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Meet the New Solar Center Entrepreneurs in Kurugu Vohoyili

And the solar center entrepreneurs in Kurugu Vohoyili are (drum roll please)… Ayi and Fuseina!

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The chairman told Shak and I that Ayi and Fuseina were chosen because they are the most hardworking women in Kurugu Vohoyili. Interestingly enough, Ayi and Fuseina are also the water business entrepreneurs. Now this has pros and cons to it. As we have seen in Wambong, the solar center makes much higher profits compared to the water treatment center. This will allow Ayi and Fuseina to grow their businesses and eventually open a bank account. The entrepreneurs will also be able to market the water business using the solar center. Community behavior change and priorities are different around drinking clean water vs. charging a cell phone. Cell phones are sexy. The immediate reward of being able to call a friend is much more gratifying than drinking a cup of clean water, where the health benefits are only seen over time and are hard to measure. Had the community selected two different women to run the solar center, there would be four women with business opportunities in KV rather than two. Our plan for now is to let the communities select the women for the pilots and go from there.

We were pushed back a day again because of a funeral in a nearby village. The dry season is peak funeral season in the Northern Region of Ghana. In the rainy season, the weather is unpredictable, the roads are bad and families are busy farming, which makes travel difficult. Usually when people pass away in the rainy season, they wait until the dry season to have the big family funeral.

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Today, we arrived in KV and the center was looking great, fully plastered and beautiful in the hot sun! We brought the steel poles and solar panels to mount outside the solar charging hub. Community members helped mount the panels. We faced the panels due south at 81 degrees to get the most sunlight possible throughout the year, using this Solar Angle Calculator recommended by staff at Burro. Shak was resourceful and found a protractor to bring to the welder for the poles. He got the angle just right. I was impressed! We used a compass to get the panels perfectly due south!

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Once the panels were mounted, Ayi and Fuseina came to start their first day of training. They showed up with big smiles, saying “Nawuni ni dey suhugu”, which means God answer your prayers (also used for thank you) in Dagbani. From past experience monitoring and working in Kurugu Vohoyili, I can vouch for these women and confidently say they are “on their game”. Since implementation in January 2012, their water business has flourished. There has not been one occasion where CWS field staff showed up to KV and found an empty polytank. You rock ladies!

For the solar training, we started with the basics, going over how the solar panels use light energy from the sun to generate Direct Current (DC) electricity, which is stored in the battery and then converted to Alternating Current (AC) electricity through the inverter. AC electricity or “mains” as it is referred to in Ghana is what we use to charge our appliances at home. We explained to the women how to wire the 2- 100 W panels together in a “series” connecting the positive cable of one panel to the negative cable of another panel, which builds the voltage. Then connected the negative cable of one panel to the negative charge of the battery and the positive cable of the other panel to the positive charge of the battery. The women did all the wiring and electrical taping themselves! When it was wired, we turned on the genset and voila! There was power! We plugged in a cell phone and a battery charger to make sure the equipment was working. There were oohs and ahhs from the surrounding crowd.

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Ayi connects the negative cable of one panel to the positive cable of the other
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Ayi’s hands up close, taping the cables together!
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Fuseina attaches some more cable to the positive cable of one panel to be attached to the positive charge of the battery.
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Huseini plugs in his cell phone to the power strip. Electricity!

We discussed how to calculate watt/hours and how many devices can be plugged in based on the battery level. Burro put together some useful infographics: Genset Operating Guide that helped us explain this to the women. To start, the solar center will be charging cell phones and Burro AA batteries for the lanterns. We went over using the sales book to keep track of daily cell phone and lantern sales. We gave the women two containers – one for daily earnings and the other for long term savings. We also went over prices with the chairman and the entrepreneurs and agreed upon 10 pesewas (~$.04) per battery rental and 20 pesewas (~$.08) per cell phone charge. This money will go to Ayi and Fuseina, who can use their profits to invest in their families and to replace batteries or broken parts at the solar center.

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Fuseina, the chairman and Ayi stand surrounded by children at their new community solar center!

Tomorrow,  Shak and I are going to continue training day 2 with the entrepreneurs, further discussing battery charging, watt/hours calculations and keeping track of sales. We are also going to have the women completely rewire and put together the genset on their own without our verbal guidance. We are confident they will do great! Tomorrow, we will also be approaching households with lanterns to see if they want to invest 1 GHC in a lantern to be able to rent batteries at the center. More updates to come!

-Brianán

Tamale Staff Celebrate World Water Day with Entrepreneurs

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The CWS Tamale Staff and Water Business Entrepreneurs

March 22, 2013 — Today the CWS Tamale staff hosted 15 water business entrepreneurs at the CWS office to celebrate World Water Day. This is a tradition at CWS. Every year on World Water Day a selected group of women are invited! Now that CWS has 49 water businesses with about 90+ entrepreneurs*, how do we choose which entrepreneurs to invite? This task wasn’t easy because the staff has their favorites! Personally, I’m all for inviting the women from Kpachiyili every year… I guess I’m partial to my fellowship village (aren’t we all?). If Amin had it is way, Ayi from Yakura would be top of the list. But with only 6 staff members in Tamale, it would not be feasible to invite them all.

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Affilua from Kpanayili poses with the newest member of CWS, Dauphine!

We agreed that we should invite a diverse group of entrepreneurs… Some entrepreneurs who run really successful water businesses, some entrepreneurs that have problems with their water businesses and finally some older villages and newly implemented ones. The list was made. We invited the entrepreneurs from Kpalbusi, Kpanayili, Tacpuli, Chani, Zanzagu Yipela, Kadula, Yipela and Nekpegu! Some of these villages are 2 hours away from Tamale, so the logistics of getting all of the entrepreneurs to the office at the same time were complicated. But the staff worked together and managed to get them here before the presentations began!

This year for World Water Day we focused on bringing the entrepreneurs together so they could learn from the successes and failures of each other. The CWS Tamale staff, Kathryn, Peter, Shak, Wahab, Amin and myself, have been planning this day for over a month. Shak, Peter, Amin and Wahab put together an interactive presentation to share their insights as field staff members and to engage the women in conversation.

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Amin, otherwise known as “KG”, gives the introduction. He shared a poem about the importance of water at the end of the presentation. It was beautiful!

As field staff, we’re in the villages every day meeting with the entrepreneurs. We listen to their problems, ask them their opinions and give them advice on how to fix them. But we’re not the ones carrying 40 L garrawas from the dugouts into the blue drums day in and day out. Sometimes it’s more powerful to hear advice from other water business entrepreneurs. Wahab focused his presentation on household hygiene and center upkeep. He asked the women, “How do you keep the clean water at your centers from getting contaminated?” At first, there were crickets, no one spoke. But the young Binto from Yipela was courageous and spoke first. She talked about thoroughly cleaning the blue drums and the polytank before every treatment. This really broke the ice for all of the other entrepreneurs who gladly jumped in to add to the discussion. Every single woman spoke or responded to a question throughout the presentation. They were really into it!

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Wahab starts off by introducing himself…

One of the themes CWS touched upon this year at World Water Day was, “Running the Water Businesses like Businesses”. Shak led the discussion on this subject. The entrepreneurs that run their water treatment centers as businesses perform the highest. They have the most customers, they treat the most water, they earn the highest profits and their centers stay open for more months out of the year. Of course, many of the entrepreneurs do have moral ties to selling clean drinking water to their communities. But when an altruistic motivation is what drives the center, the women are more likely to sell water for free or pull money from their own pockets to keep the centers running. This isn’t sustainable in the long run.

The CWS staff decided to invite Fati and Ramatu from the newly implemented Nekpegu. After only 2 months since opening day, they are already earning high profits. Shak invited Ramatu to come to the front and share her strategies on operating these centers like businesses. She explained to the women that she always keeps water in her polytank, she has a big opening day every Friday and the women keep track of the households to make sure that everyone is coming. If ever they have a problem, they incorporate the chairman, who has more pull in influencing village behavior. It was awesome! She was really comfortable in front of the big crowd.

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Ramatu of Nekpegu speaks in front of all of the entrepreneurs about ways to run these centers like businesses!

The UN declared that World Water Day 2013 would be the International Year of Water Cooperation, so I find it fitting that the staff came together this year with the water business entrepreneurs. Shak always says, ” We (the staff) are not the ones drinking water in these villages.” He’s right. We don’t drink the water, we don’t know what it’s like to live in a village, and we don’t have all the answers. But by incorporating the entrepreneurs into the conversation, we might just be onto something here.

-Brianán

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The women entrepreneurs who attended the CWS World Water Day Conference this year.

* The number of entrepreneurs running the water businesses is not fixed. Some women quit to focus on other priorities like farming or taking care of their families. Other times, women are added… more hands make for lighter work!