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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

A Community Made, Locally Sourced Solar Charging Shop

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Children in Kurugu Vohoyili standing around Shak’s jeep and the newly built solar center charging shop!

It has been a productive week of building in Kurugu Vohoyili. Our efforts were pushed back a day because of car trouble and a funeral in the community on Wednesday. On Thursday, Shak and I arrived around 7:30 am to get an early start on the roof. The carpenters unfortunately were not as punctual as we would have liked, so the morning was spent sitting and chatting with the elders and some of the children.

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From left to right: Saimu, Abukari, Deen, Mohammed, Ibrahim, Afizu, Arafiki and Issaka. The young, helpful boys we have gotten to know throughout the building process!

 

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These girls were laughing because Shak was asking them to show him their teeth so he could count how many they’ve lost. It didn’t help that I was the silly salaminga saying “lama”, which means smile in Dagbani. From left to right: Arashia, Serena, Nabari, Bamu, Najatu, Pana, Badila and Nasiba.

 

When the carpenters finally did show, they got right to work. The round zinc roof was too complicated for me, Shak or community members in Kurugu Vohoyili to construct. So the chairman called his carpenter friends in the nearby community of Tolon, who have extensive experience in the village roofing industry. Most community members live in round village huts like the one we are building but they use straw to roof the house. We decided to use a zinc roof for the solar center to keep the battery, inverter, cell phones and appliances safe and dry in case of a heavy rainstorm. Straw roofs have more seasonal maintenance compared to zinc roofs, so it made sense economically to go with zinc.

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Carpenters Asma and Wumbina of Tolon get right to work!

 

To construct the roof, the carpenters started by adding supportive beams to hold up other pieces of wood in the nailing in process. They went around in circles several times adding wood, nailing it in, taking measurements, cutting more wood, adding supportive pieces to nail in the zinc. At one point the carpenters ran out of wood, so Shak and I headed to Tolon to get more. When we got back to KV, one of the carpenters said they had just run out of nails and that we had to turn around and go back out to get more. It took us a few minutes to realize he was kidding. Shak replied, “That it a very hard joke to make Carpenter”, which ended in roars of laughter amongst the chairman, elders and even some of the small kids. The carpenters completed the wooden roof structure in 4 hours, then took another hour to nail in the zinc.  It was a long day but overall a success. We left Kurugu Vohoyili with an almost complete, locally sourced and community made solar center charging shop!

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The chairman and Mr. Iddrisu help the carpenters.

 

Today, we returned to Kurugu Vohoyili to finish some of the wood work for the door frame, window and faceboards. We started plastering the outside of the hut with cement to make it durable in the rainy season like families do to their own houses in the community. The center is looking great! Tomorrow we will return with the solar panels, inverter, battery, cable, Burro AA batteries and Burro battery chargers to start training the women! We can’t wait to meet them! Check below for pictures detailing the building process.

-Brianán

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Taking a break in the hut!

 

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Clean water from Ayi and Fuseina’s water business was brought to the work site. Huseini fills up his cup!

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The wooden roof structure — bottom view.
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Nailing on the face boards.
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Measuring the distance for the face boards.
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Shak and I cheesing out the window of the new solar center charging shop!

 

 

Second Solar Pilot Begins in Kurugu Vohoyili!

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The community members of Kurugu Vohoyili gather around Shak and the chairman for a photo.

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!

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Baba holds up a Burro lantern. He can’t wait to try it out at night.

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

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Shak stands with Fuseina as she sells water to a customer at the water business

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).

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Women of Kurugu Vohoyili gather around to listen in on the chief meeting

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.

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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!

-Brianán