Two leadership programs down and two weeks of monitoring under the belt – wow, life in Tamale is different when there aren’t 60 salamingas running around town. As I settle into this new lifestyle, I am starting to reflect on the differences of being a Field Rep and working as a staff member in Ghana.
As a field rep, my mind was set on the end goal of beginning a water treatment business in Sagbarigu. There were definitely problems along the way, but we were able to find quick and easy solutions to each problem we faced. We left in June 2014 confident that the skill sets we gave the women entrepreneurs were enough to keep the business running.
Now I am back two years later as a full-time staff member. Yes, Sagbarigu’s water treatment business is still running well. But, I have already learned in my short time here that there are many gray areas to the success of these businesses. It’s not just about the incredible team that implemented these businesses. It’s also about the incredible staff members that work hard to monitor in these communities. Every day, we visit 3 communities to check on the center, sales, successes and challenges of the water and solar businesses. I am learning quickly that each business has its unique challenges that I could not have imagined as a field rep. As I sit in the solar center of Chandanyili with Wahab and the 4 women entrepreneurs talking about money management, I can see a concrete difference in the way I solved problems as a field rep and the way I solve problems now.
Instead of wondering, what can be done right now to solve this problem, I ask myself: What is better for the sustainability of this project? Should we use the easy solution to get the center back up and running now? Or talk with the women, encourage them to hold a community meeting, and let us know their final decision on sales? Do we lead these business owners towards the answer we want to hear or do we let them find solutions to their problems that best fit their community? Will their answer end up being the same as ours?
I may not know the answers to all of these questions now, as they are sure to be different with each unique situation, but I have learned so much already from Eric, Wahab, Amin, Peter and Shak. Eda and I continue to be thankful for their patience, willingness to answer any [silly] question, and the constant laughter (usually relating to our most recent marriage proposals). We’re excited to see what this year has in store for us!
September was a successful month for many of our solar entrepreneurs! The business owners in Kpenchila opened a bank account for their solar center and deposited 300 GHS, all money that that they had earned since opening night in June! The solar ladies in Yakura also had an awesome month. They have saved 280 Cedis, and are planning to open their bank account in October or November. Each of the women also decided to use 60 cedis of their profit to re-invest in their groundnut farms. Shak, who monitors Yakura, was so excited to hear that the ladies had made enough money to support their family farm. They also recently told Shak that they want to start selling phone credit at the solar business as a way to earn extra income. The women in Djelo started doing this a couple months ago and it has been very successful!
On the water front, sales are still slow at the water businesses due to the frequent rains. The good news? Our water tests continue to show that rainwater being collected the “right way,” meaning people have be following Saha’s instructions for washing their safe storage containers with soap and clean water and collecting the rain directly into their safe storage container.
There were a handful of water businesses challenges in the month of September. Tindan, Kadula and Manguli II had leaky polytanks that the women entrepreneurs had difficultly fixing on their own. Wahab, Eric and Amin were able to help the women fix the leaks and used the opportunity to train the ladies about how to fix this issue on their own.
The water issues this month took place in Kasuliyili and Jabaiyili. In Kasuliyili there is a new water project in the village which pumps untreated water from the dugout to a standpipe in the village. Although this water is not treated, and is still fecally contaminated, people in Kasuliyili prefer to fetch this water because it is more convenient then walking to the water business. This was disappointing because we have spent a lot of time on water, health and hygiene education in Kasuliyili. But, the reality is that families in this community, like all of our partner communities, are very, very busy. Their lives are hard and convenience often wins. Wahab and Peter met with Aisha and Fati and came up with a plan to move the water business to the center of town. They then plan to collect water from the standpipe and treat it in the polytank. We are all confident that this plan will increase sales and make it easy for families to access clean water again.
In Jabayili, someone stole two of their blue drums. The community is investigating the situation and hope to find the thief. If they can’t find the thief soon, then they will work out a plan for buying new blue drums. In the meantime, sales have slowed because the women only have one drum to use in their treatment process. Luckily, most families are collecting rain as their main source of drinking water, so the community has at least a month to figure out a plan before the rains start to slow.
The solar communities did not have any major issues this month. In Yapalsi, the Genset needed some small repairs, but the women paid for them on their own with the money they had saved and the business was up and running within the week.
Below are some more pictures from monitoring during September:
There were many success stories from the month of August. For our water communities, we have successfully transitioned into the rainy season. Although sales have been low at many of the water businesses,due to the rains, people have been collecting rainwater in their safe storage containers correctly. Our August water tests showed very little re-contamination, even our newer communities who haven’t had any previous experience collecting rainwater with their safe storage containers. In the few instances where our testing indicating re-contamination, our team did a great job of following up. They re-visited specific households to make sure the family cleaned their safe storage containers and then did presentations at the schools and at community meetings about way to collect and store rainwater correctly. The team did such a great job with these presentations, that we saw immediate results. For example, in Kpachiyili, Azara saw such a high demand for soap after Wahab’s presentation that she started making some to sell at her water business!
August was also a successful month for our solar businesses. The entrepreneurs from Wambong each used GHC100 of their profits from the business to invest in their farms this season. The business owners in Djelo and Nekpegu bought extra cell phone chargers, to help their business grow. Now they can charge any phone at their solar center, even if the customer has lost their charger. In Yapalsi, Sanatua and Asheitu have been doing research to figure out which grinding mill they would like to purchase. They are very excited to expand their business!
All 15 of our solar businesses ran very smoothly in August. In Sakpalua, the entrepreneurs saw a slight decrease in sales due to the opening of the new solar center in Vogyili. In the past, people with cell phones in Vogyili would travel to Sakpalua to charge and now they no longer have to, which is great for Vogyili but not for the business owners in Sakpalua. This was not a significant change in monthly income for the Sakpalua ladies, but it was reported as a challenge from them.
There were not a lot of major challenges in August. Our new community partners seem to have really gotten the hang of things and our more experienced communities transitioned into the rainy season well. Although sales are slow at water businesses in the rainy season, the entrepreneurs adjust their hours, treat less water, and focus on other endeavors, like farming. Once the rains slow, sales will start to pick up again because people will not be able to collect rainwater for free. Some water businesses, like Nymaliga and Kulaa, closed briefly while the business owners moved the treatment centers to new locations for the rainy season.
Wahab faced the biggest challenge of the month in the community of Gundaa. Here, the main water entrepreneur moved out of the community after a quarrel with her husband. The other business owner was unable to sell water because she had been accused of witchcraft. More information about witchcraft in northern Ghana can be found here, but this issue is very polarizing in our partner communities and is something that Saha Global chooses not get involved in. The community is in the process of selecting two new women to run the water business in Gundaa.
March was the second month that our Ghana team used new monitoring procedures, and they really started to get in the swing of things. March was a notable water month because we celebrated World Water Day with our women entrepreneurs in Tamale! Check out Eric’s post for more great pictures and stories from this awesome day! Below is the monthly monitoring summary for March:
There are a few things to note about our March monitoring results. The first is that our water business usage rate dropped slightly from February to March. This is due to dry dugouts. March and April are a very challenging time for our village partners because it is the very end of the dry season and many water sources run dry for a few weeks or a month before the rains come. This is difficult for Saha to deal with because without water in dugouts, there is no water for the women to treat and sell. They must temporarily pause operations until the rain comes. The number of dried dugouts varies year to year. This March, the dugouts in Chandanyili, Jabgerin, Galinzegu, and Zanzegu Yipela all ran dry.
When we monitor villages with dried dugouts, we still do household visits to see where people are getting their water. Sometimes, it will rain enough for a family to collect rainwater in their safe storage container, but not enough to fill the dugout. So, that house will have clean water and we will count them, but their neighbor may not. Sometimes people will walk to a nearby village with a Saha business and buy water there, so we can count them as having clean water too. But oftentimes, people do not have clean water when we check, so our average is brought down for the month. Our staff makes an effort to inform the District Assemblies about communities with dry dugouts, to see if the government can help them at all. Amin and Peter are in charge of setting up these meetings and are doing a great job! But for the most part, all that we can do is wait and hope for rain for our community partners.
Another thing to note about March is that our team did a much better job of visiting all of the new businesses, both water and solar! After the first week in March, every new business (less than 6 months old) was visited once a week. I was happy to have the team back on track after some scheduling difficulties last month.
The only other major issue in March was a conflict between the community of Budhja and the Fulani, a nomadic tribe that had been staying in the village. Due to the conflict, the entrepreneurs were nervous that the Fulani would steal their water supplies, so they closed the business for about two weeks. Many communities members left the village during the conflict and stayed at neighboring villages, so there weren’t many people around to buy water anyway. By the end of the month the conflict was resolved and business returned to normal in Budhja.
On the solar side, we had an exciting month because the entrepreneurs from Tacpuli opened their bank account! Amin spent the whole day at the bank with Lasiche, Maraiama, and Ayishetu but it was well worth it. Congrats Ladies! All of other solar businesses were up in running in March, with no technical difficulties and consistent sales. A great month for sure!
If you would like more information, the detailed week by week reports are all available online here. Check it out and email email@example.com if you have any questions! Below are some more pictures from March monitoring in the field.
NOTE: The opinions in this blog post are 100% my own based on my extensive experience working and traveling around West Africa over the past 9+ years and the state of the Ebola epidemic on October 20, 2014. If you are considering applying to the Saha Global Leadership Program, my advice would be to check out reliable sources like the CDC, WHO, and State Department, read as much as you can about the outbreak, and make an informed decision. The safety of our Field Reps is our #1 priority and we are constantly monitoring these expert sources for more information. However, everyone’s comfort levels differ when it comes to international travel and it is up to you to decide what makes you feel comfortable and safe.
Despa (Good morning) from Tamale!
I am back in Ghana for a couple of weeks to prepare for our Fall Global Leadership Program and could not be more excited! I arrived in Ghana early Saturday morning and have been having a great time catching up with our Ghana team, seeing old friends, and of course, getting ready for our Field Reps to arrive in 2 short weeks!
In preparing for my trip to Ghana, I was constantly asked by family, friends, acquaintances, and friends of friends “are you worried about Ebola?!” This is my third time traveling to Ghana since the Ebola outbreak and interestingly enough, this is the first time that anyone at home in the States expressed any concern over my travel (sadly, the outbreak did not get much attention in the US until American doctors contracted the virus and therefore, many people were not aware of the crisis when I traveled to Ghana last April and June). Ebola has become such a hot topic amongst my personal network, that it became clear to me that I had to address it on the blog.
The Ebola epidemic is very serious public health emergency. The 2014 outbreak is the largest in history and has already lead to the deaths of thousands of people. Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone are the three countries where there has been widespread transmission, although there have also been cases in other countries, such as the United States, Spain, Nigeria, and Senegal. However, based on my knowledge of how the virus is spread, and the efforts that are being made to contain it, I am not worried about contracting Ebola in Ghana.
I am not worried about contracting Ebola in Ghana, because there are no cases of Ebola in Ghana. Nor have there ever been. Ebola is spread through “direct contact (through broken skin or mucous membranes) with the blood, secretions, organs or other bodily fluids of infected people, and with surfaces and materials (e.g. bedding, clothing) contaminated with these fluids (source).” Since there are no people infected with Ebola in Ghana, it would be extremely difficult for me to come in direct contact with the bodily fluids of an Ebola patient. Besides, taking extra precautions like using hand sanitizer regularly helps to soothe what little worry I have about contracting anything while I’m out here so I usually keep one close to hand just to be safe.
Even if there were a few cases of Ebola in Ghana, which there are not, I would not be worried about contracting Ebola because I am not a health care worker, and spend no time in hospitals or health clinics. According to the Center for Disease Control, World Health Organization, and other public health experts, the people most at risk for contracting Ebola are healthcare workers and family members of people with Ebola. I am neither of those things, and spend no time around sick people. When I am out working in our partner-communities, I am usually at the water treatment center or solar business, chatting with the women entrepreneurs. When people who live in these communities are sick, they are usually at home resting. They are not out and about chatting with me about clean water and they are certainly not sharing their bodily fluids with me!
Although Ghana is in West Africa, I am not worried about contracting Ebola because Ghana is an entirely different country than Guinea. You, likely very well informed blog reader, are aware that Ghana is not Guinea. Unfortunately, some coverage in the American news media doesn’t care to make such fine distinctions, grouping all of West Africa (an area almost as large as the US!) when discussing the Ebola crisis. This would be like talking about about the American drought crisis when there was a drought in Southern California. It’s irresponsible. West Africa is a large region made up of 20 different countries. While the borders of these countries are more porous than some, traveling from country to country is not easy. Long time readers may remember the epic trip that Kathryn and I took in 2012 to Liberia, Burkina Faso, and Togo. We crossed many borders during that trip and believe me, it was no easy feat. Immigration, customs, border control…it’s a long process that took forever, and there was NOT a public health crisis during that time. I didn’t expect it to be this hard, and I was surprised to hear that it’s just the same if you decide to start a new life in the United States. That’s what someone we knew told us. Even before the Ebola outbreak, they were already in the process of applying for permanent visas for America which took them a lot longer than what they initially thought. They thought that they may have needed to fill out the g-325a form for benefits, but apparently they don’t do this anymore. It’s probably a good job as they may have been waiting even longer. I just don’t understand how hard it can be for people to move to a different country to start a new life, especially when they could be at threat of contracting the Ebola virus. Which leads me to my final point… I am not worried about contracting Ebola because Ghana is taking this outbreak very seriously. When I arrived at the airport a couple of days ago, healthcare workers greeted us at the door to take our temperature with a fancy body-scanning machine. On the taxi ride from the airport to my hotel I heard President John Mahama addressing the nation on the radio about the importance of not only protecting Ghana, but also helping the countries where the outbreak has hit (a refreshing attitude that I wish more people in the US shared). Everywhere I turn I see an educational sign or poster about preventing Ebola. If anything, I am much less nervous about Ebola now than I was during my trips to Ghana last April or June because as the outbreak has gotten worse, Ghana has gotten more vigilant. Anyone with similar symptoms is tested immediately. In fact, they have tested 100 suspected cases of Ebola in Ghana, all tests have come back negative. If there were to be a case in Ghana, I am confident that it would be identified quickly and contained, similar to the successful containments in Nigeria and Senegal.
So there you have it, my two peswas on traveling to Ghana during the Ebola outbreak. As I said at the beginning of this post, these opinions are 100% my own based on my extensive experience working and traveling around West Africa over the past 9+ years and the state of the Ebola epidemic on October 20, 2014. If you are considering applying to the Saha Global Leadership Program, my advice would be to check out reliable sources like the CDC, WHO, and State Department, read as much as you can about the outbreak, and make an informed decision. The safety of our Field Reps is our #1 priority. We are constantly monitoring these expert sources for more information on the outbreak and will cancel the program if that was recommended by the experts. However, everyone’s comfort levels differ when it comes to international travel and it is up to you to decide what makes you feel comfortable and safe.
My apologizes for the lack of blog updates recently! If you follow Community Water Solutions on Facebook and Instragram, you probably understand why the blog has been radio-silent: we have been busy, busy, busy, bringing solar power to another community! That’s right, in 3 weeks Sam, Shak, Wahab and I implemented not one, but TWO solar businesses which provide electricity to over 1,000 people. It’s been a crazy-fun learning experience! First let’s pick up where we left off in Sakpalua…
Success in Sakpalua
I think the photos in our last blog post really tell it all – opening night in Sakpalua was a big success! Lydia, Damu, Fuseina, and Saramatu were awesome. Two ladies posted-up by the sales door to collect payments and record sales while the other two ladies took batteries out of the chargers and immediately replaced them with a new set to get charging. The business completely sold out of charged batteries within the first 30 minutes! The Burro batteries must be rented out directly from their chargers because as soon as they are removed, they start to loose little bit of their charge. Since,the Genset can only charge 60 batteries at a time, the ladies could only sell those 60 batteries (20 lanterns worth) at once before waiting for another batch to charge up.
We were hopeful that another round of 60 batteries could charge quickly, so we decided to play some videos that we had taken in the community to distract customers while they were waiting. We plugged our projector into the Genset and projected the videos on the side of the solar center. It was a big hit!
Unfortunately, after 45 minutes of waiting, the next round of batteries still weren’t charged. So, the ladies closed up shop and told the remaining customers to come back in the morning. This often happens on our water business opening days as well. Since it’s the very first day of sales, it’s the only time that every single family in the community will need water or batteries all at the same time. After opening night, demand starts to spread out as different families use their lanterns more/less (or drink more/less water). The remaining customers in Sakpalua totally understood and came back the next day to rent their batteries!
After opening night, things continued to go well in Sakpalua. By the end of the first week, the ladies had charged over 60 cell phones and rented out over 140 batteries! They also started buying lanterns from us at cost (16 GHC) and selling them for 18 GHC to families both in Sakpalua and in neighboring villages. In that first week, the women had made a profit of over 50 GHC (~ 25 USD). Considering that most families in Sakpalua live on less than 2 USD/day, that’s a pretty great first week of business!
New Solar Business in Chani
After an exciting night in Sakpalua, we were up bright and early the next day to head to our next solar village, Chani for our chief meeting! Longtime CWS supporters will remember Chani from our Indiegogo video last spring – it’s a rural village about an hour outside of Tamale in the East Gonja District. Our movie-star water entrepreneur, Salamatu, and her partner Munera, have done an amazing job of running their water business, which opened in January 2011. Chani has always been a model CWS partner-community, with consistent water sales throughout the year. We knew they would be a perfect candidate for our next solar pilot![vimeo 61806019 w=500 h=281]
We arrived in Chani to learn that the chief had recently died, and so instead of a small meeting with the elders, the community wanted to have a big community-wide meeting. It was great! Sam, Wahab, and I explained the concept of the solar business and everyone was on board and excited. The village decided right away that they wanted Salamatu and Munera to run the solar business as well since they are the “most hardworking women in the community and know how to count well.” Done and done! So far all 4 of our solar communities have chosen the water women to run the solar businesses too. It’s been very interesting to see that decision made!
Building the solar charging center in Chani went very smoothly. Both men and women from the community were very helpful. Not to toot our own horns, but Sam and I both agree that this is the nicest-looking solar center that CWS has built so far!
Training the women and distributing lanterns also went off without any hiccups. After 3 years of running the water business, Salamatu and Munera are very comfortable working together. They have a very funny dynamic! Sam and I had so much fun with the children in Chani. It was really cool to see the kids that Lucy had photographed 1.5 years ago. We have been using these pictures for all of our PR materials, so those little faces have been ingrained in our memories. It was amazing to see how everyone had grown up so much!
After a very smooth implementation, we were very excited for opening night, which was scheduled for Saturday, April 19th. Unfortunately, when we rolled into the village that night, we hit our first major implementation roadblock: nothing was working! When we left Chani 4 hours earlier, the Genset was on, the sun was shining down on the solar panels, and all of the battery chargers were plugged in. When we returned, the Genset was off, the chargers were off, and the batteries were not charged. Shak, the electrician by nature and the most experienced with our solar charging stations, immediately got to work taking apart the system and investigating the problem. While he was doing that, I called up our partners at Burro, who we bought the Genset from. After about 30 minutes, we all realized that the problem was something major that would not be able to be fixed that night.
The problem with the Genset was very disappointing for a couple reasons. First and foremost, the entire village was out waiting for rent their batteries and charge their phones. Chani had been wanting access to electricity for so long and it was so hard to tell them that they would have to wait, even though it would only be a few days. People in these communities are VERY used to foreign NGOs making big promises and never following through. Even though we have worked with Chani for over 3 years, and they trust our partnership, it was still heartbreaking to pull away that night, with all of our equipment in-hand when we had promised electricity that night. The other reason this was particularly disappointing was that it was a holiday weekend, which meant that there was no way the Genet could get fixed before Sam and I had to leave for the States. In the grand scheme of things, opening night isn’t about us at all – it’s about Salamatu, Munera and the families in Chani. But, after 3 weeks of 4:45 am wakeup calls, without one day off, we were bummed to miss opening night.
The reality is, things like this happen ALL of the time when you are working in development. The fact that our other 3 previous pilot implementations had all gone smoothly is the exception, not the rule. This problem in Chani gave our team some great experience in learning how to to deal with Genset issues. If this happens during a Fellowship Program, we will be prepared! Burro, was also great to work with and proved to be very committed to getting us a working Genset. They were available to our team any time of day, despite their holiday weekend and one of their re-sellers in Tamale ended up being the guy to fix the problem. The issue ended up being a faulty inverter, which Burro replaced for us. There was nothing that our team, or the ladies in Chani had done wrong in setting up the system – it was simply a bad part.
Shak and Wahab did a great job working with Burro and communicating with Chani. The following Wednesday, opening night part 2 went off without a hitch! Every household in Chani rented batteries for their lanterns and some brought their cell phones as well. Salamatu and Munera were really excited and no one seemed upset that opening night was delayed. Brianan’s family was in town to visit her and they all got to come out for the opening – it was great to have such a big crowd there to celebrate! A BIG THANKS, again, to Next Step Living for funding the start-up cost of the solar businesses in Kurugu Vohoyili, Sakpalua, and Chani!
In 3 short weeks, Sam and I will be returning to Ghana with 46 water Fellows and our first-ever team of solar Fellows. We can’t wait to get back to Tamale and run our biggest-ever Summer Fellowship!
At the CWS Ghana office in Tamale, the field staff and I talk about “problem villages”. These are CWS partnership communities that need help troubleshooting issues at their water businesses. The issues range in severity as the problems could be anything from the entrepreneurs having low sales because community members are busy on their farms. In this case, the use of Sales Tips could come in handy here, to improve sales and push customer expectations. On the other hand, it could also range to something as far fetched as a community believing there is a baby who comes out at night and puts evil spirits in to the polytank (this actually happened in the village of Tunga).
Let’s rewind to exactly 1 year ago and take a look at the project summaries for the communities Gbung, Jerigu and Galinzegu. This time last year the staff deemed these communities to be “problem villages”.
January 4, 2013 – Jerigu. The polytank was empty. Al Hassan’s wife said her husband is busy which is why he hasn’t been treating water. He also ran out of Aquatabs (chlorine tabelts) and did not buy more until a few weeks too late. Beginning of February 2013, community members in Jerigu complain they never know when the center has water because Al Hassan is not around.
January 8, 2013 – Gbung – Wahab went to Gbung and saw the water business was empty. He went and spoke to Fati and Amina who reported they are trying to move the polytank from the market back to the dugout. Later in January, Amina said they are paying donkeys to come fill the blue drums in the market with water for 3 GHC ($1.50)! She needs to increase her price of water to make up for this added cost.
January 18, 2013 – Galinzegu – Amina’s polytank has been leaking, so the water she treated had dripped out. She lost 3 Aquatabs worth of water. Two weeks later in February 2013, Amina ran out of alum and had not planned to buy more, and then had to travel for a funeral before she could treat water. The center was empty during this time.
One year later, these communities have all made progress. CWS staff members would even say Jerigu, Gbung and Galinzegu are currently three of the highest performing water businesses.
In Jerigu, Peter recently reported visiting the water business early one morning and monitored sales for 16 households that came out to buy water! Household visit results from January 2014 were: 10 out of 12 households visited had clean water in their safe storage containers, which is 83% and well above CWS household visit average!
Gbung also showed improvements since last year. On February 3, 2014, Amina and Fati said that sales are going well, people come to buy water whenever they run out. They have kept their center at the market and community members pay 20 pesewas ($.10) per 20 L of water.
In Galinzegu, Amina has added Massamata to her water business team. When one of them travels, the other will be there to treat water. Massamata told CWS staff in January 2014 that she is always treating and selling water. Households told field staffer Shak that they no longer have stomach pains or diarrhea because they drink the clean water!
Business is not always easy for the CWS entrepreneurs but monitoring helps. By frequently visiting the water businesses, the CWS field staff is able to consult the entrepreneurs and give them business strategy. For example the strategies used in Jerigu, Gbung and Galinzegu: having a CWS field staffer come to monitor sales, discussing a price increase of water to make up for added treatment costs, or encouraging the community to have at least two women running the water treatment center at all times, are just a few of many ideas given to the entrepreneurs. In the future, CWS hopes the business owners will be able to make these decisions on their own by learning from experience. Through the use of monitoring and meeting with the entrepreneurs to work through issues in these “problem villages”, CWS is ensuring that the water businesses will be sustainable and independent in the long run.
The past few days have been some of the longest that I have experienced here in Ghana. After a successful chief meeting we set out to build our structure – the home of the solar center. Having a solid structure is necessary because a lot of the solar equipment (batteries, inverter, sockets) need to stay dry and be in a well-ventilated area. So what was originally imagined as a small storage box to hold all of the valuable equipment has since transformed into a mini hut about 7 feet tall, five feet wide, and four feet deep. In the end it will be good to have such a big space for the solar equipment, which will allow us to keep all of the cell-phones and lanterns inside while they are charging, provide a shady place for the women to run the center and hang out, and create a central social point for the community. While I’m feeling positive about the end result and our decision to “go big or go home,” the process itself has been a case-study in patience and a friendly reminder of what it means to be working in Africa.
Saturday was our first day building the hut, and after picking up a lot of the essentials
like cinder blocks and cement, we laid the foundation. It still amazes me how resourceful and skilled the masons and carpenters here are. What they lack in formal education and resources, they more than make up for in ingenuity using sticks and string to make detailed measurements while working non-stop in the pounding African sun. We were able to choose the exact location for the center, and build a strong foundation, but from there we had to let the cement harden and head home until the next day.
The following day, we hoped it would be a quick process of just adding layers of cinder bricks to the foundation until it was the appropriate height, but nothing is ever as easy at it seems. I’m still not sure why, but it took us about 5 hours in the sweltering heat to add the additional layers to the building, bringing it to it’s final height. I’m laughing thinking about it, although I wasn’t laughing yesterday; how could it possibly take an hour to lay each layer of brick (12 blocks)? But to be fair, my involvement in the manual labor was limited, so I’ll try not to judge too harshly. Also, it was a million degrees and I’m either burnt to a crisp or 10 shades darker.
This morning we were back at it, picking up additional supplies in town, including zinc metal sheets and wood for the roof and door. Once again, it was slow going as we proceeded to melt like figures at a wax museum. The roof turned out to be really nice though, and we took some time to explore the village and visit the CWS water center, which was a nice treat. As it stands now the structure is 90% complete. All that’s needed is a final coat of plaster, a cement floor, and the door attached, all of which the village assured us would be completed by the time we got there tomorrow…only time will tell but I’m not too optimistic. The hut has become my Waterloo, sapping my energy, not too mention my wallet. People say a buying a boat is a money pit, they clearly haven’t tried to build a house in Ghana. I’ll be thrilled when it’s finished and honestly it looks awesome, just part of the process and you can tell how appreciative the community is which helps keep a good attitude.
As we’ve been preparing to open the center, Ben and I have spent a lot of time thinking about how access to electricity will hopefully spur entrepreneurship. We’ve talked about sewing businesses and refrigeration, hoping that individuals would take initiative to turn electricity into a new sustainable business. So far most people in the community have been asking about being able to watch TV – which yes they will have enough electricity to power. Ben and I have been laughing that they finally have access to electricity and all they want to do is watch the football match but today we started to realize the power behind that idea. There are individuals in the village who already own a tv, despite not having access to electricity. They are eager to plug it in and stream the games, charging individuals to watch, kind of like a movie theater. So things don’t always happen how you expect them, but they have a way of figuring themselves out, and in this case much sooner than we could have hoped for! We can’t wait to see how things continue to grow once the center is officially open for business.
Tomorrow is a big day for us. We will finally be finishing the solar center and even more importantly, meeting and training the women who will be operating it. It will be up to them to install all of the equipment, under our supervision of course so that they have first hand knowledge of how it all works. We can’t wait to get started and meet them; the potential profits from the solar center are sure to transform their lives for the better. Check back soon to hear how it goes and meet the women!
Team Tijo’s opening day happened on Wednesday. They had prepared for days making sure the polytank was filled to the brim. With 187 households it was important to get the polytank all the way full to be sure to have enough water for everyone. They arrived early Wednesday morning to a line of people waiting to fill their safe storage containers for the first time! When they turned the tap to fill the first bucket nothing came out. The polytank was completely empty. The team was so disappointed and the village was extremely embarrassed. Someone had emptied all of the clean drinking water out of the polytank! Despite this disappointment, opening day continued! The women and fellows had the 4 blue drums of treated alum water to chlorinate and sell. There was still a long line of excited customers waiting to taste the clean drinking water. The center was able to fill 50 buckets with water and the rest of the people were very understanding as to what happened. The women were going to head back to the center that afternoon to go ahead a treat more water. No one had ever found out what had happened, but since that incident the chief had a village meeting and all things continue to run smoothly.
Here is what Britty, Steven, Nicole & Tiffany had to say about it:
After Tijo’s challenging Opening Day, we went into the village with the hope that everything was resolved. We were pleasantly surprised to find that all of the families really understood and followed the lessons we offered. All buckets were cleaned prior to being filled with water from the polytank, and placed on a platform with a clean drinking cup put on top. In addition to their excellent practices, the families informed us that they enjoyed the taste of the water. One woman even stated that her stomach felt better after drinking the treated water.
It was very exciting for the team to see the positive outcome of our hard work leading up to Opening Day. We were amazed by how well everything was received by the villagers.
With the recent tragic passing of President John Atta Mills and the December elections approaching, the Ghanaian government has been making international news headlines. What you don’t hear as much about are the local government institutions that keep the country running. This blog post is about those officials, plauges (?*!? Keep reading…) and offices that help Community Water Solutions do its work in the Northern Region.
Wait, wait, I’m getting ahead of myself already. Northern Region is a region, like an American state or a Canadian province, in (you guessed it!) the north of Ghana. Actually, its not Ghana’s nortmost region; that distinction is held jointly by Upper East and Upper West Regions, but more about them on a later day. Tamale is the largest city in Northern Region. It’s where our fellows sleep, where our office is located, and where we purchase many of our business supplies. Northern Region is further divided into districts, which are governed by elected District Assemblies. The signboards that fellows see around town, “Iddrisu Haruna, Lawyer, for Tamale North Constituency”, are campaign tools for the December District Assembly elections. Each district also has a building that houses the offices for public works. Environmental Health is the department that I am most interested in, as water comes into play here. Most districts have a Water and Sanitation Team that deal with their constituency’s difficulties in these areas.
If each district has a team devoted to dealing with its local water problems, where and why does CWS come into play? The answer is complicated. Part of the answer has to do with boreholes. Many governments, NGOs and private citizens the world over think that boreholes are the silver bullet to the water crisis. It certainly is the standard approach to water access in communities here. Boreholes and other groundwater access can be a great solution – they can cut down on time hauling water and they don’t have most of the contamination problems that traditional surface water sources have. However, boreholes can be problematic in many places. In large areas of Northern Region, for example, groundwater is extremely difficult to access, and borehole success rates are as low as 20%. Boreholes and pumps are neither cheap nor intuitive to fix and currently a huge proportion across sub-Saharan Africa are in disrepair. Lastly, they are comparatively expensive to drill. Which introduces the next challenge faced by the District Assemblies: funding. The majority of district funding for water projects does not come from Ghanaian tax dollars. It comes from national or regional donations from multinational organizations and NGOS like UNICEF or the EU. This means that yearly funding is tied to donor priorities, which can be tricky. For example, since Ghana is on track to meet the Millennium Development Goals for water, district budgets for water projects are getting axed. It also means that one-time expense projects, like boreholes, where you can cut a ribbon, snap pictures, check a box and drive home are more likely to get funded than longer-term needs (like monitoring). Between borehole mania and funding difficulties, it has been challenging for districts to come up with alternative solutions local water problems, but that’s where we come in!
Of course, different district bureaucracies function at different levels of efficiencies. Some districts or teams are able to stay on top of their game even in the face of these challenges. Some, uh, aren’t. CWS is a lean, mean water-treating machine, and we are able to pick up the slack when local institutions just don’t have the capacity to meet all their constituency’s basic needs.
Challenges aside, without the help of district officials, CWS’ would not have been able to expand as quickly or effectively as we have. In turn, we are able to compliment local government efforts with our unique and flexible approach to the water problem here. It’s a partnership we hope to continue well into our future!
For more information about the upcoming elections, check out Ghana Decides, a really cool local NGO that is using all sorts of social media to keep Ghanaians updated about the election!