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Saha Global, Water Access Now, and Catholic Relief Services – A New Partnership for Clean Water

We are thrilled to announce the opening of two new clean water businesses through a partnership with Catholic Relief Services (CRS) and Water Access Now (WAN).

Catholic Relief Services is the official international humanitarian agency of the Catholic community in the United States. CRS works to save, protect, and transform lives in need in more than 100 countries, without regard to race, religion or nationality. CRS’ relief and development work is accomplished through programs of emergency response, health, agriculture, education, microfinance, and peacebuilding. CRS began working in Ghana just one year after independence, in 1958, and has two offices in Accra and Tamale.

Since 2007, WAN and CRS have supported over 220 health facilities, schools, and communities to gain access to safe drinking water in the Northern, Upper East, Upper West, and Oti Regions of Ghana. To date, WAN has provided over $2 million to support the provision of safe water supply through the construction and rehabilitation of boreholes, including limited mechanized water systems.

CRS approached Saha to discuss their water business model as an alternative to communities with very poor aquifers to support groundwater extraction and use. Several attempts by CRS and WAN using conventional drilling methods and technologies failed to provide sufficient water in several rural communities.

Saha specializes in providing water solutions to rural communities where other technologies won’t work– either in areas with no accessible groundwater or unsuitable groundwater (salty, contaminated, seasonal, or a combination), and with populations so small that the economics of other systems are unsustainable. Together with CRS, we found two communities that were the perfect fit for both organizations. CRS is deeply involved in the communities through Savings and Internal Lending (SILC) groups and other interventions, and Saha could fill in the missing piece for clean, safe water.

The two communities, located in West Mamprusi and Gushegu districts, were coordinated by Saha Implementers Shirazu Yakubu, Charity Dong, Implementation Supervisor Nestor Danaa, and CRS Project Officer Emmanuel Narimah. The water business in Sooba, in West Mamprusi opened on June 21 by water entrepreneurs Azaratu, Amina, Mariama, and Arhanatu. Their business provides clean water access for all 38 households in their community, with more than 600 people! On opening day, all 119 families came out and filled their Saha Safe Storage Container (SSC) – that’s 2,380 liters of treated, safe water going into homes on a single day! Since opening, while rainy season has begun, sales at the center are continuing with some customers even coming from neighboring villages to purchase clean water.

The second community, Nanyuni, in Gushegu, opened their water business with entrepreneurs Alima, Felicia, and Ama on July 6. This business provides clean water access to 351 people in the 25 households in Nanyuni.  On opening day, all 75 families in this village came to fill their SSC and bring clean water back to their families. When we’ve visited after opening, it’s been amazing to see how strong the business is continuing – though it’s been open less than a month, the entrepreneurs have already purchased chlorine twice to keep up with the volume of treatment!

At Saha, we know that by partnering with CRS in these communities, it will create an even stronger clean water business in the long term. The financial training the entrepreneurs receive through the SILC programs can inform their water business acumen. We look forward eagerly to future opportunities for collaboration in our mission to bring clean water to rural communities in northern Ghana.

“The Saha Global Water Business Model is a guaranteed approach for providing safe drinking water to communities with poor groundwater potential. The exciting part of the model is the treatment process, which is simple and done by rural women with little or no formal education. The women also make some earnings from the sale of the treated water. Thus, improving health of communities and addressing financial constraints facing women. The first two beneficiaries of the model in partnership with Water Access Now (WAN) and Catholic Relief Services (i.e., Sooba and Nanyuni) are bustling with excitement. It is my hope that more communities will be covered”.

  • Emmanuel Narimah (WASH Project Officer- Catholic Relief Services)

“Before the Water Treatment site was constructed, we drank unclean water directly from our river, which came with frequent health conditions such as diarrhea in our community, but now thanks to WAN, CRS, and SAHA Global we have clean drinking water for ourselves and our visitors. Hopefully, our disease burden will be reduced or eliminated totally”.

  • Dokurugu – Field Agent (Savings and Internal Lending Communities, SILC), Sooba Community

 

 

Signboard installation at Sooba
Community meeting at Sooba
Charity at opening day in Sooba

 

 

Women entrepreneurs in Sooba learning how to assemble safe storage containers
Assembling the center at Nanyuni
Alum works at Nanyuni
Opening Day in Nanyuni

 

Emergency Water Fund Wrap Up Part II: The Stories

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Clean Water, Fueled by Sustainable Shea

Last year, we were excited to include a new corporate partner in our clean water mission.  AAK, headquartered in Malmö, Sweden, is a multinational company specializing in plant-based oils and one of the largest shea buyers in West Africa.  Shea harvesting is a major industry in northern Ghana, and approximately four million women across West Africa participate in the shea industry.  As you can imagine, this includes many of the women we work with in Saha partner communities.

In addition to purchasing shea through the traditional supply chain, AAK is continuously expanding its Kolo Nafaso program, sourcing shea directly from the women who harvest it. The set-up within Kolo Nafaso includes innovative pre-financing, best practices and finance training programs. According to AAK’s latest report, the company currently works directly with 321,443 women across West Africa.  AAK is committed to sustainable sourcing of shea and improving women’s livelihoods in the same rural communities in which Saha works.

Initially, AAK supported the Emergency Coronavirus Water Fund, helping Saha fulfil the government free water mandate. When the free water mandate ended, we moved quickly to open our first AAK-sponsored water business in Bachado this April.  Implementation officers Basha and Charity worked to set up this business with entrepreneurs Gmayenan, Poalati, and Tiboryan.  Bachado, a community of approximately 270 people, previously had no source of clean water. We were told that other organizations had attempted to drill boreholes in the past but that they were unable to find viable groundwater.  The new Saha water business enables the women entrepreneurs to treat the surface water from their nearby river into good, healthy drinking water.  Opening day was an exciting affair, with 100% of the households coming out to purchase clean water!

One of the things we appreciate about working with AAK is that, like us, they have a long-term plan for working in rural northern Ghana.  Laura Schlebes, AAK Sustainable Multi-Oil Manager, says it best:

“A partnership with Saha Global is a perfect match for AAK on our journey of improving livelihoods and empowering women through our Kolo Nafaso program. Saha Global’s simple and cost-effective technologies, long-term partnership approach, and focus on business-based solutions fit perfectly with our preferred way of working. We are excited to have partnered with Saha and are looking forward to connecting them to more women’s groups that we work with.”

Photos from Opening Day in Bachado:

 

Opening New Water Businesses in 2021

We’re back! Since the first Saha business opened in 2008, we’ve never taken a full year away from implementing new water businesses. When the pandemic hit Ghana, we took a pause in our field operations, and then pivoted nearly the whole team to implementing the Emergency Water Fund (EWF) so we could support the Government of Ghana’s initiative to bring free water to all.

The free water mandate ended on March 31 2021, and we were ready to be “back in business” opening new businesses!  Throughout the EWF program, our expansion team continued to work behind the scenes to scout new potential communities to work in.  Over this time, our scouters visited more than 1,400 communities across northern Ghana, mapping their water access.  The admin and procurement team secured all the supplies and parts our new businesses need, and planned out logistics like team transportation and housing. Thanks to all of this preparation, as soon as we could start visiting new communities, we did!

We’re doing things a little bit differently now, with a smaller team.  In order to keep our communities and our staff safe as the threat of COVID remains, we’ve developed new protocols for community meetings and household visits.  We make sure to have two team members present for a community meeting so they can do some “crowd control” and make sure the meeting doesn’t exceed the government limit for gatherings, and distribute masks to everyone who attends.  We’ve actually found gathering people for community meetings is a little bit easier now – people like getting a free mask!

We give the elected entrepreneurs reusable cloth masks to wear while training with our team and to continue using while they serve water to their community after the business has opened.  When we visit households to distribute safe storage containers and tell customers about the new business, we make sure not to enter people’s room and keep the conversations outside in the open-air courtyards.

Amin Bangaham distributing safe storage containers in March 2021

Like any big process change, we needed to test these out first.  Our two implementation team supervisors, Nestor Danaa and Amin Bangaham Mohammed, implemented the first two communities of 2021 in Savelugu District.  Thanks to their testing and feedback, we refined our safety plans and were able to train the rest of the team.  Now, we’ve already opened 10 new businesses, on track to hit our goal of 50 for 2021.

It’s energizing to be back in the field meeting new people and bringing water access to new places.  One leader in a new Saha community near Salaga told our team, “We’ve been waiting for you!”

Opening Day in Bachado
Charity distributes safe storage containers in a household in East Gonja
Implementor Aisha poses on opening day with community elders in Makango Enuyasu

Meet Mr. Muda and His Family

For a year now at Saha, we’ve been using remote calling to water business entrepreneurs and customers to enable Saha to keep in touch while avoid direct contact due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  This technique gives Saha opportunity to listen to success stories, learn about problems that need immediate attention and continue education on COVID-19. During a routine phone call, field officer Amin Bangaham learned that Mr. Muda has been an active customer and strong advocate for the Saha water business in his community of Zowu.

The Muda family at their home in Zowu

 

Entrepreneurs in Zowu (most closely pronounced “Zoh”), in Central Gonja, opened their water business in 2018.  Since day one, Mr. Muda was glad to have an option other than the dugout water for his family to drink.  He lives with with wife and children as well as his elderly father.  His wife, Mrs. Muda, refills the family’s safe storage containers whenever they are empty.  Mr. Muda said that at first, the children and his wife were reluctant to drink the new water, but over time they’ve come to enjoy it even more than he does!  He told Bangaham that they used to go to the community health center every month to get drugs due to someone in his household experiencing diarrhea, but since they’ve been drinking the clean water from the Saha business, it has been almost an entire year since he’s had to visit the hospital.  He attributes this change to the drinking water, since he learned in the very first community meeting before the business opened that drinking the dugout water causes diarrhea.

Mr. Muda is the head of one of 62 households in his community, and Zowu is one of 246 Saha water businesses.  Saha water businesses are impacting over 100,000 people just like Mr. Muda every day.

 

 

Emergency Coronavirus Water Fund Extended for 3 Months

Saha Global announces it will extend its Emergency Water Fund program in response to President Nana Akufo-Addo’s January 3, 2021 proclamation that free water be extended for “lifeline customers.” These customers consume less than 5 cubic liters each month, so all communities served by Saha community water business qualify for the initiative.  This extension of the free water program directly responds to the government’s efforts to support the most vulnerable during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The original Emergency Water Fund, which was originally set to expire at the end of 2020, supported clean water businesses active in 225 rural communities in Northern and Savannah Regions of Ghana.  In a statement from Tamale, Director of Ghana Operations Theo Boateng says, “as an organization, we are glad we are able to continue supporting our community partners and the Government of Ghana so we can all make it through this pandemic together.”

Clean water is a basic human right, necessary for health.  Saha works in small rural communities that do not have pipe systems or other options for clean water.  Since 2008, Saha has trained over 700 women entrepreneurs to treat their surface water to make it safe to drink.  After businesses open, Saha continues to provide business training and support for at least 10 years.

Staying Safe from Coronavirus While Delivering Clean Water

When COVID-19 was first confirmed in Ghana this March, we knew we needed a good plan to change our operations, keep the team safe, and fulfill our mission.  During those first few weeks, we developed our remote customer calling and other remote work structures.  We’ve since developed safety protocols such that we feel confident to have our team in the field, doing what we do best – getting clean water to people who need it!

COVID-19 safety measures changed several things: day-to-day operations for our Saha teammates, things we ask of our entrepreneurs and businesses, and changes to how we operate in the communities.  Managers and other office-based staff who can work from home are encouraged to as much as possible, and have extra data packages so they can get their work done without the office internet. In the office, you wash your hands outside before entering, and must wear a face mask at all times.  We miss all the handshakes, hugs, and high-fives, but we know if we stay safe, we’ll be able to enjoy those expressions of friendship and camaraderie again!

In the field, front-line teammates wear masks and gloves, and carry hand sanitizer with them.  Each teammate has either several cloth, washable masks, or is supplied with disposable ones depending upon their preference.  After all, the best mask is the one you wear!

When we are in the field, we’ve changed how we communicate to stay outdoors and avoid entering the interior of any structure.  If we need to do a small group meeting, like with some village VIPs and the entrepreneurs, we do them outside, safely distanced, under a tree.  Community meetings and household visits, always a great way to spread information, are also on hold for now as we avoid large gatherings or going door to door and being in contact with lots of people.  The great thing is that because everyone knows about COVID-19, it’s easy to explain why we’ve changed our procedures.  It’s gratifying to know that the people in the villages understand we are doing these things in order to keep them safe!  At first, it was awkward to not shake hands and wear masks while talking, or to ask to meet the elders outside rather than in the chief palace.  But as the pandemic continues, more and more we hear from our partners that they are happy we are trying our best to protect their health.

Our entrepreneurs have also changed the way they run their business, beyond the free water.  They all wear face masks while selling water – in fact, our front-line team reports that when they show up in a community and sales are happening, 100% of the time, the entrepreneurs have their masks!  To date, we’ve distributed over 600 masks – 1 for each entrepreneur, and starting this month we will be distributing enough so that each entrepreneur has 5 so she can wash them between uses.  They are also enforcing social distancing at their businesses during sales.  It’s so hard to remember to do, so we are really proud that 96% of the time, we can observe social distancing during sales!  For those familiar with our usual opening day photos with plenty of crowded people and buckets, this is a huge change.

With safety as the first priority, we adapt to each new piece of information as the world learns more about COVID.  The protocols we have make us feel confident that we are protecting our team and our partners.

Announcing: The Emergency Coronavirus Fund

The coronavirus pandemic has continued to affect everyone’s life all across the globe.  Here at Saha, we are pleased to announce a new effort to help promote hygiene and clean water consumption in the fight against this virus.

Saha’s Board of Directors approved an exciting new initiative in our COVID-19 response.  In alignment with the Ghanaian government’s efforts to provide free water access for as many Ghanaians as possible for 3 months, Saha created Coronavirus Emergency Water Funds for each of our partner communities. These funds will allow all people living in Saha partner communities to access free water from their Saha business for the months of June, July and August. While this is different than our typical social enterprise model, this emergency effort strongly aligns with our organization’s mission as well as the overall goals of our COVID-19 response. Our leadership team has done extensive risk analysis and mitigation planning and we feel confident that this short term, emergency relief effort, will not have a negative impact on our entrepreneurs’ ability to charge for water in the long-run. Instead, we believe this initiative will contribute to a positive relationship with both the government and our community partners while also providing Saha with a lot of opportunities to learn about demand, price and business logistics. 

We are dedicated to our mission – getting the cleanest water to the people who need it most, now more than ever.  We’re grateful to have this story covered by several Ghanaian news sources, including Citi Newsroom, story linked here.

The response from our partner communities has been overwhelmingly positive.  We are so proud at Saha that we keep showing up, month after month, year after year, even during a crisis, for nearly 100,000 people.  Stories from the field to come over the next days and weeks.

Baramini in Gidanturu – a Saha entrepreneur for 10 years, proudly serving free clean water for her community.

Voices from the Field: Team Kamil in Kpegunaayili

Team Kamil here, or as he likes to call us, Team Crazy! This is Maggie, Grace, Shannon, and Leslieann, and we have been working in the small village of Kpegunaayili for the past ten days or so. Before our arrival, the villagers were drinking water the color of chocolate milk, full of E. coli and other harmful bacteria. They knew this water was detrimental to their health, but were not sure why. Not to mention, they had no other option. It has been amazing seeing the villagers learn about the impact water has on their health and how easily they adapt to the Saha method.

Today was our opening day, and our turnout was awesome! Samata, Fegima, Azumie, and Amna, our four entrepreneurs, worked diligently in their spare time to make their business successful. They are incredibly fast learners, needing only one example from us to successfully complete every task. In the past two days, we distributed 29 Safe Storage Containers (SSC’s) to our tiny village, and the entrepreneurs sold 27 buckets worth of the newly cleaned water this morning! The two women who were unable to make it this morning were busy picking Shea nuts, and we are very confident they will stop by the center later today, as everyone was very excited about their newly purified water.

Working in the small village has definitely had its benefits! Everyone has been super involved through every step of the process, from the kids helping us distribute the SSC’s, to nearly the entire village showing up at the center for its opening day. Even though all the children were shy at first, they have become used to us throughout our time at the village, and now when we leave they run after our car smiling and waving. The language barrier was initially intimidating, but we have all grown as a whole, field reps and entrepreneurs alike. All of us have learned that you do not need to speak the same language in order to feel the same emotions. Putting this aside, Kamil, our translator, has definitely been an integral part of our team, making this experience fun and interactive for everyone involved. We are so grateful to have him, and he has provided so much guidance for us and the women. Plus, he has great style!!

As four privileged students, this experience has opened our eyes to a part of the world that we do not normally see. Amenities that we view as staples in our daily lives can be commodities for others. We are forever grateful to the community of Kpegunaayili for welcoming us into their lives with open arms, and to Saha for providing us with this amazing opportunity. We will take what we have learned with us for the rest of our lives, and never take another sip of clean water for granted.

2019 Global Leadership Program Has Landed in Ghana!

A maraba to the Summer 2019 Field Representatives!  We have a great team of 20 jet-lagged yet excited young people who have arrived safely in Ghana to begin their experience!

The first day was spent in Accra, having an orientation to Ghana, introduction to Ghanaian transportation (tro-tros and taxi negotiations!) Dagbani language lessons, and getting to know their group.  Tomorrow we will be on the STC bus: next stop, Tamale!

First sweaty tro-tro selfie: check!