CWS Polytank Stands: Cement or Metal?

Amin checks the water level of the polytank. This is a typical CWS water treatment center with cement stand.
Wahab checks the water levels of the polytank in Gariezegu. This is a center that uses a metal stand. 

While preparations for the summer fellowship program are underway, we’re still focused on monitoring at the CWS Tamale office until the fellows get here. Tamale is in between seasons. It has been raining but the rainy season is not in full swing just yet. The CWS field staff is prepping our 49 villages for the seasonal transitions that will take place during the fellowship program when they will be given less attention. Full time field staffer, Amin, will be monitoring the communities while the other field staff will be working as translators for the fellows.

One way we’re prepping the communities is by bringing the entrepreneurs metal polytank stands. If you read my post on building polytank stands a few months ago, then you already have an idea of what I’m talking about. Several CWS partnership communities drink from multiple water sources throughout the year. As the rains come, the women, who are responsible for collecting water in the Dagomba culture, opt for fetching water from water sources that are closer to home. In some villages that might mean going to a closer dugout that only fills with water when it rains. In others, it might mean drinking from hand dug wells in the community or drinking from a stream that is created during the rainy season.

The path to Gariezegu’s center floods when the rains start, which is why the community now uses a metal polytank stand to bring their center to town. The entrepreneurs treat and sell well water and rainwater throughout the rainy season.
The metal polytank in Gariezegu that inspired the new CWS metal polytank stand!

We’re realizing on the monitoring side that this is a common trend and that we need to have realistic expectations for the entrepreneurs running the centers. It would be hard for the women to treat and sell water at a dugout where the path is flooded and where nobody goes to get water for three months out of the year. Initially, CWS planned on building cement polytank stands at the various locations from which people collect water. But we were inspired by the metal polytank stand that Gariezegu used last rainy season to bring their water treatment center to town to treat well water.

The metal stand can be moved around, which is ideal for villages that collect water from different sources. Instead of building multiple stands, the community can move their center to wherever it is they are getting water. West Africa Reginal Director, Kathryn Padget, and Project Manager, Peter Biyam, got in touch with a welder and showed him a diagram of what the metal polytank stand should look like. The welder was able to make the polytank stand out of metal piping and so the metal stand was created!

CWS entrepreneur, Anatu, stands with Kpanayili’s new metal polytank stand located next to their closer dugout that is only full of water during the rainy season.

CWS does not anticipate using these metal stands in every community or using these stands first thing in implementation. The cement polytank stands are a good fit for communities that only drink from one water source year round because they are so durable and because they can’t be moved! The metal polytank stands will only be added to communities that will need to move their centers to other water points. So far, CWS has brought metal stands to Gbandu and Kpanayili. We are hoping to get metal stands out to Libi, Tindan II, Kpalbusi, Jarayili and Tacpuli before the fellowship program. As of now, we’re just waiting on the welder!

– Brianán

Early Rains in Tamale

Women fetching water from the remaining water in Jagberin’s dugout, last dry season. This year, Jagberin’s dugout never totally dried up like this. – Photo credit Kathryn Padgett

The rains have come early in Tamale this year. In the Northern Region of Ghana, the dry season usually lasts from October until June and the rainy season usually lasts from June until September. But this year that has not been the case.  We received our first rains in Tamale starting in March, which is abnormal for the region. And it has been raining frequently, which makes it seem like the rainy season is in full swing. All over the world, global climate change has altered weather patterns, posing a threat to ecosystems, agriculture, the displacement of persons and access to water. While the cause of these specific rainfall changes in the Northern Region of Ghana is unknown, a recent NASA led study reports that global warming will have a large impact on the world’s precipitation patterns. The study states, “Areas projected to see the most significant increase in heavy rainfall are in the tropical zones around the equator, particularly in the Pacific Ocean and Asian monsoon regions.” Ghana is located in this tropical zone. CWS works in communities that get their water from dugouts or small ponds that fill up with rainwater each rainy season. These early rains have already had an impact on CWS operations in Ghana.

Djelo’s drying dugout in February. Djelo moved their center to a farther dugout, so that the entrepreneurs would have enough water to treat

Every year during the dry season, some CWS communities have to close their water treatment centers because their dugout water runs out. In April of this year, the dugout in Gbateni totally ran dry, while the dugouts in Nekpegu, Tohinaayili, Galinzegu and Jagberin were getting turbid on their way to running dry. Within a week of Gbateni’s dugout drying up, all of these communities received heavy rains. When we went back to Gbateni, Nekpegu, Tohinaayili, Galinzegu and Jagberin the following week, their dugouts were full with water. We had very few center closings due to dugouts drying up this year, which means more months of access to clean water for those communities to which this posed a threat.

Galinzegu’s dugout in January looking very turbid

When the roads start flooding from the rains, the CWS field staff can no longer access the roads to the villages, Buhijaa, Gbateni or Chanaayili. This usually doesn’t happen until June. Starting in April, we were unable to get to Buhijaa and the road to Gbateni was already getting muddy. We’re hoping that the rains hold out for a few weeks so we can prep these villages with aquatabs before the paths are totally impenetrable for the rest of the season.

Memounatu of Buhijaa pumps borehole water into her safe storage container. CWS field staff cannot reach Buhijaa because the road is too flooded. As of the last visit in April, they still had borehole water.

I asked the CWS field staff what they thought about the early rains. Peter said, “It must be climate change, this weather is so strange.” Amin explained it in a different way, “Last year it didn’t rain much so this year the rains came early. That’s just how it is.”

Shak monitored Jabayili and Yakura, two communities implemented in June 2012, and asked the women how their sales were going. Fati and Memouna of Jabayili reported that sales have slowed down, everyone has started to collect rainwater. This is typical community behavior for CWS villages but rainwater collection usually doesn’t start until June. So the entrepreneurs have fewer months of having high center sales this year, since most people opt for collecting rainwater for free over paying for water at the center.

Rainwater collected in a pot for household consumption

Recently during household monitoring in Tindan, Wahab spoke to Arishetu, one of the women who runs the water business in the community. She told him that he would not meet all of the women at home to talk to them about their clean water.  Now that it has started raining, everyone will be on their farms planting groundnuts and yams. These crops apparently only need a few rains before you can start planting.

The CWS field staff has noticed that there are less people to meet in the communities for household monitoring. This means coming across empty households and only being able to speak with the children, nursing women or the older people who are staying back from the farms. But the rains have not affected farming schedules beyond groundnuts and yams. It seems like people are holding out on planting corn and other crops until they are sure the rains will last. As rural farmers without access to changing weather pattern data, their farming yields are left to chance, especially with abnormal rains.

With an average of 1-2 rains a week in Tamale, it seems like the rains are here to stay and it’s only the first week in May! So far the early rains have had a positive impact on CWS water treatment centers. Very few centers ran out of water to treat this year. But who knows what future obstacles CWS and the CWS communities will face when struck with changing, unpredictable precipitation patterns.


Reaching the CWS 5-Year Mark

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.

Amin and I talking to Sofou, one of the water business entrepreneurs in Nyamaliga. Nyamaliga was implemented in 2010, making it the oldest CWS community and will be the first village to reach the “5-year mark”.
Household visits! Checking the safe storage container to see if there is clean water inside.

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.

The CWS Village Independence Ranking System

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.

Abiba, the new water business entrepreneur in Cheko

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.

Amin checks the polytank water level in Nekpegu

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:

“NGO Water Sector Confronts Sustainability Problem” – Article by Maia Booker and Peter Sawyer –

Ghana Celebrates 56th Year of Independence

Jubilee Park, Tamale – March 6, 2013

Today Tamale celebrates Ghana’s 56th year of Independence. On March 6, 1957, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana’s first Prime Minister and President, declared that Ghana would be “free forever” after over 500 years of colonial imperialism. Ghana became the first country in Sub-Saharan Africa to become independent.

Dr. Kwame Nkrumah- Independent Ghana’s First Leader

56 years later, Ghanaians still celebrate this day with pride, peace and happiness. In Tamale, school children, police officers, military members and other government workers march in Jubilee Park. Every year, the schools in Tamale select their best marchers to accompany the other government officials. It’s their chance to exhibit national and school pride. Flags fly high in celebration, lit up at night by a flagpole solar spotlight to keep the colours bright. Residents hang flags from their windows and wrap then around their shoulders like capes. The atmosphere is electric.

I had the privilege of talking to four of our CWS Ghanaian field staffers, Peter, Shak, Amin and Wahab, about their take on the day. “It’s really a day of peace marching to celebrate our peaceful independence, “Amin explained.

“Maybe they thought I was a stubborn student” – Wahab

Shak and Peter marched every year when they were in school. “My first day of Marching was fantastic, I was really young”, Peter told me, grinning from ear to ear in a state of nostalgia. Amin was even selected as the flag bearer for his Junior High school, leading them around the park waving his school flag. Wahab was never chosen to march but it doesn’t bother him. “Maybe they thought I was a stubborn student,” he said. “Or maybe he was just a bad marcher”, added Peter. Either way, it’s a day he looks forward to every year. Wahab fondly looks back on celebrating March 6 when he was 15 years old, he says he’d never seen anything like it before.

Amin, on the other hand, remembers Ghana’s 50th anniversary in 2007. “It was the best, a Imagelot of celebrating. The marching was different. There was paint everywhere. All the trees were painted red, gold, green and black. The streets were painted. People were throwing 50th anniversary cups and shirts into the air. Nothing could be better.”

This is the sort of opportunity that every student should have the chance of being a part of. But not everyone has this privilege. What the country of Ghana need to consider next is how to help kids and young people, who are suffering from any financial difficulties or any form of illness that means they are left out from being involved in any sort of activities that others may be a part of. Being a part of Ghana’s Independence must have been something special for Peter, Shak, Amin and Wahab. A day to remember.

Shak is looking forward to seeing old friends and family that he hasn’t seen in a while. Most families in Tamale cook up a big meal to share together after they watch the marching. Wahab plans on going to Discovery, a new club in town, for a big night of dancing. Peter and Amin are excited to soak in the atmosphere and revel in the day. Peter told me, “I feel so glad thinking about our great grandfathers who struggled for us. It’s the happiest day because we are no longer living in a colonized Ghana.”

Shak posing with friends and the Ghanaian flag

Bring on the celebrations! I know I’m heading to Jubilee Park.


Ghana’s Google Doodle today! – Independence Arch, Accra

Lots and Lots of Bonding

Alexa, Linda, Julia, and Emily getting their groove on at Sparkles
Alexa, Linda, Julia, and Emily getting their groove on at Sparkles

HAPPY 2013 FROM THE WINTER FELLOWS!!!! We brought in the New Year at Sparkles, a fun Tamale bar/restaurant! The fellows had a great time breaking it down with their translators and the locals!

Amanda, Caroline, Jorda, Alexa, Saja, Kara, and Sam practicing a school education lesson

The fellows had Tuesday morning off to rest; they will soon begin their schedule of VERY early rises! After lunch, the afternoon was used for more training and team bonding exercises. To make the teams feel more connected, there was a discussion of having team jackets from this site and similar, so that there was a healthy feel of competition with fun. First, Shak and Peter taught fellows school education lessons. This group of fellows will be the first to use school education as part of their implementation. The lessons allow the fellows to target the children in the village to always drink clean water from the CWS water treatment center. We want to ensure all members of the household are aware of the benefits of clean drinking water.

Lindsay going through the ropes course with the help of her teammates
Lindsay going through the ropes course with the help of her teammates

The fellows then split into two groups and completed some team building and bonding exercises. One exercise included eliminating fellows’ senses and then having them work together to communicate. The other exercise was a ropes course in which all fellows started on one side and had to get to the other, without touching the rope or going through the same hole twice. It was pretty hot and sunny out, but the fellows definitely had a lot of laughs (and so did us leaders watching them)! Employers, in the current scenario, are frequently taking advantage of such opportunities for improving employee welfare and increasing productivity at the same time. In fact, team building activities for work can also bring employees closer and build a bond with one another. Their ability to build relationships through such events can benefit their professional lives and also create a friendlier atmosphere in the office environment.

Kara, Katie (the birthday girl), and Julia enjoying dinner at SWAD
Kara, Katie (the birthday girl), and Julia enjoying dinner at SWAD

For dinner, we went out to SWAD, one of the best restaurants here in Tamale. The fellows had great meals, from butter chicken to mushroom pizza! It was Katie’s birthday, so we all sang and she had a candle to make her wish!


Celebrating Cheif Meetings

Today the fellows are off to hold their chief meetings with their new villages. Yesterday they went to their villages to set up the meeting and today they will be sitting down with their respected chief and elders to talk about how they can bring clean drinking water to their entire community.

We are all anxiously awaiting the details about the meeting and of course with the village’s final decision!

In the meantime, we went out to dinner to cheers the fellows good luck in their meetings and to celebrate bringing more communities clean drinking water. We all (yes, all 10 of us) piled into the jeep and headed to Swad– a CWS fav!


The 2012 CWS Fall Fellows!
The 2012 CWS Fall Fellows!

The 2012 Fall Fellowship Has Begun!

Today was the official start of the 2012 Fall Fellowship Program! After a day of traveling from the States to Ghana, and then another full day riding the bus from Accra up to CWS’ headquarters in Tamale, Tiffany, Brittany, Steven, Lauren, Lubna, Nicole, Joe, and Jessie arrived at their home for the next three weeks: GILBT guest house! Stay tuned for more updates as our Fellows complete orientation and then start work in their villages!

The 2012 Fell Fellows
The 2012 Fell Fellows

CWS Selected to Compete Global Giving Challenge!

Community Water Solutions has been selected by Global Giving to compete in a exciting fundraising challenge! If we can can raise a minimum of $4,000 from November 24 – December 21 from at least 50 unique donors than we will earn a permanent spot on the Global Giving Website.  If we receive the greatest number of unique donations or total donation value, CWS may receive as much as $6,000 from GG!

Help us win the competition by making a donation on our global giving website:  or help us spread the word by sending the link to your friends and family!

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Last Day in Ghana!

Today is my last official day in Ghana!  I can’t believe how quickly these two months went by.  I have spent the last week preparing Peter for my departure.  We put together new monitoring forms for him, and then had a practice run- where he went to the villages without me and filled out his monitoring forms which we then reviewed.  He did a great job and I am confident that he will be able to handle anything that may come up while I am gone.  Right now, the plan is for me to be in the States for the holidays where I will work on fundraising with the rest of the CWS team.  If the fundraising goes well, then I will hopefully be back in Ghana in late winter/early spring.  We’ll be sure to keep everyone posted! If you are interested in supporting our work please visit to learn more about donating to our cause!