Celebrate! Ghana is 55!

Today (March 5th) Ghana celebrates the 55th anniversary of its independence! Tamale celebrated with a marching procession in Jubilee Park. I celebrated the marching with a FanMilk and a Boflot.

If you can’t celebrate this big day with some lock-step of your own, check out this music video about the Black Stars, pride of Ghana.

Happy Independence Day from Tamale!


The Lovely Ladies of CWS

All across the world, women and girls disproportionately shoulder the responsibility of collecting water for their families. Their active engagement in any water project is therefore critical to project success! Here at Community Water Solutions, we make sure that women are involved in all aspects of community water treatment and that our collaboration brings about positive health, social and economic changes in their lives. In this post, we want to take a second to celebrate the hardworking, creative, entrepreneurial, social-minded and all around WONDERFUL ladies that make drinking clean water possible for 35 villages across the Northern Region. Without further adieu, meet some of the lovely ladies of CWS…

Peter met mma Ayisha and her daughter scooping water from Jagberin's dugout to clean their polytank.

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Updates from the Field: Moto Mania!

Tamale sure seems quiet without the 30+ 2012 Winter Fellows, assistant translators and CWS support staff! We miss their daily stories of village life, center construction, and transportation mayhem. Their communities certainly miss them too. I’ve never seen so many disappointed faces in response to my presence as I did in the first couple weeks of follow up; its hard to be the wrong salaminga!

We’ve tried to block out our post-fellowship blues with a roar of moto engines and a cloud of fresh Sahara dust, and staff has hit the ground running in the past few weeks. With nine new villages and two new districts to follow up in, it can sometimes feel like we spend more time on motos than not. With that in mind, this week’s update from the field is an homage to our favorite mode of transportation!

Wahab motos through a puddle on the way to Kpalbusi
Shak powers through the "road" to Gbateni
TJ motos to Kushini

The motos aren’t just great for rough-roading. They also are favorite props for photos! Alhassan helped us open Gidanturu’s center last week and, in return, got to pose on our Apsonic.


Baramini, Alhassan’s mother and the lady who runs the treatment center in Gidanturu, also posed for a picture.

No motos for Baramini - she's all business!

And still to come – a video montage of TJ, Shak and myself (Kathryn) taking Rodney Atkins‘ advice to heart…

Check back soon!


*UPDATE* : You can check out the video here .

Baseline Data

You can’t solve a problem if you don’t know what exactly your problem is. For this reason ‘baseline data’, or information about your problem before you start fixing it, is key. In our reality of limited financial and human resources, however, collecting baseline data presents logistical and ethical dilemmas for small organizations like CWS. Quantitatively evaluating the effects of drinking dirty water on community health is extremely complicated and often impossible, even with unlimited resources. And our resources are not unlimited. Every dollar we spend doing surveys on diarrheal incidence, for example, is a dollar NOT going towards a new center or monitoring. So we don’t do them.

Just because it isn’t feasible for CWS to collect baseline data before partnering with a community does not mean we’ve given up on the approach! Continue reading

CWS Bookshelf

I am always looking for a good read. So now that a new batch of fellows are trying to wrap their minds around their upcoming Ghana experience, I thought I’d take the opportunity to recommend some reading material I find interesting or relevant to my time here in Tamale. Past fellows, please keep this discussion going with any books you loved and would recommend!

#1 most important book for traveling in Ghana

Ghana: The Brandt Travel Guide. Go for the most recent addition you can get your hands on – recommendations about where to sleep/visit/eat have been so essential to traveling here. CWS Field Staffer Wahab borrowed my copy from the office, and while he says some of the information is a little off, he is reading it cover to cover so it can’t be that bad!

Some background info on the global water crisis:

WHO/UNICEF’s Progress on sanitation and drinking water: 2010 update. Disclaimer: This publication is 60 pages BUT has some good visuals. There’s some great info here but if you read it cover to cover you will resurface speaking NGO-ish and referring to everything you love by acronyms.

UN Water’s Gender, water and sanitation: a policy brief. A more concise summary of the relationship between women and water in the developing world.

Good Reads:

The CLASSIC Things Fall Apart. It’s become the pillar of West African literature, so…

Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Ok, so this is about Nigeria’s Biafran war of the late 60s, (not Ghana – historically very stable and peaceful!) but I just love her colorful and nuanced descriptions of foreigners in West Africa, gender roles, familial relationships, urban vs rural spaces … well I just love it in general.

This book was so fascinating it inspired me to work on a book of my own. Although my book is still a work in progress I would love to have my writing published one day. I have a lot to say about my time in Africa and the people I have met along the way and I think writing a book would be the best way to document everything that I have learned.

Nowadays, you can even publish a book independently so getting your writing out there has never been easier. A lot of people have asked me ‘is self publishing a book a good idea?’ but I think that as long as you do plenty of research, you can easily make the best decision for your needs. What do you think? Have you always wanted to write a book?

Ok enough of my thoughts! Past fellows – what books or articles helped shape the way you thought about your CWS experience? Extra points if they are fun to read!


Going Viral

When I think of the equipment CWS and partners use to deal with water-borne diseases, I think of those charismatic blue buckets, the polytanks and aquatabs and alum balls that we use to clean water and keep it that way. These are the “appropriate technologies” we’ve chosen; things that are cheap, durable and locally available that help with our problem of unsafe drinking water. This equipment is also pretty simple, because it has to last a long time and be easily and cheaply fixed by whoever has a problem. But it is a mistake to think that all the tools appropriate for our purpose need to so basic.

Looks good (and tastes good too)! A safe storage container gets filled at the center in Kpalbusi

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Dagbani Basics

CWS’ winter fellows will soon be preparing for an awesome three weeks in Northern Ghana! To help ease them into the swing of things (and to jog the memories of past CWS Tamale adventurers) Mark and I put together a little introduction to Dagbani. Dagbani is the language spoken by the Dagomba people who are native to the area where we work. Though many people in town (and a few in the villages) speak some English, trying to communicate with people in the language they feel most comfortable with is always appreciated. Some words can be tongue-tiers, but give them your best shot! And when in doubt, say “Naaaa”.

– Kathryn

Good morning. Despa
Response. Naa

Did you sleep well? A gbihira?
Yes, I slept well. Gom be ni

How is your family? A yinnim be wula?
They are fine. Alaafee.

Mark, one of CWS' office gatemen, and his family

What is your name? A yuli?
My name is Mark. N yuli Mark

How is your farm, Mark? A puu be wula Mark?
My farm is fine. Naa/N puu be vienyela

What are you growing on your farm? Bo ka a kora?
I am growing rice. N kori la shinkaafa.

Mark is growing rice, or "shinkaafa", on his farm. It is just down the street from our office!

Thank you Mark! Taa paya Mark!
Sleep well Kathryn! Naawuni ni ti ti beyow Kathryn.

Why Should YOU Apply to be a CWS Fellow?

by Peter Biyam, CWS Project Manager

About CWS

CWS has been working so hard to help in bringing clean water to villagers and making sure the people get to understand how important it is to always drink clean water. If you take a look at the kind of water people were drinking five years ago, they ended up getting diseases from the dirty water. But now, due to our excellent and hard work, our partner villages in the northern region are getting access to clean and healthy water.

About the CWS Fellowship

CWS’ fellowship program is a three-week program whereby fellows come down from all over the world to do work in rural villages in the northern region of Ghana. And throughout these three weeks, the fellows are going to be visiting their new villages to really find out what the people’s problems are. If they find that villages don’t have access to clean water, then they return to these villages to talk to the people, explain how a project will work and then find out whether or not the people really want to work with us. If the people want to work with CWS, then the fellows get the necessary supplies they need, build the treatment center, train women in the village to run the center, and talk to everyone in the village about how important it is to really drink clean and healthy water. The fellows go to every household to talk to them and make sure that each family understands how the center works. When the center starts running, the fellows make sure they get back to the villages to monitor the households and talk to people to see what everyone is thinking about CWS and the center.

Why Should YOU be a CWS Fellow?

I think the CWS fellowship is great. You get to meet all sort of people; children, old men, old women, and you get to see a different life altogether. You get to find out how people build their houses and you get to interrupt with chiefs and elders; you get to hold baby goats (and real babies too!) and get the kind of local dishes you have never tasted before. You get to learn how to carry water on your head the same way people do here. All the translators in CWS are awesome – you get to make cool friendships. Most importantly, you get to help people make a good change in their lives.

We can’t wait to see you fellows in December!


Peter Biyam, CWS Project Manager, writes about why you should apply to be a CWS Fellow

CWS Monitoring: Bucking the Trend

Monitoring and evaluation can often seem like the less glamorous younger sister of exciting implementation, who comes first, steals the show, is effortlessly photographable and charms everyone around her. As a CWS staff member whose job starts when the implementers go home, however, I’m here to tell you that monitoring ensures that implementation becomes something more than superficial AND has a certain charm of her own!

Kpalung center operator, Zaratu, and her son pose for a picture during a check-up conversation. Kpalung continues to impress follow-up staff (and hopefully visa versa)!

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Updates From the Field: Shak Reflects (and Kathryn Photographs)

Today we have a very special blog post, written by our wonderful Assistant Project Manager, Shak! Here’s what Shak has to say about the past couple of weeks in the field:


Frequent visits are really helping a lot in the communities.

Wahab labels rainwater collection bins in Gbung
TJ tightens a tap in Kpalung

And I am happy everyone is liking our system.

At least, almost everyone is happy! Gidanturu's chief holds a baby who is scared by the Salaminga.

People [keep] telling us how they are having good changes in health as compared to the past.

A container at Ibrahim yili, Kpalbusi
Sanatu poses with her Guinea Worm filter in Kpalung

And I am happy with our team and our management in the office.

Wahab checks the polytank at Tacpuli
Sana poses with her son. She sends her greetings to Kushini's fellows!

We work according to the moto.

TJ heads out of Kushini

-Shakun Ibrahim, CWS Assistant Project Manager