Ramadan: Fasting All Day Means Every Drop of Clean Water Counts

Today marks the 14th day of Ramadan. Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar where Muslims fast from dawn until sunset, going without food or water for 30 days. The only people who do not fast are nursing or pregnant mothers, children under the age of 18, the elderly and the sick. While Ghana is a predominantly Christian country, the Northern Region has a large Muslim presence. The majority of CWS villages are also Muslim and therefore fast during the month of Ramadan.

CWS field staff, Amin, Wahab, Shak, pose with the chief of Kadula and Azaratu, the lady who runs the water treatment center, after a long morning of household visits to promote rainwater harvesting in Kadula.

In the last 2 weeks, CWS field staff members have encountered many safe storage containers full to the brim with clean water. Storage containers usually are small drums containing safe, clean water; however, some humanitarian companies find that using storage container rental companies could aid with the transportation of safe drums and delegate to areas in need. This is something that we love to see because it usually means that the household has just recently filled from the water treatment center. However, this month we have found that it does not always mean just that. When CWS conducts household visits in our implemented villages, we always ask a member of each household: “When was the last time you filled your safe storage container with clean water?” –translated in Dagbani – “Ka bon dali kayi tougi?”. The average response that we get is that someone in the household filled 2-3 days ago. Lately, we have had people tell us that they filled their safe storage containers over a week ago! Now how is it that a household of 8-10 people can go over a week without drinking 20 L of water? Well because of Ramadan people are drinking much less water. Also, since it is the rainy season, it has not been as hot in Tamale. I’ve asked a few fasting Ghanaians if it is hard to fast during Ramadan. The responses have been the same, “With this weather? Oh no, it’s easy to fast when the clouds are in the sky.”

Rainwater harvesting in Baramini’s compound in Gidanturu
Peter chats with Kukuna, the lady that runs the water treatment center in Cheko, as she makes the “local maggi”

Since most people are fasting, they are drinking less water during the day. This means that when people are drinking water before sunrise or after sunset, they have to make every drop count! In our household visits, CWS staff members have been emphasizing the importance of drinking clean water once the fast is broken. Even though most parents are fasting, it’s essential that the children still have access to the safe storage containers throughout the day. It is so important that everyone has access to clean water all of the time as it can massively benefit your health. If you are interested in filtering your own water, you may want to contact Water Filter Advisors for further information.

A Family in Yapalsi keeps 4 clean cups on their safe storage container, ready for drinking clean water!
Amina pours water for a customer at the second opening day in the village of Galinzegu. 25 households came to fill their buckets!

One household that Wahab and I spoke to in Kpalguni explained to us that they had just run out of water that morning because the family had gathered together to drink water to ensure strength for a day of fasting. The community members of Jagberin have agreed to help Fulera and Aisha, the ladies that run the center, fill their blue drums with water from the dugout during Ramadan. Since many of the women who run the CWS water businesses are fasting, they are weaker than usual during this month. In Yapalsi, Amin and I came across one household that has four clean cups sitting on top of their safe storage container, so that eager family members can break their fast with clean water at sunset. It seems that Ramadan is bringing people together to share clean water in many of the CWS villages this month!


A woman secures her safe storage container to her bike after filling at the second opening day in Galinzegu!

Back to Tamale and it feels so good!

After two weeks of training and saying farewell to some pretty awesome fellows, I have officially started as Ghana Country Director. It feels so good to be back with CWS! With the 6 newly implemented villages, CWS now has 38 villages in its monitoring rotation. Once the fellows leave, CWS continues to monitor its villages. This includes checking in with the wonderful ladies that run the water treatment centers, as well as doing household visits and taking water samples. Post-implementation, each new village is monitored once a week for the first 6 months and then less and less as the villages become self-sustainable.

It is the start of the rainy season here in the Northern Region of Ghana, which means that many of the villages (that have tin roofs) are transitioning into using rainwater collection techniques to harvest water with their safe storage containers. This is because some villages (like Gbung and Zanzugu Yipela) do not use their dugouts during the rainy season. While sales at the water treatment centers have been low in many of these communities that harvest rainwater, they will pick right back up when the dry season comes underway. As for now, the CWS staff in Ghana is just trying to stay dry with all the rain!


Shak cheesin’ with some kiddos in Wambong & Wahab keeping dry during a storm!Image
Happy 4th of July! — a boy in the village of Cheko shows off his American and clean water pride!
The children in Nyamaliga can’t get enough camera action!
Rainy season, means rice harvesting! A family in Tacpuli poses with their full bucket of clean water.

This week in pictures

On Monday and Tuesday I shadowed Shak and TJ as they monitored Yipela, Zanzugu Yipela, Zanzugu and Wambong. All four villages were doing great! It was so awesome to see the water treatment centers running smoothly!
First we stopped by Yipela and chatted with Saramatu
Saramatu bought some aquatabs since she was running low.
TJ did an awesome job taking notes on the CWS monitoring sheets.
Then we stopped by Wambong to see Chang-Chang. As you can see, the water treatment center was packed! It was so great to see all of those blue buckets on just a random Monday!
Chang-Chang says "Hi!" to all of the 2010 Summer Fellows
In Zanzugu, Azara had TJ and Shak move the water treatment center to the center of town for the rainy season because they have a couple of hand-dug wells that fill with water during the rains. This is one of the dug-wells. The water is still very turbid and fecally contaminated, so it still needs to be treated, but its easier for the village to fetch from the water treatment center when its close to the center of town. So far the new system is working well!
On Tuesday, we went back to Zanzugu Yipela and did a few household visits. Here are TJ and Shak taking a sample and speaking with a woman from the community about her water.
Woman on her way home from fetching water at the CWS water business in Zanzugu Yipela
On Wednesday, I headed down the Salaga Rd to check up on Chani, Jarigu and Cheko with Peter and Wahab. Here are Peter and Wahab talking with Alhassan's wife (who has recently started helping her husband run the water business), in Jargiu.
On Thursday, we spent the morning in Cheko training a new translator (more on that to come later!) and then spent the afternoon lugging 1,000 safe storage containers from Melcom to our office! 2011 Summer Fellows, we are now ready for you!

Day 3: Household Visits, Lab Training and Full Implementation Review

Day 3 of the Fellowship was a very full day for the teams. The first half of the day was spent visiting existing CWS villages. Each team visited a different CWS village. Half of each team monitored sales at the treatment center while the other half did household water storage monitoring with their translator. Both team halves took water samples along the way.

Why yes, that is a big ant hill towering above us!
I tagged along with Team 3 (Kathryn, Lauren, Jim and Elsie) for the day.
Lauren couldn't resist trying to climb the ant hill 🙂
Team 3 chillin' by the Cheko dugout.

In Cheko, Team 3 encountered an example of the difficulties that can arise in development work. For the first time, we found in Cheko that households didn’t have clean water in their homes and some had dirty water in their containers. The center wasn’t running and it had obviously not been for at least a week. The CWS staff immediately looked into this and discovered that the women running the center had left the village (for various reasons) without leaving properly trained women behind to keep the center running. Shak met with the chief and elders to solve the problem and held an emergency community meeting to reiterate the significance of clean drinking water and the need to use household containers properly. The next day, he spent going household to household to repeat this message and the treatment center was cleaned and new women were selected to be trained to run the center. Team 3 was disappointed to not see the Cheko center up and running that day but appreciated the realistic experience they were getting. Personally, though we realize that we are here to monitor and problem solve, it’s never enjoyable to see such rare problems. Teams 1, 2, and 4 all visited villages with busily running centers and every household visit showed properly stored clean drinking water.

Lauren tried to blend with the village by making goat noises...there was minimal success.
...but the children loved the goat-sounding girl 🙂
And for lunch? Ta da!! Chicken & Rice! Yum!
Sometimes it's best to get in out of the sun after a while.
As there are no bunnies in northern Ghana, these are called giraffe ears...
Lunch out was a nice break, even if the menu was pretty familiar.

The second half of the day, the teams rotated through the CWS office, where they spent an hour and a half reviewing with me in detail the step by step CWS implementation process, focusing especially on the very important initial meeting with the chief and elders. Following this, each team moved over to the lab to learn how to properly conduct water tests and performed tests on the samples they had taken that morning. They were also taught to clean the lab equipment; we had to buy distilled water for the process, to ensure that all the testing equipment was clean and safe to use.

Mira carefully drawing a sample to test.
Chris preparing the pipettor.
Heather skillfully testing the water while Allie holds the sample for her.
Jim draws from the sample Lauren holding open for him.
Hannah and Nate preparing the samples.
Cam water testing with surgeon-like hands
Nate watches in awe as Sarah tests their water sample.
Elsie takes her turn with the pipettor while Jim holds out the sample.
The hard part is done. Now it's time to incubate!! 🙂


To treat ourselves for our full day, we ate out. Sarah enjoyed spaghetti with vegetables.
Cam enjoyed red red (a traditional been stew) with plantains and chicken.)
Lauren played it a little safer with good 'ol vegetable pizza.
Kathryn did the same. 🙂

Day 2: New Year’s Eve!

The second day of the fellowship began with a brief classroom review of the CWS approach to water treatment followed by a more hands on lesson.  The fellows practiced rolling alum balls and using it on samples of dugout water.  After seeing for themselves the magical filtering ability of alum, the fellows split up into their teams and practiced simulations of random household monitoring with their translators.

Luke practicing using alum with dugout water
The fellows learned many new skills. 🙂
Kathryn practices a household monitoring visit with her translator. Lauren played the part of the village woman and then they switched roles.


Luke practiced the household visit with Jim playing the villager. Wahab translated.
Luke checks inside the container and inquires about the level of water and the last time the villager (Jim) filled the container at the treatment center.
Hannah practices while Nate (who just arrived this morning!) plays the villager and TJ translates.
"Do you mind if I take a look inside your container?"
"Aha! This is not water from the treatment center!" -Every fellow practiced any type of situation the may encounter in their visits and how to deal with each.
Kevin enjoying a New Year's Eve treat for lunch, guinea fowl with ground nut soup and rice balls. A delicious traditional Ghanaian dish.

The fellows then made their first trip out into the field to visit existing CWS villages!!  Teams 1 and 4 went to Jarigu, Team 2 Cheko, and Team 3 Nyamaliga.  The fellows got to see the treatment centers first hand and further visualize the end goal of their projects.  They also got to practice their Dagbani with the villagers!

Jim, Elsie and Kathryn visiting their first dugout in Nyamaliga with some new friends.
Lauren and Kathryn see their first treatment center and make even more new friends! 🙂
Lauren adopted a baby goat in Jerigu.
Kevin, Allie, Luke and Jim getting acquainted with Jerigu. Jim made one child so incredibly happy simply by giving him his hat. He and the fellows were touched that it took so little to make someone so happy.
New Year's Eve Dinner! The menu: Chicken & Rice! 🙂
Jim and the fellows celebrate New Year's Eve by learning some new Ghanaian dance moves!
Happy New Year!!! 🙂



World Water Day!

Yesterday was World Water Day, and we made sure to celebrate this special day with our entire CWS Family here in Ghana!

We started our celebration bright and early by opening our fifth water business in Gbong! It was so much fun to open a CWS water business ON World Water Day, even though most of the people in Gbong did not understand what we were talking about when Shak and I kept cheering for WWD! We had an amazing turnout, with 94% of the village showing up to buy water. Fati and Amina, the CWS ladies in Gbong did a great job selling and treating the water! Here are some pics from the morning:

Shak recording which households came to buy water

Selling water on World Water Day at Gbong
Safe storage container filled with safe drinking water!

The one hiccup was a few dozen leaky taps – but Shak and I were able to fix them all by the end of the morning.  Thank you iContact for sponsoring the water business at Gbong!

Later that afternoon, we had a party for the entire CWS family here at the office. Shak and I cooked (well, I chopped veggies while Shak cooked!) while Peter went to pick up everyone. Everyone except Fati from Kasaligu was able to make it to the party. The ladies were a little shy at first, but once they got to know each other, they started to share stories and offer each other advice. It was such a great experience. For example, the ladies in Cheko mentioned that some people in their village don’t like the smell of chlorine in the water. Alhassan, from Jarigu, explained to them that the chlorine was the most important step in the water treatment center, and that in a few weeks, people won’t even notice the smell. He went on to explain his experience in Jarigu, and how the chlorine smell is the smell of “clean water” so of course it is going to smell different than the “dirty water” from the dugout. This entire conversation happened while I was in the kitchen helping Shak, and when I came back, Soufoo (who can speak a little english) told me about it. I was thrilled! We missed you Mike, Chuck, Vanessa and Peter A!

World Water Day Celebration!

Of course we had to serve water from a CWS Safe Storage Container!

Everyone was dressed to the nines! (sorry that the picture is blurry!)

Opening Day at Cheko

Today was opening day at Cheko and it was a great success – 80% of the village showed up to buy water! Out of the 7 households that did not come this morning, 2 of them are Fulani families. The Fulanis are a nomadic ethic group in the Northern Region of Ghana that move from village to village and takes care of cattle. Fulanis usually do not stay in a village for more than a year, but we always make sure that the Fulanis that are around get safe storage containers and have access to the water treatment center. We’re guessing the two Fulani families that did not come this morning were probably out in the bush with their cattle.

This week Peter will conduct household visits in Cheko. He will take water samples so we can make sure that our safe storage containers are doing their job of preventing the water from being re-contaminated in the home. During these visits, Peter will also chat with members of the community to see what they think of the water, the water business, and CWS in general. He’s going to be on the look-out for the 5 remaining households that did not buy water this morning and see if he can figure out why. I’ll keep you posted on his findings!

Unfortunately, I forgot to give Peter my camera this morning so we don’t have any pics from opening day. I’ll make sure that he has it the next time the water business is open so we can post some good pictures!


Both Cheko and Gbong, the two prospective villages that I blogged about last week, have not only agreed to work with us, but have been VERY excited about their water treatment centers! The entire CWS team has been very busy this week getting things set up in both locations and we are hoping to have both water businesses up and running early next week. I’ve decided to dedicate this post to the village of Cheko and will update everyone on Gbong this weekend.

Cheko is a small village of about 34 households (approximately 300 people) located about 35 minutes outside of Tamale and right next door to Jarigu (another CWS village). Like most other CWS villages, the only source of water in Cheko is shallow, stagnant pond (also called a “dugout” or “dam”) that fills with water during the rainy season.

Children collecting water from the Cheko dugout

Our Project Manager, Peter, has been in charge of implementing the water treatment center in Cheko and he has been doing a great job! Last week, he worked with our friend Soufoo from Nyamaliga (who is a mason) and some men from the village to build the stand for the polytank.

Soufoo hard at work

Over the past few days, Peter has been working with the “woman organizer”, Samata, in Cheko to select the two women who will be working at the center. They decided on two hard-working, dedicated ladies names Kukuna and Abiba. This morning, he had his first training session with these women. First, they collected the contaminated water from the dugout, and transported it to the water treatment center.

Transporting dugout water to the water treatment center. All the women from the village help the CWS ladies with this task.

Next, Peter showed them how to use alum – a locally available flocculant, to remove the particles from the water and reduce the turbidity. Tomorrow morning, Peter will return for the second training session with the women!

Samata and Kukuna treating the water with alum while Tuu-naa, the dam guard, looks on
Proud residents of Cheko by the water treatment center: Samata (the woman organizer), Kambona, and Dagbambina (two village elders).

In addition to running the water treatment center, Peter has been busy distributing safe storage containers to each family in Cheko. Tonight he told me that the water treatment center was the talk of the town! Many families had already heard about the safe storage buckets before he visited their houses and many of the women said that “their husbands have been telling them about the water business all week.” Peter also said that many children from Cheko followed him around all evening begging him to go to their houses next. He thought it was funny and promised them that he would get to every house eventually. The hardest part of his day? Explaining the safe storage containers, and the importance of safe drinking water to a “deaf and dumb elderly man who lives alone.” I really enjoyed listening to Peter explain how he overcame this challenge – its so rewarding to see how much he has learned in his year with CWS. Peter plans to finish up the distribution tomorrow and open the water treatment business on Monday!

CWS Project Manager, Peter, at the Cheko water treatment center after a long days work

The water treatment center at Cheko is sponsored by a good friend of  the CWS team who wishes to remain anonymous. We will be sending this sponsor frequent updates on the progress at Cheko, complete with pictures and videos from the water treatment center! If you are interested in sponsoring a village, please visit our website:

Thank you Village Sponsor for bringing us clean water!

Two New Villages!

For the past 3 days, Shak, Peter and I have been hard at work getting the new Community Water Solutions house/office up and running. The final few pieces of furniture should be ready tonight, so I promise to post some pictures this weekend!

Now that the house is almost ready, my team and I were able to get back to the field this morning. We quickly stopped by Nyamaliga and Jarigu to collect water samples from their treatment centers (to test in our NEW lab!) and then visited two potential new villages: Cheko and Gbong.

Cheko is right next to Jarigu, and after stopping by there last fall, Peter and I knew that it would be a good fit for CWS. They’re only source of water is a dugout (see below) and the dugout does not dry out in the dry season.

the Cheko Dugout

Today, we met with a couple of the village elders to explain our work and answer any questions that they may have. The chief of the village was not home, so the elders that we met with are going to speak with him his weekend and let us know on Monday morning if they would like to work with us. The elders seemed very receptive to a partnership with us and we are pretty sure that the chief will be on-board with the project.

If Cheko agrees to work with us, then Peter will be implementing the water business all on his own. This will be the first village that Peter will be working in without me (or another founding member of CWS), and he is very excited about it! As I said in my last post, we have been so happy with the work Peter has done over the past year and definitely think that he is ready for this promotion!

While Peter is implementing in Cheko, Shak and I will most likely be setting up a water business in Gbong. This village was suggested to us by our good friend, Soufoo, from Nyamaliga (see below).  Soufoo’s half-brother is the chief of Gbong and he had been worried about their water situation for a long time.

Me and Soufoo in Nyamaliga.

We had our initial meeting with the chief of Gbong in the fall, and agreed with Soufoo’s assessment of their water. Their only source of drinking water is a heavily contaminated dugout, and this large village seemed like it could greatly benefit from a CWS water business.

We re-visited Gbong this morning to officially propose a partnership with their village. This meeting was one of the most formal village meetings that I have been to in a long time. There were about 15 of the village’s elders present! The chief will be calling Soufoo this weekend to give us the official yes/no on the project, but again, we are pretty confident that they will agree to work with us! I’ll keep you posted!

After returning from the field this afternoon, I conducted the inaugural water tests in the CWS lab! Here are some pictures from this exciting event!

Water samples. The two on the left are from Cheko and Gbong (its the water that people there are currently DRINKING). The two on the right are from the water treatment centers at Jarigu and Nyamaliga.
Water samples, micro-pipettor and pipette tips, may not seem exciting to many, but to the CWS team (and Brian Vozzella) having these items in our lab is VERY exciting!

And just because Shak, Peter and I love it so much, here are some more pictures of the TRUCK!

Peter and I with the truck at the end of our first day in Kumasi
Peter behind the wheel
Big Alex in his signature outfit.

Does all of this look like fun? Want to come work with us in Ghana this summer? Apply for the CWS fellowship! Get more information at

Applications are due March 8th so you still have all weekend to finish yours up!