On Wednesday April 23rd, 2014, the 4th CWS solar center opened for business in Chani! As you may have read on the blog, opening night was pushed back a few days because of a faulty inverter. While the setback was a disappointment, the opening was still a big success. The CWS full time Ghana staff along with my family (who was visiting from the US and Ireland) made it to the big event. Muneera and Salamatu, the CWS solar and water entrepreneurs, were very enthusiastic about the opening. Salamatu (famous for Salamatu’s story) said she was excited for the opportunity to run another business that would improve the lives of Chani community members.
Here are more pictures from the night. Photo credit goes to my aunt Tara Canellas visiting Ghana from Ft. Lauderdale, Florida!
Yesterday, we arrived in Kurugu Vohoyili nice and early to finish training the women and to start approaching households with lanterns. It has been HOT in Tamale, so we wanted to beat the heat. Ayi and Fuseina were ready to start when we got to the center. As we had explained to them yesterday, they would have to wire the solar panels to the battery and set up the genset all on their own. Ayi laughed when I told her this and said, “oh we will try.” They were able to do it!
We started plugging in power strips and battery chargers in to the genset to ensure that everything was working. Shak and I gave Ayi and Fuseina a few scenarios to see if they were comfortable with all of the information. We pretended to be customers, asking how much it would cost if we charged x amount of phones or x amount of batteries and what that would look like in the sales book. We also tested the entrepreneurs on how many cell phones and batteries could be plugged in at once and had them look to the genset infographic for guidance. They got everything right! We decided to teach them how to use tally marks in groups of 5 to make it easier to keep track of sales. Ayi said they had never gone to school and asked if it was even worth it to try and teach them. Shak and I said yes! And within a few minutes they grasped the concept. Ayi and Fuseina are sharp. We completed training by practicing to insert batteries in to the chargers, opening the battery slots of the lanterns and turning the genset on and off. We decided to let the solar panels charge up all day. This morning, the women will charge the batteries to open for business tonight!
After training, Shak and I visited all 22 households in Kurugu Vohoyili asking families if they would like to participate in the lantern program for 1 GHC. Every single household joined! We briefed each family on the lanterns and the solar center. We told them that they had to pay for the batteries and to charge their cell phones so the women would have money to fix broken parts, to buy more batteries and to earn a profit for their hard work. We also discussed the health benefits of using this lantern instead of kerosene or lead acid battery powered torches. If any household loses a battery, they will have to pay the women 3 GHC to replace it. Everyone seemed excited and receptive to the system. Tonight is opening night. We will head to Kurugu Vohoyili after dark with the rest of the CWS Ghana staff. We can’t wait!
Today marks Day 1 of the second CWS solar center pilot. Shak and I will be leading the pilot in Kurugu Vohoyili. We have been monitoring the progress of the first solar center pilot in Wambong over the past 5 months. The first solar pilot has been a success, Chang Chang and Salima, the solar center entrepreneurs in Wambong, report that cell phone charging sales are high, they are making a substantial profit and they have even opened a bank account! The lanterns used in the first pilot were of poor quality, lasting anywhere from 20 minutes to 3 hours. The solar charging station was not big enough for customers and posed some logistical challenges during implementation. Shak and I hope to address both of these issues in the second pilot!
In February, we took a trip to visit Burro in Koforidua. Burro is a bottom-up, social business founded by American entrepreneur, former Microsoft executive and co-founder of the board game Cranium, Whit Alexander. Burro operates off of their business slogan, “Do More” and markets high quality products to low income, rural populations, allowing people to save more and earn more. CWS is working in partnership with Burro for this pilot using their high quality lanterns, NiMH (nickel metal hydride) batteries, battery chargers, solar panels and solar panel generator (holding the battery and inverter for the panels). We are excited to see their products in action!
CWS decided to implement in Kurugu Vohoyili for several reasons. The village is a
CWS independent community, Ayi and Fuseina run their water business well. Upon arrival today, Fuseina was selling water at the center. Kurugu Vohoyili is located in the Tolon District, it’s a small, remote community of 22 households and is on the lower income threshold of CWS communities (it does not have a school, most households do not have tin roofs, there is no visible farming machinery).
Shak and I arrived in Kurugu Vohoyili this morning and went right to the chairman’s house. The chairman is water business entrepreneur Fuseina’s husband and coordinates community development. We told the chairman that we would like to schedule a meeting with the chief and the elders to discuss a new proposition for Kurugu Vohoyili. The chairman said he would have everyone organized shortly to have the meeting today. Twenty minutes later, Shak and I were seated around a nice, shady tree with the chief, the elders, about 20 small children and some women (including Fuseina and Ayi).
Shak and I gave our pitch for the solar center. We started off by congratulating the community on their water business participation rate and operations. We asked them about their current energy situation. It was as we expected. Most households use cheap lead acid batteries (Tiger Head or Sun Watt) to power low quality flashlights and use kerosene lamps. The elders said that most households own cell phones and have to travel several miles to charge them. We told them about an alternative, cleaner energy option for the community. CWS would be bringing the capital for a solar center (solar panels, battery, inverter), that we would like the community to elect two women to run the solar center and that each household will have the option of participating in the lantern program, paying 1 GHC to receive a lantern. The women will have Burro AA batteries, Burro battery chargers and power strips at the solar center for people to come rent batteries or to charge cell phones for a small fee.
Burro NiMH batteries are better for the environment compared to lead acid batteries or kerosene and are approved for landfill disposal in Europe and the US. Burro batteries do not leak and last longer than Tiger Head and Sun Watt batteries. The women will use the money they earn to invest in their business, to save in case something breaks and to earn a profit. Studies conducted by the UN and the World Economic Forum show that when women make money, they are more likely to invest in their families compared to men.
The community members were excited and the meeting ended in a round of applause. They asked a few questions and we concluded the meeting by requesting that the community elect two women and choose a sunny, secure location so that we can start building the solar charging hub tomorrow. We can’t wait to get started, more blog posts to come!
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.
What an exciting day it has been at the CWS Ghana office! This morning Shak and I accompanied Abiba and Salima, water and solar center entrepreneurs from Wambong, to open their first bank account!
Since the solar center opened in October 2013, Abiba and Salima have been saving up their profits from mostly cell phone charge sales. They want to save their money in the bank to prevent theft, to acquire savings interest, to have money in the bank in case anything breaks at the solar center and in their own words, “to save for something big”. They also hope that the bank will offer a free checking account that would allow them to manage their money more effectively. You can learn more about Free Checking accounts here.
After doing some rural banking research, Peter, Shak and I decided that Bonzali Rural Bank would be the best fit for Abiba and Salima. They have a bank branch at the University of Development Studies in Nyankpala, which is close and accessible to the women from Wambong. The bank conducts business in English and Dagbani and has employees help illiterate customers fill out deposit or withdrawal slips, which means Abiba and Salima can go to the bank on their own.
We are so proud and excited for Abiba and Salima and hope to help more entrepreneurs open bank accounts in the future!
I’m contemplating my last two weeks in Tamale as I sip my favorite African cider, Savannah Dry, at Accra’s airport while waiting to board my flight to Johannesburg. My time in Ghana was wonderful and I am really sad to leave. On Thursday, Peter and I went to Jarayili to present our results to the community. I was so excited! My lab tests showed that rainwater collected in Jarayili households is almost always contaminated with both total coliform and E.coli, which in turn makes rainwater entirely unsafe to drink. In addition, my tests indicated that polytank water is very rarely contaminated, which is exciting because this means that Suayba and Awulatu are doing an excellent job as co-owners of Jarayili’s water business!
When I first began the project two weeks ago, I assumed rainwater would be the cleanest because it falls from the sky, whereas the polytank water comes from a muddy dugout infested with mosquitoes, total coliform, E.coli, and who knows what else. I now realize that collected rainwater is unsafe to drink because it is highly susceptible to contamination. For instance, one finger dipped into an entire 70-liter bucket of rainwater threatens the pureness of the water. In addition, hygiene is poor in the village, which increases the likelihood of contaminating the rainwater. Finally, the dugout water is treated with alum (to reduce turbidity) and chlorine (to kill contaminants), which is residual. This means if if a single finger is dipped into a 70-liter bucket of polytank water, the residual chlorine will keep the water from being contaminated days after it was first treated.
My recommendation to the community was to always buy polytank water, even throughout the rainy season. I explained to the villagers that paying for clean water may not be their first choice now, but it will benefit them in the future because medical bills for diarrhea, typhoid, and cholera are high. They understood. In addition, Peter and I talked to the community about the relationship between clean water, health, and hygiene. Jarayili’s chief, elders, women, and men engaged in a lively discussion at the end of our spiel, which made me think that Peter and I made a lasting impression. I really believe Jarayili families will prioritize clean water in the future.
I already miss seeing Suayba’s cheery smile every morning. I really hope I can come back to check up on Jarayili in the future!
The metal polytank stand CWS entrepreneurs are now using in a number of communities. The stand allows for the water treatment centers to be moved to different water sources.
Back in June, I wrote a blog post about metal polytank stands and how CWS was going to test them in communities that use multiple water sources. You can read that post here.
Since then, CWS has distributed metal polytank stands to 10 different communities: Gbandu, Jarayili, Kabache/Kasawuripe, Kindeng, Kpalbusi, Kpalbusi, Libi, Tacpuli, Tindan II and Tunga. These are villages that CWS targeted because of the challenges the entrepreneurs were facing in keeping their water businesses open year round. Most of the CWS water businesses are set up next to dugouts where community members already go to get their water. Center implementation next to the dugout is ideal because when women fetch water for household use, they can buy clean drinking water from the centers without disrupting their daily routines.
Women fetch water from a typical dugout in Kadula.
But what happens when people go somewhere closer to fetch water? Well the entrepreneurs who sell water (usually) lose business. The community members living in these CWS villages are practical people with busy schedules. If the village women can save time by fetching water somewhere closer to home, they are going to make the switch and avoid the extra trek to buy clean water.
The CWS field staff observed this in a number of communities. In the transition from the dry season to the rainy season and vice versa, the level of the water sources can drastically fluctuate. In the Northern Region villages, the rains determine how much water is available. New dugouts form for short periods of time, a river can become more accessible or even hand dug wells are used to collect rainwater. With the low-tech nature of the CWS model, the women can move the location of their water businesses as long as there is water to treat.
Children pose by a hand dug well in Kabache/Kasawuripe, where the entrepreneurs decided to move their center to treat water.
With the help of a welder, CWS created the metal polytank stand and modified the CWS model to the changing of seasons and water levels. Some of the water businesses easily adapted to the metal polytank stands. For example, in Kpanayili, Affilua, Anatu, Fati and Zilifau used their metal polytank stand to move the center to a closer dugout that only has water in the rainy season. Their sales drastically increased when they switched water sources. In Tacpuli, Lasinche moved the water business from the dugout to a smaller dugout closer to the community. Kpanayili and Tacpuli have been operating with the new stands just as the CWS field staff envisioned. And the entrepreneurs have reaped the benefits.
The water business owners in Kpanayili from left to right: Zilifau, Affilua, Fati and Anatu.
The smaller dugout in Tacpuli.
The entrepreneurs have lower sales during the rainy season because community members have the option to collect free, clean rainwater instead of buying water from the centers. In Libi and Kpalbusi, the rains delayed their transition to using the metal polytank stands. In Libi, the water business entrepreneur, Cheriba, banked on her community collecting rainwater in July and August because she was busy on her farm. As a result, the water business was left empty at the river where nobody goes to get water this time of year. The CWS field staff is working with her to bring the center to a closer source, so people will have the option to buy clean water when the rains stop. In Kpalbusi, Huseifa, Zilifau and Maria moved their water business from the dugout to the center of town to treat rainwater. The problem was they were not receiving enough rain to treat. Their center was empty all of July. As of the beginning of August, the entrepreneurs have moved the business to a nearby stream where they will be able to keep the center up and running until the dry season.
An example of how water levels can change in the Northern Region. Here is a road flooded by a stream in Tamale after a heavy rain.
With the drastic change in water levels throughout the year, the CWS entrepreneurs have to alter the way they do business. This could mean treating rainwater, dealing with the change in sales from the dry season peaks to the rainy season lows, or even moving location. In the past, CWS has found that it can take a year of dealing with these challenges for the entrepreneurs to become familiar with the way their individual businesses operate. The metal polytank stands are going to be added to this equation of business operations. The entrepreneurs are going to have to ask themselves: When should we move the centers? Where are people going to fetch water? What location will bring in the highest sales? Who can I find to help us move the centers? This will take some getting used to. But the metal polytank stands should help in keeping these businesses open year round, which is the end goal after all.
Being in Ghana for 10 months now, I have had the chance to see other water NGOs in action. While I have seen some other NGOs doing great work, I have also seen broken borehole pumps and broken or inefficient filters. In the NGO water sector, there is a sustainability problem. According to the January 2011 WASH Sustainability Forum Report (cited below), “Less than five percent of water and sanitation projects are revisited after project conclusion and less than one percent of such projects have any long-term monitoring at all.”
CWS is part of that five percent and one percent of organizations that continue to monitor even after implementation. CWS will not work in a new community unless it has the funding to follow-up and monitor the business for a minimum of 5 years. By follow up and monitor, we mean visiting the newly implemented community once a week for the first 6 months of access and then at least one to three times a month until they reach the 5-year mark. During each community visit, the CWS field staff observes the clean water level at the water treatment center, holds meetings with the water business entrepreneurs and then conducts six household surveys to evaluate the water treatment center’s performance.
So what happens when a community reaches the 5-year mark? The idea is that the water businesses will be self-sufficient and will be able to operate without monitoring. As of right now, CWS will still sell these 5-year mark communities aquatabs to treat the water and be on call for any water business emergencies. No community has reached that mark just yet but we are in the process of prepping our villages to get there. CWS has started a “Village Independence Ranking System” to evaluate which villages can operate successfully without frequent monitoring (as in one to three times a month). The system ranks CWS water businesses based on their performance since implementation taking into consideration: water business sales, blue drum and polytank water levels, how the entrepreneurs handle minor problems on their own, how a village handles rainwater, household visit results and whether entrepreneurs are able to pay for business supplies on their own.
Our first batch of villages to be deemed independent was in November 2012. Chani, Kpalguni, Kpalung and Wambong were the first villages to become “independent”, meaning that the CWS field staff now visits these four villages once a month instead of the usual one to three times a month. All of the water business entrepreneurs have a CWS field staff’s cell phone number to call in case they have any problems such as running out of aquatabs or if their polytank is leaking. In January 2013, CWS added Kurugu Vohoyili and Cheko to this list.
We were not really sure how the businesses would perform once CWS spent less time in these communities. But the results have been very positive! All of these centers have been up and running since they became “independent”, sales are high in all of them and household visit results have been consistent with their previous history.
One of the more memorable monitoring visits I had was in Cheko with my co-worker Amin. This past month we went to monitor for the first time since February. It had been a full month. We first stopped to check out the water treatment center. The polytank was completely full. This is always a good sign when monitoring because you know there is lots of clean water available (about 1,200 L in this case). Then we went to talk to Kukuoona, the water business entrepreneur in Cheko. Amin and I got to her house only to find out that she had moved to Tamale to live with her son! We were shocked because Kukuoona has worked with CWS for so long, we never thought she would leave. The woman we talked to pointed us to another compound and told us that Abiba was now running the center. So off we went to find Abiba. She was home, which is always great news. Abiba was glad to finally meet us because she just ran out of aquatabs that day. She told us that she had been running the water treatment center for the past month and that Kukuoona trained her to run it well. Abiba said sales were still high and household visits proved her story to be true! Amin and I drove back to Tamale happy as clams. Even without frequent monitoring, these centers are still running independently and successfully.
After this upcoming fellowship in summer 2013, it will be time again to evaluate six more villages to be put into this independent category. The CWS field staff enjoy going to these villages because they perform so well, so it will be sad to only go once a month. But the good news is that the system is working and when those first villages reach the 5-year mark, I know they will be ready!
Summary Report from the WASH Sustainability Forum January 2011: http://globalwaterchallenge.org/resources/SustainabilityForum/WASHSustainabilityForumReport.pdf
“NGO Water Sector Confronts Sustainability Problem” – Article by Maia Booker and Peter Sawyer – http://pulitzercenter.org/articles/world-water-day-wash-sustainability-forum-report