Thursday, August 23, 2012

Getting down on friday-ay

Day 11 (Friday)

As our schedule of tasks becomes smaller, our day was a bit more relaxed than previous days. We spent the morning discussing the best way to approach Obodan's successful maintenance of a water system, which we will discuss with village elders tomorrow. At around midday, we divided our tasks between us. Tony and I, with a great deal of help from Phillip, a villager, surveyed our two best proposed pipeline paths, surveyed the paths from the pipelines to the spigot locations, and discussed the logistics of each of the two paths. Nnenna, Alexi, and Sammy went to Nsawam. They first revisited the Water and Sanitation Committee to inquire about the training they provide to local water committees, and then stopped by the Ghana Water Company and Highway Company to obtain estimates of the prices of installing pipes across the road.

Friday, August 17, 2012

EWB Africa Conference

            Today is the day of the inaugural EWB-Africa Conference and the first time Lucas tried oatmeal and tea. We woke up early this morning, and traveled to Accra, to the headquarters of the West African mobile giant MTN, where we met the members of EWB-Ghana. Though none of the people present there were members of the student chapters, many were professionals or alumni of Ghanian student chapters. Afterwards, we traveled with them to the MTN plant, where we met with students from EWB-Nigeria, as well as toured the mobile facilities. Never have people taken so many pictures of us before! I swear, we felt like celebrities living in the moment, with the students shuffling toward us and taking our hands, and taking pictures. A lot of us exchanged names and contact information, and afterwards, headed to the Ghanian Institute of Engineers, where the conference was held. It was interesting to interact with these other EWBers, as the African chapters seemingly had much more difficulty raising funds. As a result, they do not have the capabilities to implement projects, and many of them assist other international chapters in implementation. However, we were truly engineers without borders. In the conference room, it did not matter were you came from. We were all united for one cause.

            Our mentor, Alexi, gave the keynote speech. After a bunch of other presentations on project proposals, and auditing, and biogas production from waste, we took a short break to eat our long awaited dinner of... chicken and jelloff rice...again. (It was very tasty though) The honourable Mr. Sammy Gamson (honourable being a title designated for assembly members) gave a rousing closing speech, sharing many pictures of past Columbia projects in Obodan. The Nigerian EWBers especially loved it, letting Sammy know that he could be a very good pastor because of his oratory abilities. After (another) long weary shaking of hands and taking pictures and sharing of information, we took our much needed departure from Accra. We arrived in Obodan after a long car ride, and ended two days of strange but also incredibly eye-opening and interesting experiences.

Botanical Gardens

Today we went to the Aburi botanical gardens to lend moral support to Sammy while he rand for presiding member in the assembly against 3 other people. Before the voting took place however one of the people dropped out of the race since he would have split the votes with Sammy. The first round of the election Sammy got 13 votes opponent 1 got 11 votes and opponent 2 got 6 votes. Since someone needs 2/3 majority to win they had to do a run off election between the top two individuals. During this round Sammy was able to get 16 votes while his opponent remained with the 11, 4 people decided not to vote. Since no majority still happened they have to wait 14 days before having a third election to decided who will win.

Sammy explained the difficulty with getting enough votes as it coming down to money. Since his assembly position is not paid, other members use elections like these to try get a little money from the job. Sammy however is confident he will be able to rangle enough votes to win the position in 2 weeks.

After the elections we went to a restaurant in the gardens where we had an atypical meal of fish and fried rice. Later we went to Sammy's uncle's house where we collected some oranges and watched part of a brilliant UK movie with the gore of Saw. We also headed to a part of Aburi to check out how there tap water systems operate and saw one which was family owned and sold the water per bucket to surrounding houses as well as allowing people to pipe it to there own homes for a fee. This is something we might consider in the future.

We got back when it was late and had some african noodles with corned beef vegetables before sleeping.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Trunking among other things

So today marks our first week in Ghana and we have accomplished quite a bit regarding our water distribution system. For sure we are going to have a lot of work to do over the next year finalizing the design for implementation Summer 2013. Today we attended the Obodan Water Community meeting talking to the members about what they wanted from a water system in the village and how they would keep themselves accountable for the collecting money for maintenance and operation. We have stressed to them how important it is that they spend time maintaining the system as it will eventually fail and they will need to be able to afford to fix the it themselves.

After the meeting we spent traveled to Nsawam for dinner originally intending on going to McDonalds *not the golden arches but after getting our food the waiter told us that there was not food. Upon such information we found ourselves wandering around the village searching for a not too sketchy restaurant too feed ourselves. WE found one on the way to the internet cafe where we were served a warmed up plate of rice and fried chicken.

Returning to Nsawam we got ourselves a ride in a taxi, which when smoothly until we got to Obodan and got out and saw a man had hopped out of the trunk which he had been in the entire time. It was the guy who had bartered with us originally, apparently it is common practice. They offered themselves to be our private drivers and we got there numbers and went to the house.

We got ready for bed and went to sleep.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Day Five

Day Five

We began the day by discussing the logistics of the town's ability to collect money to maintain the tap water system. Many villagers are not paying, but using the water anyway, claiming they cannot afford the water despite their ability to pay for electricity, which is much more expensive. We then visited Pakro, a nearby town known for its water system. We were very impressed by its construction and operation, but determined that this design was unfeasible in Obodan due to cost and geography. Before the sun set, we partook in a popular Ghanaian activity – soccer. As we were preparing to go to bed, Nnenna, who is allergic to bees, was stung. She had her epi-pen, but for safety reasons we went to the local hospital to get the proper medicine.


Day Four

Today is the day of the funeral of late Ghana President Atta Mills, who died recently of cancer. It has been a weeklong funeral celebration of his death. Over here, music has been blaring late into the night and Ghanians all over have been dancing to honor his memory. Friday is the culmination of the celebration and funeral rites, with the actual burial carried out in Acrra in the morning. Most government offices are closed for the day in memory of the late President, and radios blare out stories of his acts of kindness and resolve in a country teetering on the edge of peace and progress, and political unrest. We slept in this morning because of the funeral, and around 10 in the morning, we hear a knocking on the door. We open it and it is one of the village children, Delek. We played cards with him (Egyptian Ratscrew) and later in the afternoon we finished up surveying the village. At night, we went to Fotobi for phone cards and I drove in Sammy's motorbike for the first time! Can you say exhilarating? We finished up the day with Nnenna's dinner of spaghetti and meatballs.

Thursday, August 9, 2012


Today we woke up in Obodan and were greeted by a dozen or so of the village's children – all very playful and eager to learn our names. The smaller ones could not be held enough, and the older ones wanted to learn everything about us, just as we wanted to learn everything about them. Even going to get drinking water across the road, two children insisted that they hold our hands to escort us. After our warm welcome and much-needed showers, the four of us and Sammy left Obodan to prepare for the work ahead of us. Our first stop was at the Water Research Institute in the capital, Accra, to inquire about the proper way to gather water that will be tested for use as drinking water so that we may have them test the water while we are in Ghana. We next went to a mall in Accra to purchase any necessities not available in Obodan, materials we will need to survey the land, a phone, although we do not yet have a SIM card, and, of course, a soccer ball for the children. After eating a popular rice-chicken Ghanaian dish, we returned to Obodan to relax and rest for day three.


Hey all. We are excited to bring you the first update on our journey to the other side of the world! We, three Columbia students (Sophomore Lucas Oliver, Sophomore Tony Hung, Nnenna Okwara) and our professional mentor (Alexi Remnek) are traveling to the small village of Obodan in Ghana Eastern Region to gather information and continue to develop the plans for the water distribution system as well as follow up on the past EWB latrine implementation trip to Ghana this summer. This trip will take 16 days and will consist mainly of surveying the local town, contacting utilities specialists regarding cost estimates, contacting governmental groups on feasibility and design, as well as meeting with local EWB chapters. Today, we are traveling to Accra, Ghana by air, with half our team stopping in London (so we can say we went to London during the Olympics of course!) and the other half stopping in Madrid. We plan to meet up in Accra's airport by 8pm Ghana time, and there we will take a taxi to the village of Obodan (which should be approximately an hour and a half drive).

We can't wait to get there and bombard you guys with more updates, pictures and smiles! Until then, merenky?!

UPDATE: We finally arrived at Heathrow International Airport, and boy does it look nice! We took a subway-like shuttle to our gate...if only NYC subways are like this. The exchange rate is a bit high though, with around 1.7 dollars per British pound, and to give you an idea of how much a pound is worth, a newspaper or a bottle of water is about 1.50 pounds. We are waiting for the plane to Accra now, watching the olympics on BBC.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Days 16 - Infinity: Mike and Christine Edition

After bidding farewell to the rest of the travel team, we (Mike and Christine) spent the day with Steve Forbes, mentor extraordinaire, and Sammy in Accra.  We had the opportunity to meet up with EWB-Ghana members at the MTN (one of Ghana’s major cellphone carrier companies) building. After a blur of hospitality in which mugs were brought in and taken away twice, tea cookies were spread out, and an assortment of drink mixes were offered, EWB-Ghana, Steve Forbes, and EWB-USA CU talked about different means of collaboration for the future. Mike and Christine agreed that the Ghana Program will definitely be reaching out to EWB-Ghana in the future for mentorship and networking.  Sammy, Mike, and Christine dropped Steve off at the airport, and the goodbye was cut short as a security guard obstructed Mike and Christine from going into the actual airport after Sammy sneaked by.

5/31 and 6/1 (These two days have become one muddled 48 hour period)

The next two days were spent finishing up the work needed to be done on the latrines. Instructions (in both Twi and English) were painted next to the stencil drawings we had put in the latrines during prior days. After struggling a little bit with the idea of manual center alignment, Christine started getting the hang of painting and 6/7 latrines were finished, the walls of Anoff being too wet to paint still. Additionally, we had noticed that some of the jerry cans meant for urine collection had been stolen from one of the latrine sites so we decided to label them all. We imagined it would be difficult to steal a jerry can that had “PROPERTY OF OBODAN” and “URINE COLLECTION” plastered on its sides. Mike worked on installing ventilation pipes in the remaining latrines (which our awesome carpenter Bempo did in half the time that we took and without a need for a wooden bracing) along with the side pit doors.

We tried to gather water collection data from the two boreholes to gauge Obodan's water usage. After a few setbacks, we were only able to get a vague range of daily cedis collected from one of the boreholes. Money collection is definitely something that needs to be looked into during an assessment trip. Last, but definitely not least, the pits on the pilot latrine were switched! Turns out said awesome carpenter Bempo is also a mason (keep in mind for future trips) and he completed the job for about 1/4 of what the other mason was asking for. The toilet seat was taken off from the right pit, sawdust was added, and the pit hole was sealed shut with cement while the toilet seat was attached to the left pit hole. After a quick celebration, Mike and Christine ran to pack/clean up/ingest all the things left in our living quarters (ex. Kabir’s shoes, lonely socks, Nutella, etc). We left Obodan under the cover of darkness, which Mike noted made things easier (albeit sadder) since the kids were asleep and we couldn’t say goodbye. The night was spent at Sammy’s house, enjoying Sammy’s wide taste in music and his wife, Beatrice’s, jollof rice. However, the past two weeks must’ve taken a toll on all three of us since Christine left the dinner table to curl up on a couch before she pancaked on a plate from exhaustion. A few minutes later, Sammy leaned back and fell asleep, which prompted Mike to lie down on the other couch and immediately pass out. 

Everyone woke up on 6/2, fully rested, and after a quick bite to eat, Christine and Mike were off to Accra. We attended church service in the morning, then headed to the same crafts fair that the other group visited before they left. Between Mike being a self-proclaimed “man of jokes” and Christine’s last attempt at dancing a little Azonto (the popular Ghanaian dance for the year) with the shopkeepers, we got away with some serious steals. Afterwards, we had a late lunch at KFC, and Christine was dropped off at her hostel, while Mike continued to the airport to continue his adventures for the summer in Germany. 

Anti-Theft system of Jerry Cans

Poultry House that another EWB Chapter built

Instructions on the Latrine Walls


(Pictures of Pit Switching on Christine's Phone which is currently not cooperating. To be Posted ASAP)

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Days 14-16: Final Days in Obodan

     Our travel team, with the exception of Christine and Mike, who will be staying an extra couple of days, has now returned home to the United States. We accomplished a lot in the past few days, leaving just a few tasks for the remaining travel team members to finish up in our absence.

     Monday was an interesting day, with nothing going completely as planned. We were supposed to supervise the pumping of Kwasi Doi at around 6 or 7 in the morning, but when we arrived there around 7:15 (we were getting used to Ghana time), there was no sign of the pump. We couldn't get in touch with the foreman we were borrowing it from either, so lacking information about the pumping, we waited around at Anoff to watch the masons work on the stairs. At noon we headed over to Borehole 2 to meet the guy who would be taking apart the pump for our second borehole test, only to find him already working. Since when are things ahead of schedule? We tried to help disassemble it, only to find that the threads on one of the pipes had rusted away, forcing us to buy a replacement. Another unexpected event was the height of water in the borehole. Almost immediately, water flowed to the top of the pipe, threatening to spill over. We had to do a bailer test instead of a slug test because the water level was too high to measure with our water meter. The recharge rate was even faster than that of Borehole 1, and we did multiple trials to confirm this. In the afternoon, we got a hold of the pump and removed the water and trash from the pits in Kwasi Doi. We needed to send some men into the pits to dig out dirt and garbage that remained at the bottom. By the end of the day, the access doors were sealed in place, so hopefully this will not be a problem again. We got some bad news that day too, unfortunately. We got the results back from our water quality tests. They indicated that the borehole water contains coliform including E. coli. This was very disappointing information obviously and it means that before implementing our water distribution system we will have to decide on some treatment system. A biosand filter might be our best option, but we have many alternatives to consider as well, including chlorination and UV treatment. Luckily we have a lot of dedicated Ghana members who can work on this issue. We finished off the day with a trip to a Chinese restaurant with Steve and went home to prepare for an early start the following day.

     On Tuesday, we left early in the morning for a day of tourism. We headed to Cape Coast which was about five hours away. We first went to Kakum National Park for a canopy walk. After a short discussion of some native plants and the park's history, we took to the rope bridges. 40 meters above the ground, we could observe the structure of the rain forest and observe some birds and butterflies. It was a beautiful view, but not for someone who is afraid of heights. Afterwards, we went to Elmina Castle, which was one of the most important stops on the Atlantic slave trade. It was a very haunting experience, seeing where the slaves were held and the passages they took to board the ships for the Americas. The castle is now a historical site; it is right on the ocean and very beautiful, though this could not distract from the eeriness of the place. On our way home we stopped for a quick dip in the ocean. The water was very warm, unlike the Atlantic Ocean we're used to in the Northeast.

     On Wednesday, we collected soil samples in the morning from the hill we plan to put our water tanks on for the distribution system. We need them to determine how strong the dirt is to ensure that our system will stay in place. Afterwards, we all packed up to get ready to leave for the airport. We left early so we could go to the craft market in Accra to get souvenirs. The merchants were selling everything from fabric and clothing to carved bowls and metal figurines. They were very eager for our money, but there were plenty of good deals to be had provided you haggle well. This concluded our trip, but we look forward to hearing how the last two days went from Mike and Christine as they finish up the remaining work in Obodan.

All the best,
Caitlin, Mira, Kabir, Kerri, Andrea, Mike & Christine

CUEWB on a rope bridge canopy walk. Look moms, no hands!

CUEWB takes a rest from hiking, posing with other hikers

We spent a drizzling afternoon at the sobering tour of Elmina Castle, a former slave castle

Days 12-13: A Busy Weekend

     The past week has been really busy as we tried to finish everything before our departure, which accounts for the lack of blog posts recently. So here is a quick recap of last weekend in Obodan.

     For the majority of the weekend, we continued our latrine work, painting instructions and supervising the masons. We also went to Nsawam to pick up the remaining supplies we needed and conducted household surveys in Kwasi Doi to assess their need for latrines and guage their opinions on our source-separated one.

     On Saturday, we witnessed a Ghanaian funeral in Akwakupom. They are large events with loud music and dancing that look more like parties than ceremonies. We stopped by for a short time to observe, but didn't stay long for fear of looking out of place. We had our own celebration that night for Andrea's birthday. We made garden egg stew with coco yams and went to Fotobi to hang out with Sammy. We played our iPod on the big speakers there and talked for hours.

     On Sunday, we met with the elders, chiefs, and queen mother at an Obodan community meeting. We discussed the latrine usage and maintenance instructions as well as the water distribution system. Afterwards, some of the community members showed us locations that they thought would be good for the spigots. These locations seemed more reasonable than those in our original plan and are closer to more homes. We surveyed the spots and for now, they look promising.

Signing out,
Mira, Mike, Kerri, Andrea, Christine, Kabir & Caitlin

 The chiefs, including Steve Forbes, who is a chief in Obodan

The EWB team listen attentively

Friday, May 25, 2012

Days 9-11: Sluggin It Out

     The Obronis (foreigners) have been pretty busy in Obodan the past few days. The latrines are coming along really well. We are putting the finishing touches on them: painting usage and maintenance instructions inside, completing the urine diversion pipes and connecting them to collection tanks, and bracing the ventilation pipes. We will definitely have the latrines up and running soon and hope to survey some of the villagers on their initial reactions to them before we leave.

     In terms of the water project, we have completed our surveying and calculations of the land elevation and piping distance and will soon send our data to send back to our team at home. Today we completed our first slug test on Borehole 1, the well we plan to pump from for the water distribution system. Planning to start at 8 in the morning, we closed the borehole to the community only to find that the man hired to remove the hand pump didn't show up. We made some calls and finally got someone else to help us out and began the testing around 4:30. That sums up Ghana time for you. Not only did we have our whole team watching and working on the test, but we also had quite a few families as well as a couple dozen kids observing too. We didn't have time today to do a test for Borehole 2, but plan to finish it on Monday. We were concerned about the yield of Borehole 1 because it is notoriously harder to pump and takes a long time to get going. The slug test alleviated our worries though because our results show that the borehole has a very high recharge rate and is probably pumping from a confined aquifer. We still need to do the calculations for our data, but at the moment it looks quite promising.

     Throughout the week we have been problem solving more than just latrines and borehole tests. Given the limited tools and supplies available to us, we have recently developed a knack for using things for unintended purposes to accomplish our goals. For example, after breaking our last hacksaw blade, we began using Christine's Swiss Army knife to cut our PVC pipes, which supposedly "cut like butter," though most of us prefer the new saw we got in Nsawam this morning. Other innovations include a rock for a hammer (there are only a few hammers to be found in all of Obodan) and benches for ladders (which are also limited), but most notable is our use of trenches. Alongside the main path of Obodan, is a fairly deep drainage trench to channel water from the top of the mountain to the road and to help prevent erosion. However, erosion is a huge problem in this part of Ghana, washing away over two feet of sediment in the past 30 years. As a result, the trenches are now elevated above the ground level and they can no longer serve their intended purpose. As we mentioned in our last post, we were having doubts about the proposed plan for our water distribution pipes, due to the rocky ground and erosion. However, we decided that the trench might be the perfect place to put our pipes. It takes something that is already in place and no longer used and makes it a hassle free and safe place for our pipes. Plus it's the perfect size! We surveyed this new route and hope to figure out appropriate spigot locations in the next couple of days.

     In other news, we are still being treated like celebrities here. We assumed that the novelty of our skin colors and language differences would wear off within a week, but the natives still call out to us wherever we go. It is impossible to go outside without hearing people calling out, "Obroni, how are you?" and having a swarm of children run to hug you and hold your hand. It can be difficult to deal with the kids at times because they constantly want to hang out with you on the work site and take you away to play and show you things. That being said, their cuteness and sweet temperaments make them a joy to be around, especially if you're Christine, who we are convinced might try to steal an African baby to bring home. The adults are quick to show off to us too, offering us fruit, porridge and banku, and marriage proposals. Yesterday, a pineapple farmer was passing through our work site and he stopped to explain to us how they determine when a crop is ready for harvest. They pour juice on a refractometer and then hold it up to the sun to read the sugar levels. All in all, it has been a productive week and we look forward to an equally productive weekend.

Until next time,
Mira, Mike, Christine, Kerri, Andrea, Caitlin & Kabir  

Our team performing the slug test on Borehole 1 

Pumping and cleaning

Surveying along the trench


Fellowship of the Latrines

Kerri measures while Andrea records

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Days 7 and 8 : A-lat-ta Progress

All has been well the past couple of days in Obodan. We have continued our latrine construction with the help of many masons and community labor. We hope to have them up and running by the end of the week!

On Monday, we took an inventory of what supplies we have available from past trips and revisited some latrine sites to see what materials they would need. Our day was cut short due to a long rainstorm. However, we were able to use the time to compile a list of all of the supplies we need to put the finishing touches on the latrines and make a day-by-day plan of goals to accomplish. We sent Christine and Steve to Nsawam to buy the supplies in the afternoon, which went smoothly. For dinner, we made Ramen noodles with eggs and cabbage, eating by candlelight as we were still experiencing a power outage.

Today, Kerri, Andrea, and Caitlin began surveying the path for the water distribution system. We need to determine the elevations of the land and see if our proposed pipe path is feasible. Unfortunately, it looks like there are a lot of obstacles in our path, including a large amount of bedrock. We might have to consider alternative paths, and will be looking for better, sandier areas for the piping tomorrow.

We also made a lot of progress on the latrines. We finished laying the bricks for the superstructure at Anoff, smoothed and plastered the floor and exterior of the latrine at Alatta, and worked on the piping for the urine diversion and ventilation in Akwakupom.

In the evening, Mike, Christine, Caitlin, and Kabir attended a meeting with the Obodan chief and unit committee to discuss the slug test we will be doing on the boreholes on Friday. We had to tell the community that they would not be able to use the boreholes during our test, forcing them to collect all of their water earlier in the morning. We aim to determine the yield of the boreholes. We also scheduled an early morning community meeting for Sunday to discuss maintenance and usage of the latrines.

To finish off the day, we headed over to Nsawam to get chicken and rice from a restaurant called Mcdonal's. It was delicious! We're looking forward to a productive rest of the week!

Until next time,
Mira, Mike, Andrea, Christine, Caitlin, and Kabir

Playing with the kids

The girls waiting to pump water from the borehole after school.

Kerri surveying for the water project

Mira makes friends with Janet
 Andrea reads Dr. Seuss to the kids in front of the library

Mike, Steve, and Kabir working on the piping at Akwakupom

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Days 5 and 6: Let it rain (please)

Quick blog post today because internet cafe time is limited

Two nights ago, on the 18th, Mike and Christine arrived safely in Obodan. They came to a room full of Obronis killing the many bees that had infested the room. Apparently a bee hive is right outside our window so once all the inside bees were slaughtered we sealed the window and Sammy will exterminate them tomorrow.

Yesterday on the 19th, the team helped the construction site at Anoff, where masons were working on the superstructure. A sudden rainstorm in the afternoon interrupted the work and monsoonal amounts of rain gushed onto Obodan. It was refreshing, but also highlighted one of the biggest problems in Obodan: erosion. The erosion is so bad that some houses are even being undercut. Hopefully our EWB group will be able to take care of this issue in one of our next projects. The rain also set back the pumping at the Kwasi Doi latrine, and added a few inches of water in some of the other pits, so we will have to have them emptied before the access doors can be added. For dinner we cooked in the room rice, eggs, and a local tomato-based sauce. The rainstorm caused a blackout so we went to bed on the earlier side.

Today on the 20th Mike, Mira, Andrea, Caitlin, and Kabir went to Akwakupom for a 6:30 am community meeting during which we explained how their latrine should be used. Kerri and Christine surveyed people around the Western Obodan latrine location. Caitlin, Christine, and Kerri went with Faustina to the Presbyterian church in the village and Mike and Kabir and Andrea continued to work at the Anoff site. In the afternoon we played soccer with villagers from Obodan and Akwakupom.

To be continued,

Mira, Mike, Christine, Kerri, Andrea, Caitlin, and Kabir

Friday, May 18, 2012

Day 3: New friends and better news

This morning the team finally moved into Obodan. We are staying in the same room in the village as last year's CUEWB team did. The electricity works.

Caitlin, Steve, and Sammy went to Accra to talk to the Water Research Institute in order to get the village borehole water tested. It only took 6.5 hours.

After settling in, Mira and Kabir went to interview the current users of the pilot latrine. Faustina translated for them. The responses were all positive. The main complaint was that the lines were sometimes prohibitively long in the morning, so the families would use the old KVIP instead. Many families remarked on the distance their children have to walk to fetch borehole water, and the danger the children are put in because of having to cross the street. This feedback was encouraging because it reflected the demand for the water distribution that CUEWB is working on at a personal level that had not previously been encountered by the interviewers.

Andrea and Kerri spent the early afternoon exploring the village. They visited the girls' high school. The students recognized them as the latrine-building people and asked Andrea and Kerri if they had husbands. They invited us to watch movies and dance on Saturday night, and so we will be sure to head out and have a good time. Then, Andrea and Kerri visited the construction site for the girls' high school dormitories. They met the foreman named John, who came from Accra. He has had some experience for latrines and they discussed methods of waterproofing, since some of our latrines have water in the pits.

Later, Andrea and Kabir went to interview Obodan residents who do not currently use the pilot latrine but will be using the new source-separated latrines. Their responses were also positive, which was encouraging to the team. It's great to know that the demand for the latrine is so acute and specific so our projects will make meaningful change to the community.

Finally in the evening after going over some logistics with Sammy, we went to the neighboring village Fotobi for chicken and rice.

Until the next time,

Mira, Kerri, Andrea, Caitlin, and Kabir

 Kerri and two high school students 

The village Obodan

Day 4: A Lot a Bit of Everything

     Our first full day in Obodan proved very productive as we started working more extensively on our projects. Given our large travel team size, we were able to split up throughout Obodan to work on different tasks.

     Mira, Steve and Sammy went to a meeting in the morning to discuss the construction for the water distribution system. In mid-August, we are scheduled to dig trenches and lay pipe for the system across the Nsawam-Aburi road, which connects two larger cities in the Eastern Region of Ghana. While we got permission to close parts of the road, we also found out that we cannot close them for as long as we had planned. However, we were told that there is a strong possibility that the Municipal Assembly can offer us money and assistance for this task since it is a service to the community.

     Meanwhile, Kabir and Caitlin went to the satellite village of Akawupom to monitor the progress made to the latrine there. The water had been removed from the wet pit and both pits were successfully sealed to prepare the latrine for use. We expect that in the near future the finishing touches will be put on this latrine, which include backfilling around the foundation and connecting the remaining pipes. The community members seem very excited by the prospect of having the latrine ready for use in such a short period of time.

     Elsewhere, Kerri and Andrea finished conducting surveys in the remaining villages, Anoff and Alatta. The people there are also very eager for the completion of the latrines, since their only option at the moment is to use unlined pits which are not very private nor sanitary. They also raised our attention to the fact that they receive a lot of their water from a small stream as the boreholes in Obodan are a long walk away. Regardless, they all found value in the water distribution system and while they would like a tap to be installed in their own villages, they also said that having taps in Obodan would attract them to get more water there. We hope this will increase their use of safe water for drinking and reduce their use of stream water.

     On that note, in the afternoon, we took water samples from both Borehole 1 and Borehole 2 in Obodan to bring to the Water Research Institute in Accra for testing. While past field tests have indicated that water quality is good, we want to be more accurate in our tests for hardness, metals, alkalinity, pH and e-coli. We expect our test results to be ready next week.

     To finish off our day, our team supervised the pumping of water out of the latrine pits in Kwasi Doi. Since its pits' access doors were never installed, the latrine collected several feet of water runoff from the nearby dump. Minimal amounts of water remain after pumping and the pits should be sealed in the coming days. In conjunction, will continue putting the finishing touches on the Alatta latrine this week.

     Tonight, our team plans to cook our first dinner at home as we eagerly await the arrival of our last two teammates, Christine and Mike, who are due to fly into Accra in the evening. We certainly have a lot to catch them up on!

All the best,

Mira, Caitlin, Andrea, Kerri, and Kabir

Kabir pumping water in Kwasi Doi for priming the water pump.
Our mentor Steve setting up the pump to get the water out of the Kwasi Doi pit.
Mira and Caitlin carry a bag of cement for the construction of the Anoff latrine.

Day 2: The truth about latrines, and other things

Today we went to Obodan in the late morning to inspect the remaining latrine sites in the satellite villages. The one in Anoff had no superstructure, the access doors were not made, and one pit had a few inches of rainwater stagnating inside it. Bricks were scattered around the site waiting to be used for the superstructure. The latrine in Alatta had no clear path to the door, and the doorway was several feet from the ground. The substructure had some gaps in the walls and part of the roof was missing. The one in Kwasi Doi had no toilet seats, neither pit had an access door, and the pits were full to the ground level with stagnant water in which debris was collecting and bugs were breeding. The Akwakupom latrine site was almost complete, needing only doors on the access pits, completion of the urine diverting pipes, and backfilling. We were disappointed to see that after all our work last summer the latrines had not been completed and so sat unused for a year. Sammy informed us that many of the materials we would need to complete the latrines were still in Obodan so it was matter of coordinating skilled laborers to get it done. We expect to have them all ready to use by the end of our trip.

At lunch we got to eat Fan Ice, the legendary Ghanaian ice cream in a sachet. Steve Forbes helped us procure a cell phone for a low cost, so we can stay in touch with Sammy and any other local contacts, as well as Steve.

In the evening Sammy's wife made us a dinner of rice and fish stew. Sammy and the team went over what had happened at all the latrine sites since the Columbia team left last summer and we edited our itinerary to focus on completing the latrines.

Peacing out,

Mira, Kabir, Andrea, Caitlin, Kerri

 The mostly complete latrine at Akwakupom

 The team heading off to inspect the latrines in the eastern satellite villages

 Sammy Gamson and Steve Forbes

Group picture

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Travel and Day 1: You are welcome to Ghana

Akwaaba! This summer's first travel team of Mira, Caitlin, Kerri, Andrea, and Kabir reporting from an internet cafe in Nsawam. We arrived yesterday evening May 14th after 24 grueling hours of traveling from JFK to Istambul to Accra on Turkish Airways. Sammy picked us up from the airport and we spent the first night at his house, where he has just received electricity as of two months ago. We are currently working on arranging accommodations in the village Obodan where we work, and should be moving in tomorrow.

Today, Mira and Kerri went to Accra with Sammy to pick up our mentor Steve Forbes. In case you haven't heard, Steve Forbes has been working in Obodan with Columbia since 2004 on the very first CUEWB-Ghana projects. He is a mentor to many EWB student groups and his expertise in development work and particularly with pump testing will be vital to the success of our trip this time around. Mira and Kerri also got to see the construction site of a substation Sammy is overseeing to bring electricity to parts of the Nsawam-Aburi area. Sammy has many community development projects underway, as part of his commitment to improving his home town. Before heading back to Sammy's house, Mira and Kerri picked up some groceries from the Nsawam market to cook so that the travel team will eat food that is not granola bars and Nutella.

Kabir, Caitlin, and Andrea spend their day exploring the area around Sammy's house because the taxi could not fit everyone. Sammy's wife, Beatrice, made them a lunch of rice and fish and vegetable soup. "It was really good," says Kabir.

In the late afternoon the entire team converged and went to Obodan. We inspected the two latrines we built in Obodan last summer as well as the pilot latrine. The pilot latrine is due for a pit-switching this trip. The two newer latrines need backfilling, steps, improved draining for the urine diversion, and to be put into greater use. The sun set before we could look at the latrines in the satellite villages so we plan on visiting them at a later date.

We met up with Sammy's mom, the Queen Mother of the village, and his sister Faustina, who was instrumental to our trip last year and will be helping us out again this year. They welcomed us to Ghana and to Obodan. We are looking forward to a productive, safe, and meaningful trip.

Photo updates next time.

Signing out,

Mira, Caitlin, Kerri, Andrea, and Kabir

Caitlin and Andrea exploring around Sammy's house