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.