Packed First Day in Tamale

Name gaming outside in the morning's cool weather before it heats up
Name gaming outside in the morning’s cool weather before it heats up

Packed first day for all of us in Tamale! With a day behind in orientation we had to get right at it. We started the day with a classic name game– with 26 of us, late plane arrivals it was time to get to know each other!

A priceless picture of faces as Kristen goes into detail about water related diseases
A priceless picture of faces as Kristen goes into detail about water related diseases

We then headed inside to get down to the nitty gritty! Kristen and I gave presentations touching on the water crisis, water and disease, water interventions in the developing world, and finally, the ins and outs of CWS! Everyone had great questions and you could tell they were only getting more excited about getting out into the villages tomorrow to see it all first hand.

The entire crew before heading out on thier scavenger trip adventure!

After a lunch break, we revealed everyone’s teams! To get all the teams bonding quickly we sent them all out on a scavenger hunt through the market. Always a little daugnthing at first but always finishing with lots of laughs and great stories!! Following the scavenger hunt was dinner and the first meeting of each teams translator for the next three weeks. We celebrating the big reveal with a dance party. We brought in Tamale’s finest cultural dancers and danced the night away! Needless to say, we all had an awesome day and excited to get out into the field tomorrow! Keep posted for tomorrow’s adventure!


Welcome to Ghana!

No more waiting in the airport for anyone! So happy to have our fellows all together!! Below is Sam, Peter & Kristen!
No more waiting in the airport for anyone! So happy to have our fellows all together!! Below is Sam, Peter & Kristen!

As of this evening, all 26 Winter Fellows have arrived safely in Accra! Despite a long couple of days of travel, and a few missing bags, the group is in great spirits and excited to start the Fellowship! Tomorrow morning, all of the Fellows and their leaders will hop on the bus and head up to Tamale. Everyone can’t wait to get to the Northern Region and officially begin orientation on Sunday!


Below are some pics of some of our weary (and hungry!) travelers settling in and chowing down on some delicious pizza!!

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Its Not a Winter Fellowship Without Some Snow!

The winter storm that made its way from the Midwest to the East Coast over the past few days has been no match for CWS! Despite a handful of flight delays and cancellations, all 26 of our Fellows have either arrived or are enroute to Accra. Saja, Alexa, Corrine, Iyi, Josh, Priya, Caroline, Linda, Sarah, Amanda, Vanessa, Jakob, Rachel and Urooj have all arrived safely in Ghana where they were met by Shak, Peter, Sam, and Kristen. Instead of heading upto Tamale tomorrow, this group will get a day to explore Accra while we wait for Lauren,, Casey, Chris, Emily, Gabriela, Jane, Jordan, Julia, Kara, Katie, Lindsay and Tyler to land on Friday.  Then the whole group will take the bus to Tamale together on Saturday – a day later than originally planned, but a day that can easily be made up for later in our Fellowship schedule.

All of the Fellows have been very plucky travelers despite the frustrating delays.  We can’t wait for them all to arrive in Ghana so the program can officially begin!


To Be a Woman is Not Easy

When I was grocery shopping in Tamale a few weeks ago, I came across a woman selling bread at a food stand with a banner written across the top that read, “To be a woman is not easy”. Almost all the shops in Tamale have storefront names with powerful and sometimes silly sayings such as this one. To give you some examples,  “Everything by God”, “Serious Man Hot Food”, “Jesus Loves You Barber Shop” or “Home Sweet Home Kenkey”. The names usually make me chuckle but this one made me think.

Zenabu and her husband in Buhijaa
Zenabu and her husband in Buhijaa

I immediately thought of the women entrepreneurs that run the water treatment centers in the CWS communities. They are the complete embodiment of this very shop name… to be a woman is not easy in the slightest, especially in a rural village outside of Tamale.

Posing for the camera with 40 L of water on her head! - Sakpalua
Posing for the camera with 40 L of water on her head! – Sakpalua

Lydia, one of the women who runs the water business in Sakpalua, recently talked to Spring 2012 fellow, Chelsea Hodgkins, about what it means to be a woman in Sakpalua versus a woman living in Tamale. “The women in the city have it easy”, Lydia told Chelsea. “In the village, the women go to their farms very early in the morning and then are expected to come home, take care of the children then clean and cook for the family”, she continued. After hearing snippets of their conversation, I wanted to hear more about the lives of the women who run the water businesses on top of farming and taking care of their families.

A woman making shea butter in Kpanayili
A woman making shea butter in Kpanayili

Right now is one of the busiest times of the year for subsistence farmers because it is the peak of the harvest season in the Northern Region of Ghana. After the rains, everyone wants to collect their crops before it gets too dry. Some farmers leave as early as 4:00 AM so they can start working in the morning while it’s still cool. Farmers harvest groundnuts, maize, yam, soy beans, cassava, hot peppers, okra, tomatoes, rice, firewood, tobacco, cotton and cow peas to name a few. Not to mention that when it stops raining, the weddings and funerals start in the North.

So how do the women who run the water businesses find the time or the incentives to sell water during the peak of the harvest season? Well, it’s complicated.  For starters, people have run out of rainwater so the only option they have for clean water is treated water from the polytank. This means that the demand for clean water is there. And the incentive that drives many of the women to work at the centers is the same incentive that gets people to work at desk jobs back in the US, they want to make money to pay the bills. This monetary incentive has to be there because if women work at the centers strictly for the greater good of their communities, they will have no money to pay for aquatabs, broken parts or for the time they could have spent on their farms.

The beautiful Cheriba of Libi
The beautiful Cheriba of Libi

But what happens when people in the communities are collecting water from different sources? This is where the plot thickens. In Kpanayili, the people in the community are collecting water for cooking, cleaning and washing at nearby wells and streams. They will get water from these sources until they dry and then they will go back to getting water at the dugout. As noted before, the women in the communities already have long days so if they can lessen their load by shortening the walk to get water, then they will do it in a heartbeat. The problem is that the water treatment center is next to the dugout. This is not the case in all CWS communities at this time but there are several that deal with challenges such as this during the transition from the rainy season to the dry season.

The new moved and improved water treatment center - Tacpuli
The new moved and improved water treatment center – Tacpuli

So how can we convince people to make the extra walk just for clean water, while we wait for these other sources to dry? It’s not easy. While it may seem like clean water should be high on the priority list, the reality is that it’s not for everyone. Farmers are focusing on their harvest and prioritizing food over clean water because this is their sustenance. Farming is how people survive. If that means drinking contaminated water for 2 weeks so that they do not have to walk as far and as a result get more time on their farms, then they’ll take the risk.

Kusumi and her new baby girl, Fatima - Manguli
Kusumi and her new baby girl, Fatima – Manguli

In the long run, what will 2 weeks of diarrhea do if it means having more money for the family this year? If you asked this question to a public health official, they would answer A LOT. But the women working in these communities are not public health officials; they are simply trying to make their work as easy as possible. Because after all, to be a woman is not easy.



World Toilet Day!

Today is World Toilet Day! This meant nothing to me about a year and half ago. “World Toilet Day? Why on earth would we celebrate this? Wahoo! I have a toilet?” Now that I frequent Ghana, it takes a whole new meaning. I now have first hand experience of Ghana’s very different toilet situation.

In the more urban areas there is a lot of open sewage which makes for some interesting smells (*insert gag). But also the public toilets are less than desireable when “taking care of business”. You pay someone about 10 cents to use an un-maintenanced toilet. To be honest, I would rather just do my business openly.

toilet day

In the more rural areas that Community Water Solutions does it’s work, the “toilet” situation hits an all time low. Here are the two scenarios. Poo scenario: Open defecation/Bush of your choice. Pee scenario: concrete slab with a drain. This concrete slab with a drain is in a mud hut located within their compound that is used not only for showering but urinating as well. Just to give you a visual… a compound is about 4-7 huts hosting about 8 people; typically there is a man of the household, 1-2 of his wives, and kids galore. All 8 of these people urinate in one of these huts and the urine escapes through a drain which goes right into the footpath of the village. It makes us really grateful to think that in much more developed countries like ours, we have companies like FS Drainage to maintain our drainage and keep our drains clear from blockage. Fortunately, the professionals can quickly diagnose the problem and can provide solutions at a budget-friendly price. Moreover, the specialists can allow us to get guaranteed drain cleaning relief. Additionally, by providing drain unclogging services, the professionals happen to ensure that all our sewage and waste is never in close contact with us again.

Many a time we are doing our household to household monitoring, stomping through this pee. Kids playing, stomping through this pee. People with no shoes, stomping through this pee. (*insert gag). It is the only option they have and though it makes sense for them, its not doing much to control their contact with urine.

In fact, at times, the pipes clog as a result of the poor drainage systems, and water begins to pool on the surface. These occurrences may cause a slew of issues for the people who live in the house or neighborhood. In that situation, locals could directly look for the specialists comparable to Water Damage Restoration Experts in Ghana. The reason is that, while toilet clogs may appear to be a minor issue, they can lead to a variety of diseases, infections, and discomfort for a large number of people.

But water is just one step.

Now more than ever we need to get portable toilet hire companies and other waterworks businesses on board to improve the current situation.

So, come on, join the celebration of your toilet and increase the awareness of sanitation. Because that’s what we’ll be doing!

For more info on how to get involved go to


Meet Our 2013 Winter Fellowship Leader, Kristen!

It is with pleasure that I introduce you to our 2013 Winter Fellowship Leader, Kristen Felicione. Kristen was a fellow last year on the 2012 Winter Fellowhip Program and WOW-ed us with her fun, postive personality (despite her 2 hour drive on terrible roads) and her knowledge about the water crisis on a public health level. We are so thrilled that she will now be returning with us in December! Welcome to the team Kristen!


The second my foot touched American soil after my fellowship adventure, I knew I had to go back to Ghana at some point in my life. Luckily, the opportunity has come less than a year later, and I couldn’t be happier to be a part of the CWS team and ensure the 2013Winter Fellows have as great of an experience as I did.

I’m currently a second year graduate student at The George Washington University; I will be graduating in May with my MPH. Before my experience with CWS, I was passionate about philanthropy and health, yet all my work was on a domestic level. The fellowship allowed first hand experience of the health difficulties in the developing world. I tremendously support CWS’ mission and their continued work to mitigate the global water crisis. CWS’ model not only provides thousands of Ghanaians with clean drinking water, it enables villagers to take control of their health as a community. The project is also sustainable and monitored, two imperative aspects for survival of a public health intervention. Not only does CWS’ fellowship program aid many people lacking access to clean drinking water, but it also helps fellows become leaders, learn to think on their feet, and gain some perspective on their own lives.

Besides creating a water treatment center, there is plenty of fun to be had in Ghana! The translators are a blast to be around; I learned so much about Ghanaian culture from them (I listen to my HipLife music whenever I need to start the day out right)! I ate my first rat, realized some jokes just don’t make it through the language barrier, and taught 20 kids how to “High 5” all within 3 weeks! I can’t wait to be the 2013 Winter Fellowship leader and hear all about the fellows’ unique observations and achievements at the end of each day. See you in December!!!

-Kristen Felicione

2012 Fall Fellowship Comes to a Close

A sad day in Ghana… Steven, Nicole & Tiffany headed out of Ghana last night. Joe, Lubna, Lauren and I are spending our last day in Accra before heading out tonight. And Britty and Jessie are off traveling….. bringing the Fall Fellowship to a close!

We are so thankful for Fall Fellows efforts over these past few months! Because of your dedication and hard work we were able to reach two more villages! It was such a successful trip where our fellows were able to bring clean drinking water to 1,752 people! WOW! What an accomplishment!

From your long days in the field, the CWS BBQ/Halloween Party/Eid-al-adha celebration , the cultural dance party, to simple nights over debrief we had such blast with you guys! We wish you all the best in the future and are so glad to have you a part of the CWS Alumi Crew!

The 2012 Fall Fellows!

CWS On the Road: The Hunt Continues

Fall is such a busy time for Community Water Solutions! In the US the new Winter Fellows are up and fundraising. Here in Tamale, Brianan, Peter, Shak, Wahab and Amin are, as usual, hard at work supporting those (now 40!) communities running CWS water businesses – check status updates from each village here! As if this all this hectic energy weren’t enough…

The search continues for a NEW base of operations!

You can read about Kathryn and Kate’s impressions of our trips abroad to Liberia, Burkina and Togo on this blog. But all this travel reminded us that there’s no place like home.  Could other regions of Ghana benefit from the CWS social enterprise idea? We intend to find out!

Spotted: a fresh baby goat in Bolga!
Spotted: a fresh baby goat in Bolga!

Upper East region was our first destination. This area of Ghana is known for its beautiful straw handicrafts, its crocodile ponds, and its wonderfully-named capital, Bolgatanga. While boreholes are around, some smaller, remote communities still rely on streams or open wells for water. Could Upper East be a new CWS destination?

Upper West was our next stop. We found beautiful mosques, hippos and some village gold mining! Communities lacking boreholes have been more elusive, but our District Assembly contacts are on the hunt for potential partners. Could Wa, the Upper West Capital, be a new base of CWS operations?

Volta Region is Ghana’s eastern portion and takes its name from the giant lake it borders. Roads might have been rough, but the fufu was delicious and the view of the mountains, incredible. Lakeside communities in particular seemed to lack access to potable water. Can CWS adapt what we do in Ghana’s smallest bodies of water to Ghana’s largest?

DSC_0045Then there’s our own backyard. Northern Region is HUGE –  one office could never serve all those communities here that could benefit from the CWS idea. After so many years, will our Dagomba pride really let us explore anywhere else while potable water needs exist all around us? Maybe Walewale or Salaga should be our next stop!

Before we make any decisions there is work to be done. Stay tuned for new office updates here!


Voices from the Field: Team Tijo (Britty, Steven, Nicole and Tiffany)

Team Tijo on opening day!

Team Tijo’s opening day happened on Wednesday. They had prepared for days making sure the polytank was filled to the brim. With 187 households it was important to get the polytank all the way full to be sure to have enough water for everyone. They arrived early Wednesday morning to a line of people waiting to fill their safe storage containers for the first time! When they turned the tap to fill the first bucket nothing came out. The polytank was completely empty. The team was so disappointed and the village was extremely embarrassed. Someone had emptied all of the clean drinking water out of the polytank! Despite this disappointment, opening day continued! The women and fellows had the 4 blue drums of treated alum water to chlorinate and sell. There was still a long line of excited customers waiting to taste the clean drinking water. The center was able to fill 50 buckets with water and the rest of the people were very understanding as to what happened. The women were going to head back to the center that afternoon to go ahead a treat more water. No one had ever found out what had happened, but since that incident the chief had a village meeting and all things continue to run smoothly.

Here is what Britty, Steven, Nicole & Tiffany had to say about it:

After Tijo’s challenging Opening Day, we went into the village with the hope that everything was resolved. We were pleasantly surprised to find that all of the families really understood and followed the lessons we offered. All buckets were cleaned prior to being filled with water from the polytank, and placed on a platform with a clean drinking cup put on top. In addition to their excellent practices, the families informed us that they enjoyed the taste of the water. One woman even stated that her stomach felt better after drinking the treated water.

It was very exciting for the team to see the positive outcome of our hard work leading up to Opening Day. We were amazed by how well everything was received by the villagers.

Opening Day in Tijo!

You’re Invited!

Social Enterprise Competition Announcement

If you attended the CWS Benefit on August 30th, then you already know about CWS’ newest endeavor: The CWS Social Enterprise Competition! The competition officially launched the day after the Benefit at a workshop for CWS Fellowship Program Alums, where we challenged them to come up with social enterprise solutions that meet the needs they saw in their fellowship village. To the left is the competition announcement that we sent to our alums back in May!

Over the past 2 months, CWS Co-Founder, Chuck, and I have been mentoring 6 teams of Fellow Alums, helping them develop their social enterprise ideas and craft 10-minute pitches. Last Friday, the teams presented their pitches via webex to a panel of 5 judges (Sarah Wood, Ryn Miake-Lye, Derek Brine, Laura McGorman and Addy Awofisayo), and after a difficult dilberation, 3 finalists were selected!

On November 9th, competition finalists, Mark Moermans, Ben Powell, Zoe Anderson, Kelsey Barton-Henry, Alex Zorniger, and Michelle Butler, will be traveling to Boston to pitch live to a new panel of judges and compete for a $10,000 Prize to pilot their social enterprise in one of CWS’ partner villages in Ghana. We’re so proud of our finalists, who are aiming to solve very dire needs ranging from access to electricity to santitation to malnutrition!

If you are in the Boston area, we would love for you to join us for the finals to celebrate the conclusion of the competition! Admission is free, click here for more details and to RSVP!

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