Despa!! I’m currently sitting in the Saha office on a rainy Monday morning. Most days we’d be out monitoring right now, but the downpour is keeping us inside. We gave it our best shot, heading out at 6:30am only to make it to the other side of Tamale before we were soaked through. It doesn’t help much to put a rain jacket on after the rains begin, and motos don’t offer any rain protection, so back to the office Wahab and I drove! Tomorrow we will try again!
The few weeks since the Global Leadership Program ended have been an adventure. Thus far, I’ve gone monitoring with Eric, Shak, and am now starting to monitor with Wahab. Katie and I are spending a week with each full time staff to really understand how things run around here.
Eric monitors Vogyili, the community I implemented a water business in as a field rep. It was fun to monitor and see how well they were doing, especially considering they now have a solar business too. Eric also monitors five of the nine new water businesses from this summer’s GLP. All five (Kanjeyili, Baayili, Dawunyili, Mahamuyili, and Kpingiyili) are doing well!
A few surprises occurred when Shak and I visited Yakura. The first of which was the small lake that greeted us on the road into the village. We weren’t sure we could make it through on the moto, but a man passing by on a bicycle assured us it wasn’t that deep. However, he was taking a back route that wasn’t moto friendly to avoid the puddle, so we were on our own. I decided to let Shak ride alone, and I would walk though the puddle rather than risk a swim were the moto to tip. Thankfully, the man was right and we made it through without (many) problems, but I am glad I walked!
In Yakura I also saw Mary, one of the women entrepreneurs from my time in Vogyili. We were walking into our first household to monitor and there she was!
I knew that she had moved to another community, but I was so surprised and excited to see her! She’s now helping run the water and solar businesses in Yakura. Mary was equally as surprised to see me, and asked how Victoria, Jacob, and Hailey were (my 2013 GLP teammates). It was a touching reminder of the lasting impact field reps and Saha truly have on each community and its entrepreneurs.
And now, an update on living in Tamale and a shameless plug for our food blog! Katie and I have started an Instagram account – tamaleeats – to document our adventures cooking and eating here in Tamale (even though we have zero experience with food photography). It’s a whole new world learning what goods we can actually cook from the market, and trying to operate our oven. It’s a great day if it only takes one match to light the stove!
Nevertheless, I think we’ve done a splendid job so far: we haven’t eaten plain rice for any meal and we discovered donuts in the market can be a good (albeit not nutritious) lunch substitute when it’s too hot to turn on the stove. Head over to tamaleeats to see homemade falafel, mujadara, chili, and more!
We are happy to report that, once again, 80% of our households had clean water in their safe storage containers. We are very excited about this number and look forward to seeing it increase further! This month, there were a number of communities with high water sales. These villages include: Nekpegu, Chihigu, Vogyili, Kagbal, Balomposo, Wambong, Galinkpegu, Kideng, Gidanturu, Futa and Komonaayili. We are especially impressed with Chihigu, Galinkpegu, Futa, and Kombonaayili because they were recently implemented this past winter. Two of our solar communitites, Chandanyili and Wambong, had high solar sales this month. Although they don’t currently have bank accounts, Sagbarigu, Chadanyili, Kpalguni, Gundaa, Namdu I and Namdu II plan on opening bank accounts very soon!
Although some communities have received rain, the following communities still have very low dugouts: Djelo, Buhijaa Tindan I, and Chandanyili. When the dugouts fill back up, women entrepreneurs are encouraged to inform their community that their centers are regularly running again. This month, Namdu II, Kuldanali, Manguli II, and Djelo had polytank issued that were fixed by our full time staff. Most polytank issues are leaks from the tap, which can be fixed with new parts or just glue and tape! Additionally, Gundaa’s solar center had a leak in the roof that had to be immediately fixed and Jangbarigiyili experienced loose wires after a storm that were fixed with the help of our full time staff. Sagbarigu informed Wahab that they were not given any spare batteries after implementation of their solar business. Businesses are given 10% extra batteries for their solar centers to use as others are charging. Wahab plans to bring these to the women entrepreneurs as soon as possible.
Ghana, it’s been too long – but I’m coming back! Nicaragua, same goes for you! This June will be three years since my time as a field rep in the village of Vogyili, and I am more than excited to get back to Ghana and explore Nicaragua as the new Operations Coordinator!
In May, I’ll graduate from Colby College with a bachelor’s degree in biology and environmental science, with a concentration in the environment and human health. I’m passionate about the health of humans, wildlife, and the environment, and how they interact (aka One Health). I believe that we need to focus on all three of these stakeholders in order to make improved global health a reality, and that’s why I love Saha Global’s model! The clean water and solar energy businesses focus on solutions to improving human health that are local, sustainable, and ultimately beneficial for more than just the immediate village impacted. My time in Ghana was the “aha” moment that sparked my passion, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to go back!
I think there’s great potential for Saha’s expansion to Nicaragua, and I can’t wait to find Saha’s niche. I spent a few weeks near Managua in the west of Nicaragua in 2014 teaching environmental science and implementing environmental health projects. Everyone I worked with there were as welcoming and friendly as Fuseina and Mary from Vogyili, the two women managing the clean water business I helped set up. I’m convinced the northeastern region of Nicaragua will be no different! It will be challenging to find what pieces of the Saha model work or don’t work in a new country, but I’m confident Katie and I have what it takes! I can’t wait until we begin our new adventures in Ghana and Nicaragua.
And now we will hear from Katie Spruill. (And yes we know this makes a Kate, Kathryn and now a Katie on the Saha Team). Katie will be helping us lead this Winter’s Program as well! Without further ado…
I am excited to be Saha’s Programming Coordinator beginning in June 2016! Since
participating in the Leadership Program in May of 2014, I have wanted to be a part of the Saha team. I graduate from Virginia Tech (Go Hokies!!) in May of 2016 with a Bachelor of Science in Biological Systems Engineering and a Green Engineering minor. I have always been interested in international development and from the moment I learned about Saha Global’s leadership program, I knew I needed to apply.
In my first few days in Ghana, as a Field Rep, I experienced a roller coaster of emotions. I was very excited to be involved in helping so many people. At the same time, however, it was heart breaking to see these beautiful kids drinking contaminated water. Working with the women entrepreneurs, to build the water treatment center, was an incredible experience. We didn’t speak the same language, but I could immediately sense their enthusiasm for the project and their sense of community during our many meetings with the village. I will always remember Sanatu, one of the women entrepreneurs, grabbing my hands on our last day and asking me to never forget her. Forgetting her was never an option, she had made a bigger impact on my life than I could ever have made on her life.
Needless to say, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to serve as Saha’s programming coordinator. I am ecstatic to get back to Ghana and I cannot wait to start our work in Nicaragua!
We can’t believe that it was just a little over a week ago that we were sitting at the top of Giddipass cheers-ing all your hard work, closing the 2015 Summer Global Leadership Program with an epic dance circle.
YOU DID IT! We are so grateful for your dedication to fundraise, visit doctors, and struggle with visas, sit on a 12+ plane ride followed by an 18 hour bus ride, smush into a taxi for a ~2 hour ride out to your village, work under the sweltering African heat and sun, eat the chicken and rice, jump in the cold showers, and own the layer upon layers of dirt.
Working in some of the most remote villages in the Northern Region is hard work. The work to get these businesses up and running is grueling. Some days you may have asked yourself, “What the heck am I doing here?” But each day you rose to the occasion. Each day you were quickly reminded of the end goal, maybe from watching a child run to the dugout to grab a drink of extremely turbid water, talking to a mother about the effects of kerosene she has seen within her family, or chattin’ with the chief and elders about their community’s options for water or electricity.
Words can hardly express our gratitude. We really enjoyed getting to know each of you. Your passion and drive are infectious. From the moment you arrived in Ghana we were impressed by your energy, go-getter spirits, and ability to learn on the fly. You all were exactly what we needed on our team to reach our goal of 11 new businesses this summer. We are so proud of the work that you were able to accomplish and feel fully confident in the sustainability of the businesses that you implemented during your time in Ghana. Thanks to each of you, approximately 1,320 people now have a permanent source of clean drinking water, 2,240 people have access to solar electricity and 28 women have become business owners.
Welcome to the Saha Family!
Kate, Shak, Peter, Sam, Amin, Kathryn, Wahab & Eric
Today Team Nestor hits up the blog with details in building the solar charging center and their time in the community of Vohyili.
We have now spent a long and rewarding 11 days in Ghana. Our journey began with a gust of hot, humid air as we unloaded the plane and got our first taste of Ghana. Once we all had arrived safely in Accra, the team of 40 Saha field reps boarded a bus and drove on a meandering two-lane road primarily made of uneven cement with the occasional stretch of dirt and ditches. The ride took us from the southern capitol city of Accra to Kumasi (the 2nd largest city) for a lunch break and then to our final destination, the northern city of Tamale. This was the only “highway” connecting these 3 major cities, so it was a very popular route. We passed through cities, villages, and expansive forests. Many of the communities seemed to be centered around this main road – using it as a way to attract outside customers. In each town, people watched and sometimes waved to our bus as we rolled through the middle of their marketplace.
Ghana lies 6 degrees latitude north of the equator, so the sun sets punctually at 6:30pm all year round. The view from the bus window shifted from vibrant, bustling markets to dark, quiet shacks lit only by a couple flashlights. Many rural villages are not electrified and people must rely on generators and batteries. Even in electrified cities, energy is expensive. Tamale is the fastest growing city in the region of Northern Ghana and its increasing population leads to a higher demand for electricity. Drive just 15 minutes outside of Tamale’s urban landscape and it becomes apparent that electricity and basic resources are beyond the purchasing power of families in rural villages.
The representatives in Saha’s solar program are tasked to establish a solar power station designed and built with the help of community members. In order to construct the station, we are utilizing local building materials and techniques to build a watertight mud hut for the electrical equipment. From the outside, a mud hut appears to be an easily built structure, however, the technicalities involved in its construction surprised us. Each step in the construction process has been passed down for generations, even down to assembling mortar and plaster used to glue bricks together. The villagers we have met and bonded with take pride in their skills and the artistry they use in assembling buildings. Seeing this has shed light on the immense amount of skill involved in building seemingly simple structures. The hut building process exemplified the idea that simplicity is the ultimate form of sophistication. With scarcity of resources constantly in mind, villagers must understand how to effectively use their land and maximize available resources. For those of you haven’t built a mud hut, here’s what you need to know:
Recipe for “Mud Hut”
200 Blocks— made of cement, clay soil, and dugout water
Mortar— made of clay soil and dugout water
Plaster— made of cement and dugout water
Tin Roof— 10 zinc sheets
Nails— 2 types: cement nails and wood nails
Carpenter + tools— local carpenter, buddy of our translator
Wawa Boards— AKA planks of wood
MotoKing— a motorbike with a trailer attached to transport material from the market
The Dagomba people have established a way of life based around a closed loop resource system. The mortar used for all buildings is mixed together in a pit with clay-laden soil and water carried from a dugout a mile away. The villagers stomp the mix with their feet, carefully adding water until the perfect consistency is reached. Mortar is used not only to secure layers of bricks, but is added as a coating around the entire structure with a throwing technique requiring grace so as not to splatter others around you, but ensure the mortar stays firm to the wall. The mortar and brick is then left to dry for a day. After this, fine sand is sifted and mixed with cement and water to create a smooth plaster bolstering the hut walls. These processes were basic community knowledge and everyone had a role to play in the hut construction.
After 3 days of enthusiastically joining the village in this process by carrying blocks on our heads, accidentally getting mortar in our eyes, and marching knee-deep in mud (to mix the mortar), we could never look at a mud hut the same way again. As Americans, it is easy to see the mud hut as an icon of the “African village.” But it is much more challenging to convey its underlying complex processes and beautifully simple design. Someone asked us if we built our own homes in America and we had to admit that we knew far more about the homes of Ghanaian villagers than our own. It dawned on us that we sincerely wished we had constructed our own homes out of local materials with the help of our entire community. The efficiency with which the community members of Vogyili used their available resources amazed and humbled us. Through the process of constructing a mud hut, we ended up deconstructing our own perception of rural Ghanaian life.
Team Shak just got back from Day 1 of building the Water Treatment Center. Yesterday was our first day in Vogyili, a village about one hour away from GILLBT. We love riding in Shak’s open air Jeep, even though we have to stop to reattach the gearshift now and then, it’s a great time on the open road! Jacob taught us a Vermonter/Kansan game called “My Cow” that we play often in transit. Our meeting with the chief went really well. We gathered around a shady tree and explained who we were, what CWS does, and how important is it to have the community on board because they will be running the treatment center once we leave! The chief was very enthusiastic, knowledgeable about the water source, and had a sweet green velvet hat. He brought out a can full of brown dugout water and told us how people get sick all the time from drinking the contaminated water. We ran a 3M test on the Vogyili’s dugout water and found that it was positive for E. coli.
Building the first layer of the Water Treatment Center was lots of fun! The chief even came down to see how the building was going and tons of kids gathered around, helping carry sand, cement blocks, and water. The kids also loved looking at the pictures of other centers in our Fellowship Manual. It was therapeutic to smear wet concrete on the blocks with our hands. The blocks will dry overnight and tomorrow we’ll shellac the whole thing with more concrete—then it will be all ready to support the Polytank!
We tried our best to communicate in Dagbani, but we’re still learning. We’ve pretty much mastered the greeting, which consists of “Despa” (good morning) followed by a series of “Naaa”s, which affirm that you had a good sleep, your family is well, our marriages are thriving (none of us is married), all of our children are healthy (we have no children), and your work is secure. We use lots of hand signals, which worked successfully for asking the kids about their names, school, and pigs. They chased the piglets for us and caught one, but we had them drop it once the Momma Pig began to charge. Can’t wait for more time in the village!