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Opening Night in Kurugu Vohoyili

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“Calm before the storm” — The solar center in Kurugu Vohoyili on opening night

The solar center is officially open in Kurugu Vohoyili! Last night, Shak, Wahab, Amin, Eric and I all went to KV to celebrate the opening. We pulled up to the solar center and there was already a queue forming next to the shop window with community members lining up, Burro lantern in hand.

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Customers line up with their Burro lanterns outside of the solar shop

Ayi and Fuseina met us at the door to the center and opened up the shop for business. It was Wahab, Amin and Eric’s first time seeing the solar business in KV and they were impressed! We immediately got to work unwrapping more power strips and plugging them in to make slots available for people to charge cell phones. There wasn’t much time. The crowd was getting rowdy outside the shop. People were demanding batteries.

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Ayi and Fuseina on opening night

Shak and I had a quick pep talk with Ayi and Fuseina. “Ok so who is going to run the window taking battery orders and handling the money? Who is going to load batteries and keep track of sales?” Fuseina took the window and Ayi grabbed the sales book. The shop window was pushed open for Fuseina to take the first customer.

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Ayi keeping track of sales
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Fuseina counting change to give to customers out her shop window

Within a few minutes, there was a problem. Everyone had come to the shop with big bills! Customers were holding 5 GHC and 10 GHC notes to purchase 10 pesewas batteries. The women did not have enough small change for these kinds of transactions. Shak and I hadn’t thought of this. We had a quick meeting with the chairman who suggested that those who have small change pay for their batteries tonight and the rest of the households will be held accountable to pay the women tomorrow. I was worried. I wanted to make sure Ayi and Fuseina actually received their money. The chairman reassured us that the women would be paid back the following day and that in the future, people would come to the center with smaller coins. That’s the plus side of doing business in a community network like Kurugu Vohoyili.

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Huseini, Fuseina, Ayi, Ibrahim,  the chairman and Shak standing with the solar panels on opening night!
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Fuseina, Huseini, Amin, Ayi, Wahab, Ibrahim, Eric, me and some children from KV standing with the solar panels

We got back to work. Ayi and Fuseina were getting overwhelmed. With the rate of sales, Ayi had too much on her plate: recording sales, handing Fuseina charged batteries and replacing batteries in to the empty slots. Shak helped Ayi with the sales book, Wahab, Eric and I handed Fuseina charged batteries and replaced the empty slots. Opening night will be their busiest night because in the future, community members can come buy batteries or bring their cell phones to charge at their leisure throughout the day. It will take time for the women to get used to the process of counting money, replacing batteries and keeping track of sales. Shak and I will continue our training with the women later this week when we go back to monitor.

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Eric helping Ayi load batteries in to the chargers

The women ran out of charged batteries, it would take a couple of hours to charge up more. There are only 15 battery chargers (4 battery slots per charger) at the center. Meaning only 60 batteries can be charged at once, giving 20 households 3 batteries each for their lanterns. This would only be a problem opening night.

Amin had been outside helping customers put batteries in to their lanterns and socializing. He came in to the shop when the women finished sales and said, “Oh, the people are happy. I saw one man just playing with his lantern trying all 4 light settings about 15 times, then he ran home to show his family. Wow!” Indeed, customers had all run home with their new solar charged, battery-powered lanterns. I peaked outside and only the chairman and some small children were left. Ayi and Fuseina let out a sigh of relief. They did it!

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Amin with Ayi and Fuseina!

What a whirlwind of a night but overall a success. We are looking forward to monitoring the solar center’s progress and talking to families to see what they think of the center and the lanterns. A big thank you to Next Step Living for funding this solar pilot, Burro for our new partnership in bringing solar gensets and lanterns to rural communities and Mark and Ben who developed the first solar pilot in Wambong. Monitoring and household survey reports to come!

Cheers,

Brianán

Training the Women Day 2 and Introduction to the Lantern Program

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The Solar Center in Kurugu Vohoyili

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!

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Ayi on the left and Fuseina on the right attach more cable to the solar panels
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Shak observes the women as they wire the panels
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Ayi assembles the genset

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!

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Fuseina explains to Ayi how to count the tally marks on the Burro genset operating guide, this infographic helps the ladies use the battery level to determine how many batteries and cell phones can be plugged in at once
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Ayi smiles as she holds up the battery charger, it was her first time putting batteries in!
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Fuseina watches as Ayi marks the sales book

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!

-Brianán

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Nina, myself and Ayi, as they hold their new household lanterns!
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Shak sits with Baba and Ibrahim, checking off their household names after they purchased lanterns for their families
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The Botonaayili family with their new lantern!

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

Problem Solving with Water Business Owners leads to Sustainability

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”.

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Al Hassan – water business entrepreneur in Jerigu

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.

Donkey seller

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.

 

 

 

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Amina (top) and Fati (bottom) from Gbung Gbung-Fati

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!

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Monitoring sales with Amina in Galinzegu!
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Amina treats water by the dugout in Galinzegu
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Water business owner Massamata from Galinzegu

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.

-Brianán

CWS Announces Water Business Openings Live on the Radio in Tamale, Ghana

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Peter, Brianan and Sam at the 89.3 Fiila FM radio station after their interview with Samiell

Today was an exciting day for Community Water Solutions: four new water treatment centers opened for business and the CWS staff were interviewed live on 89.3 Fiila FM Tamale.

It all started yesterday when CWS Director of Operations, Sam, went to the Tamale radio station Fiila FM to buy the fellows tickets to a concert they were promoting for this weekend. What started off as jokes and pleasantries with the radio broadcaster Samiell, soon turned in to a serious discussion about bringing a few members of the CWS Ghana staff in for a radio interview. Samiell informed Sam that Fiila FM aired a program that morning about the water crisis in the Northern Region of Ghana and that they would be interested in having CWS live on his show the following day.

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My phone rang soon after-  it was Sam,  “CWS is going to be on the radio tomorrow morning! Call Peter!”

“Wait what, how did you pull this off?” was my immediate reaction. But knowing Sam, she was serious. Peter, the CWS Project Manager for Ghana,  had been talking about getting CWS on the radio in Tamale for months now; he was going to be stoked.

In the Northern Region of Ghana, everyone listens to the radio. There are broadcasts in Dagbani and English, meaning that you do not need to be literate or need to know English in order to listen. In a recent survey from 2011 run by the Government of Ghana, UNICEF, USAID and Ghana Health Services found here: they reported that in the Northern Region 41.2% of women between the ages of 15-49 years and 62.1% of men between the ages of 15-59 years had listened to the radio in the last week of being interviewed, making it the most popular form of mass media in the Northern Region.

Sam, Peter and I got to the Fiila FM radio station at 8 am this morning. “You’ll be on in 30 minutes”, the receptionist told us. At 8:38 am we made our way in to the recording studio. Samiell, the Fiila FM broadcaster, greeted us as the host of the program. I smiled upon hearing his smooth talking, radio announcer voice as he said,  “Nice to have you Community Water Solutions”, putting extra emphasis on the end making it sound like “Soluuutions”.

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Peter and Brianan testing the mics. Testing 1-2 1-2.

We had prepped for the interview so that Peter would do the talking; Sam and I figured most people listening would be unable to understand our American accents. But Samiell wanted to hear from all of us. He asked us about CWS, what we do, where we get our funding, the districts in which we are working and about our most recently implemented communities. What a great day to be interviewed! Sam announced that as we were being broadcasted, there were four new water treatment centers opening in the communities of Dundo, Namdu, Guremancheyili and Chandanyili. Tomorrow will be the opening day for Kundanali/Yapalsi! Bringing the grand total of CWS communities up to 60!

Peter and I finished up the interview by making an announcement to all Fiila Fm listeners North of the Volta, which also applies to all of you blog readers out there: if you are living in a community without pumps, pipes, boreholes or filters drinking from a river, dam or open water source then contact CWS Project Manager Peter at (+233) 020- 639-8391.

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At the end, Samiell asked Peter to summarize the interview and final announcement in Dagbani for all the non-English speakers tuning in to the show.

Without further ado, here is the live broadcast recording. Enjoy!

Brianán


Season Changeover Stimulates Water Business Sales

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Happy customers on their way home from buying water from Amina and Massamata’s water business in Galinzegu!

The rains “are finished” as Ghanaians would say, which means CWS water treatment centers are back in business! In the rainy season, which lasts from June- October in the Northern Region of Ghana, CWS communities collect rainwater. Rainwater is plentifully and freely available in these months, so community members opt for free drinking water instead of paying the $.05 to fill their 20 L containers at the water treatment center.

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Rainwater collected in 200 L yellow drums in the village of Gidanturi. While this water is safe for using for household chores, it is easily contaminated. People need to open the lid and dip a scooping bucket in to fetch the water. Contamination alert!

Now that the rains have stopped, the only available clean water source in CWS communities is for people to buy water from the centers. The only other water available for drinking would be stored rainwater in 200 L blue drums or clay pots (not safe for drinking), stored rainwater in cement rainwater catchment tanks (not safe for drinking), stored rainwater in hand dug wells (not safe for drinking) or dugout/stream water (definitely not safe for drinking).

While the answer seems obvious (they should go to the center!), it’s not that simple. The entrepreneurs have not been regularly treating water and the community members have not been regularly buying water. So this limbo period is always an adjustment for CWS communities. As CWS Assistant Project Manager Shak put it, ” It’s no longer raining. So this is just our biggest challenge for the next month, getting people used to buying water again. ”

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A “local well” in Kabache/Kasawuripe. This is the water the entrepreneurs have been treating in this community. It is not groundwater and is easily contaminated with human and animal waste… aka do not drink!

Behavior change isn’t easy. And that’s what CWS is focusing on in transitioning from the rainy to the dry season. Changing the entrepreneurs’ behavior so they incorporate water treatment and selling water into their daily routines and changing the consumers’ behavior, so they get used to coming to buy water.

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CWS Field staffer Wahab making household surveying look easy.

In most communities, this transition is seamless. For example, in Kpanayili where the entrepreneurs now use a metal polytank stand to move the center from the various water sources throughout the year, their water business is operating with high sales! Field staffer Wahab is in charge of the monitoring and evaluation for Kpanayili. He reported on November 20, 2013, “It was such a happy day, seeing Kpanayili’s center up and running after the rains.” Last year, community members took their sweet time transitioning back to using the center and this year, they haven’t missed a beat.

But in other communities, the transition has not been so seamless. For example, in Nyamaliga, the community relies solely on rainwater throughout the rainy season because their dugout path gets muddy and slippery. I along with the other staff can vouch for this as we’ve all taken a tumble trying to get to the dugout. Sana and Sofou who run the center refuse to treat water until the community members help them weed the path to the water treatment center, which means a few weeks of people not having access to clean drinking water. This baffles the CWS field staff because if the path is dry then the entrepreneurs should be able to access the dugout! CWS Project Manager Peter reported this week that the path was clear so there should be no delay in water treatment… as for that one we’ll have to report back next week.

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Rainwater catchment tank — CWS staff Amin and myself recently tested rainwater catchment tanks in Sakpalua, Djelo and Kpenchila. Almost every tank tested positive for total coliform and a few tested positive for e-coli. These tanks are hard to clean and the organizations that set them up do not return for testing or monitoring. We advise communities not to drink from them.

In Tohinaayili, the community decided to move their center to the town center during the rainy season to treat rainwater. This is Tohinaayili’s first transition from the rainy to the dry season, as CWS implemented here in the Winter of 2012-2013. While their polytank is not empty yet, the entrepreneurs have been lackadaisical to move it back to the dugout. The CWS field staff has seen this type of transition before and found that it takes a few seasons to get the hang of it.

Finally, the path to Gbateni was flooded all rainy season. The CWS staff had not been there since May! On November 20, 2013, CWS field staffers Amin and Peter were finally able to get there. They arrived at the center and it was empty, community members did not have clean water in their storage containers. The entrepreneurs were also not home so they could not figure out what was wrong. The staff will have to get back ASAP. Buhijaa and Chanaayili, villages that are also inaccessible to CWS staff during the rainy season, were up and running the entire season! Chanaayili even sent a message to Gidanturi mid rainy season requesting that CWS staff send aquatabs (chlorine tablets) with someone who was able to make it across the flooded road.

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Amin trudges through the flooded path to Gbateni mid-rainy season.
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Shout out to the metal polytank stand which several communities are now using to move their water treatment centers from different water sources throughout the seasons

These seasonal transitions are a challenge for CWS every year. Each community adapts to the changing of seasons at a different pace. But the cool thing about CWS is that the field staff is with these entrepreneurs and communities throughout the process! The staff shows the entrepreneurs how to rally assemblymen, chiefs and queen mothers to get the communities back on track or even modifies the CWS technology (like the moveable metal polytank stands) so that these water businesses will be sustainable without staff help in the future!

-Brianán

Jarayili: Results and Reflections from Abby

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!

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Abby and Peter hanging with community members in Jarayili

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.

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Peter with Suayba’s twins!

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.

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Abby and Peter doing an educational presentation using salt water to show that clear water like rainwater is not always safe for drinking.

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!

Until next time,

-Abby

Update from the Field: Water Quality Testing Begins in Jarayili!

I cannot believe how fast these two weeks are blowing by! I am already halfway through my project in Jarayili, which has been interesting in both the field and the lab.  In addition, I have visited some awesome sites in Tamale thanks to my wonderful tour guide/ housemate, Brianan.

Peter and I woke up on Saturday morning to meet with Jarayili’s chief, elders, and community members to explain the reason behind our daily visits to their small and remote village.  Earlier, we met with Jarayili’s CWS entrepreneur, Suayba.  I was really excited about her enthusiasm for our project, which is testing whether or not water is contaminated when villagers use jerry cans and garrawas to move polytank water and rainwater into their 70-liter clean water storage buckets.  Suayba wanted to get involved and thus far, has helped us everyday as we visited Jarayili’s 18 households, interviewed women in the households about their safe water practices, and taken samples from each 70 liter container.  Some of her children have gotten involved as well!  I am really enjoying getting to know the community and talking with people individually.  Hearing personal stories about how clean water has improved the quality of life in Jarayili is extremely rewarding and motivates me to get out there everyday despite having to wake up at 5:30am.

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From rainwater collected in a dry well to unwashed jerry cans and water taken from a dugout to not enough chlorine used in the polytank, I have now seen the whole gamut of methods of water contamination.  My lab results show that there is no E.coli or total coliform in the buckets of women who washed their jerry cans with soap and bought water from an adequately chlorinated polytank.  However, there is total coliform, and in some cases E.coli, in the water buckets of women who collected rainwater or did not properly wash their jerry cans.  I still have a few days to test and I am excited to see if my future results match up with my current findings!

Finally, Brianan showed me a nice restaurant in the city that is located on a rooftop! It was cool to see a bird’s eye view Tamale.  In addition, I am eagerly awaiting the completion of a shirt and dress I am having made by Martha, Brianan’s favorite tailor in town, from local Ghanaian fabric I picked out last week.

-Abby

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CWS Partners with South African Social Venture, See Saw, Lowering Communication Barriers between Entrepreneurs and Staff

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See Saw piloted the See Tell application with CWS, a reporting system that uses cell phones to collect data. With See Tell,  CWS entrepreneurs are encouraged to use cell phones to report issues to the CWS staff about the water businesses. 

Since February 2013, Community Water Solutions has been partnering with See Saw, a Social Venture based out of Cape Town, South Africa that aims to improve water delivery and sanitation services in Africa through the use of new technology. See Saw reached out to CWS to pilot the See Tell application, a reporting system that uses cell phones to track data from senders for free. The purpose of the pilot was to allow CWS entrepreneurs to report issues with their water treatment centers and to reduce the CWS response time to these issues. In the pilot, CWS field staff also used See Tell to report the communities they visited and the length of time each staff member spent in that community.

The pilot was implemented in thirteen CWS communities. The entrepreneurs were given a laminated See Tell sheet with six different numbers to call for six different situations. When they called this number, it would ring a few times and drop the call, so the entrepreneurs were not charged cell phone credit for reporting. On the other end, See Tell would receive the call and log the situation reported. The six situations were: 1. All is well 2. I need more chlorine 3. I need more buckets 4. My tap is broken 5. There is a problem with the tank 6. Emergency! Please call back. The emergency number was actually the CWS staff’s number in charge of that community, so if the entrepreneurs called this number then they would be charged for the call. There was also always the option for the entrepreneurs to “flash” the CWS staff or let the phone ring and drop the call. This way the entrepreneurs would not be charged and CWS staff would have to return the call.

See Saw would then send e-mails to CWS every 2-business days (Monday, Wednesday, Friday) to relay all situations that were reported by the entrepreneurs. The emergency number was created so that the CWS would be able to respond more immediately to the situation.

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An example of a See Tell Report sent to CWS staff by e-mail every 2 business days.

See Saw and CWS decided to give the entrepreneurs an incentive of cell phone credit of 2 Ghana cedis, the equivalent of $1 for every month they reported, to entice the entrepreneurs to use the reporting system.

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MTN is the most popular network used by CWS entrepreneurs because it has the most cell phone coverage in Ghana. The communities are able to make calls with MTN even in very remote locations. This is an example of the airtime credit distributed to entrepreneurs as an incentive to use the See Tell application.

 

Since the pilot, CWS and See Saw have expanded See Tell to thirty-four communities and by October all fifty-five communities will be using the application. CWS and See Saw have been in conversation throughout the process to make any changes necessary to improve the application.

When the entrepreneurs first started using the application, some were not sure if their calls were going through. The “dropped call” was confusing, how could you know See Tell received the report? To fix this problem, CWS staff went back after receiving See Tell reports and informed the entrepreneurs when their call had been received.  There were also changes made to the laminated number sheet. CWS recommended that the situations be cut down to four: 1. All is well 2. I need more chlorine 3. There is a problem with the tank 4. Emergency.  This would make the options simpler for the entrepreneurs.

The challenges with the See Tell software in these remote communities are that often times the entrepreneurs do not own cell phones, they have a hard time buying cell phone credit or they do not have access to electricity to charge their cell phones.  Fully charged cell phones with credit are crucial to See Tell success. Since the entrepreneurs do not pay for the calls to See Tell, some have been using other peoples’ phones to send in their reports.

The See Tell software has overall aided the CWS staff in responding to problems. For example, recently in Checko, an independent community that is only visited once a month by CWS staff, Abiba ran out of aquatabs. She communicated through See Tell and the CWS staff was able to immediately follow up and get her the chlorine she needed to keep the center running. The emergency number has been a great way to fuel communication between the CWS staff and the entrepreneurs. As more communities become independent, CWS will need an application like See Tell or a system in place to ensure water businesses are operating without frequent monitoring.

-Brianán

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The new and improved laminated sheet with 4 situations in which the entrepreneurs can report to CWS Staff.

 

 

 

 

Metal Polytank Stand Highs and Lows

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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.

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          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.

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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.

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The water business owners in Kpanayili from left to right: Zilifau, Affilua, Fati and Anatu.

ImageThe 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.

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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.

-Brianán