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