

– Opening days in SIXTEEN communities = great success!

– Pushing the CWS truck down the Kumasi road = huge fail!

But I think it’s those ordinary days that have defined this year for me. I’ve been lucky to be able to hit the road most (earlyyyy) mornings with five incredibly hard-working and altruistic guys. Peter, Shak, Wahab, TJ and Amin made up our Tamale full-time field staff this year, and without them, well, I would be unintelligible in our villages. But their job is much more than translating. They wheedle information about problems out of reluctant housewives, they teach kids how to push taps without breaking them and give presentations to their classrooms, they take it personally when a house has misused a safe storage container, they charge community cellphones at their houses, switch farming tips, stories and food with the local men and women and kids, and they are the face of CWS to the communities they work with. I’m just lucky that I got to be part of such an ace team.

It’s not just the CWS posse that has impressed me daily. The ladies we work with in every village never cease to surprise me. Some are grandmothers and some are unmarried girls. Some work farms, others roadside food stops. All support their families and their communities without giving it a thought. Of course, the profits from the business are a great incentive to keep them going, but the actions and words of the ladies we work with have led me to believe that, for most, profits are only part of the reason they continue their work. The importance of community well-being here is something that I have rarely found so highly valued elsewhere in the world.

This year has certainly been one of great change for CWS. We have expanded rapidly, and the way we follow up in the places that we work has changed with this expansion. Figuring out how to optimize our time and resources and figuring out what ways monitoring is most effective were the twin challenge for me this year. Communicating our findings to a broader, international audience lead to in addition to topical blog posts. We also managed to successfully incorporate local government participation into our projects, and many villages are now nominated by their districts to partner with CWS. In retrospect, our growing pains were minimal; making water accessible to thousands more has yet to feel trying, and when you put it that way, how could it?

Of course, none of this would be possible without the amazing fellows we have had roll through our Tamale office, and a huge perk of this job was being able to work with so many talented, energetic and creative students and young professionals. Thank you fellows; keep in touch and keep your villages close to your hearts.

“Who is more dirty?” – my favorite game to play

Luckily I don’t have to say my goodbyes just yet, but leaving this week is still bittersweet. Its wonderful to know that a competent group, headed by new Country Directer Brianan Kiernan, will be able to take over operations once I’m out. But it’s very sad to think that I won’t spend my mornings hanging off the back of a moto. I’ll have to console myself with a fat American hamburger – thats right – its time to leave the chicken and rice behind, if only for a while!

– Kathryn

Rain Dance

Its that time of year again. The time where the storm clouds start rollingggg in, the nights cool off, and everything begins to go from brown to green. Of course the rains won’t begin in earnest for a couple months, but the dry season is definitely transitioning to wet. It couldn’t come soon enough.

This dry=>wet segue has its own unique set of challenges (remember some of our wet=>dry updates?). On one hand, as water levels get lower and lower, water quality gets more and more GROSS – we definitely see an increase in center sales at this time! Some ladies even buy treated water for washing and cooking.

Dugout water at Buhijaa

On the other hand, sometimes dugout water gets so low that there is not enough water to treat. CWS partners with communities that report having dugouts that don’t, or rarely, run dry; our work is most appropriate for these situations. However, this has been a drought year for much of Western Africa (check out a few international news articles here and here and here and here). For the first time in our operational history, we are having to deal with dry dugouts. Jagberin, Gbateni, Zanzugu Yipela, Yipela, Kushini, Kagburashe and Buhijaa have closed down center operations until the next rain (many reopened after a big storm yesterday) but until the rain starts again in full force it will be difficult for these communities to have consistent, treated water. Most are walking kilometers into the bush, or to other communities, for their water needs (Kagburashe actually gets its water from another CWS village, Chani – so treatment continues for those who want to walk!).

A little water left at Jagberin

Luckily the rainy season is just around the corner! A few big storms have blown through, giving staff the opportunity to talk to some of our newer communities about rainwater collection. Soon, too, communities whose dugouts become inaccessible (like Gbung and Libi) or who have water sources open up closer to home (like Zanzugu) will have to heave their polytanks back to town. We have also begun prepping our most remote communities, Chanaayili, Gbateni and Buhijaa, to be independent for a few months when large bodies of water start to block the roads. The ladies laugh and tell us to swim aquatabs across to them – we are going to need official CWS speedos!

Shak, the optimist, on the way to Gbateni

Basically, we are watching and waiting for rain.

And now, back to the fellows!


World Water Day

Happy World Water Day Everybody!

World Water Day was last Thursday, and around the world people concerned with the global water crisis gathered together to celebrate all the positive water-y work that’s being done! To see some examples and learn a bit more about global water problems and solutions, check out!

Here in Tamale we had our own celebration! 45 of the ladies and men we work along side joined us in Tamale for some finger-lickin’ chicken n’ rice, minerals (soft drinks) and, naturally, some good old-fashioned CLEAN water! It was wonderful to get these ladies together to listen to some reggae, watch the latest Ghanian soap opera and chat about our businesses around Northern Region!

CWS celebrated World Water Day with our longest running partners, from Cheko and Jerigu...
. . . and our newest ones!

Did you and your friends miss World Water Day? No problem, here are some tips to conserve water around the house and make every day a water day! And of course, you can always support CWS efforts through Global Giving.

Happy World Water Day!

– Kathryn

Updates From the Field: March Madness

March has been an exciting month for all of us here in Tamale. Monitoring continues in our new villages, and its been fun to get to know 9 new communities better! Staff spent a “lazy” Sunday in Libi, fishing with some of the village men there. We brought home a rice bag full of Talapia and some hilarious memories from our day in the river.

Peter poses with "fresh twins" during household visits in Libi
Mohammed, a huge help to CWS staff in Libi, clowns around for the camera.

In Laligu, the treatment center has undergone a few changes. Residents decided to construct a new center platform in a more central location, so that water would be more accessible to everyone. The ladies now pay a donkey cart from near-by Sevelugu to fill up their blue drums. They are very happy with the increase in sales they have seen already after “bringing the center home”!

Sharatu and Awabu pose by their new treatment center stand in Laligu - right in the center of town!

In Kagburashe, Amina and Mayama have really taken charge of center operations, making some changes to the way the business runs. Staff have been happy to work along side these two enterprising ladies to make the treatment center here unique to Kagburashe’s needs.

Ladies fetch water from Kagburashe's dugout.

Monitoring also continues in our older villages, but with some twists. Household visits have been extremely helpful for project evaluation and educational purposes, but we’re experimenting with some new approaches as well! This month, Shak began a water, health and hygiene educational program in Zanzugu, Zanzugu Yipela and Yipela. With a little work we will be able to expand this to other classrooms too!

Shak teaches a lesson to Zanzugu Yipela primary students about water contamination and health.
Which bottle would YOU like to drink?

No matter how many times we visit, kids still crowd around for pictures. Somethings never change.

Kids at Iddrisuyili pose for a picture in Kpalguni

– Kathryn