Friday, January 17, 2014

We're writing this from an internet cafe in Accra before Emma and Roshan leave on their flights out of Ghana! The past two days have been spent gathering information at Fahiako and Amanfrom, two communities near Obodan that have reached out to us for help. Fahiako's top request is the construction of a health clinic. This relatively isolated town lacks both clean water and electricity, but after talking to nurses at Pokrum Health Clinic near Obodan, we learned that it is entirely possible and even common to have clinics without electricity. As long as a borehole with clean water can be dug, the project could go forward. Currently, sick and injured community members have to walk of be carried for miles to the nearest clinic. The cell service is extremely spotty, and it is rare that a cab can ever be called. We are considering connecting the village with a professional chapter which has more resources and experience in the clinic area. We also talked with community members in Amanfrom, where the people requested easier and increased access to water. Currently a village of about 1,600 is subsisting off a small pool and a single hand-dug well. We surveyed the community  area and its water sources. Further consultation back at Columbia will determine whether and when we decide to help this community.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

This past Sunday we had a community-wide latrine educational workshop. We advertised it at our household surveys for days in advance, telling people that the meeting would start at 3:30pm, and knowing that people would begin to show up, at best, around 4:30pm. The day of, we went house-to-house to rally people, and got a very decent turnout of at least 30 women, men, and children of all ages. Using several hand-drawn cartoons and diagrams courtesy of Emma, we discussed maintenance, the purposes of lined, source-separating latrines, and prompted a dialogue amongst community members about latrine issues that have come up. We passed around soil samples recently collected from latrine pits for further visuals. It is difficult to immediately gauge the effectiveness of our workshop. Future monitoring will show if latrine maintenance improves. This trip's educational initiatives have been the largest in the history of our latrine project, and we have directly reached scores of community members. Hopefully our efforts will have a positive impact.
      On Monday, we had time to take a day trip to Lake Volta. Cruising amongst marshy islands, the chemical engineers on the travel team couldn't help but make comments on the laminar and turbulent flow of the water around the boat. Even on our free days, some of us are still very much engineers without borders.
    We visited a neighboring community today that has reached out to us for help in constructing a health clinic. Unused latrine pits were also sealed this afternoon. Tomorrow we plan on meeting with the community leaders of Amanfrom, another community that has expressed interest in receiving help with infrastructure improvements.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

It's your favorite CU EWB "obronis" (foreigners in Twi, our perpetual nicknames) reporting as we complete our first week in Ghana. First, we have some exciting breaking news: Radhe Patel is our new EWB USA New York City Metro Representative! She just received the email from an internet cafe in Nsawam where this blog post is coming from. Congrats to our fellow travel team member!
       On a more project related note, we have encountered both challenges and breakthroughs in the past days. From soil tests we performed several days ago, we found that some of the source separating latrines we implemented are producing "untreated organic fertilizers" or compost in a moderately active stage of development. Because we planned to prescibe use of latrine compost for trees and non crop plants, this is wonderful news! It appears that the community has been able, on a moderate scale, to turn their waste into
usable compost!
       Community members were pleasantly surprised when shown samples of this compost. Based on these results, we plan to help the community remove the compost from beneath the first latrine we built in Obodan,
commonly known as the pilot latrine. Although the contents of the pit are not ideal compost, we will use it as an educational initiative to show what is possible and what can be improved.
       Speaking of education, that has been a major project in the past days. We have been conducting household surveys by asking for feedback about the latrines and new water system, and assessing the effectiveness of the projects. Despite the moderate success of some of the latrines, there has been suboptimal maintenance, including clogs and insufficient cleaning of the toilets. We have also learned some problems that community members have with latrine design. Our goal is to help the community meet their water and sanitation needs as effectively as possible. Part of reaching that goal is understanding how we can best assist the community, and part of it is making sure they can maintain it independently, reaping the benefits for as long as possible and taking their own initiative to address issues. All EWB projects are, after all, community owned. These house to house surveys have helped us reach a myriad of community members who are directly affected by the infrastructure systems. We have engaged in dialogues with everyone from old women to young boys, and feel that the information we have gained and shared will positively affect the projects.
       We are currently working on ways to address the problem of a perpetually flooding latrine pit. Through talks with the commuity and the cheifs, as well as assessment of current sanitation infrastructure, we will come up with short term recommendations for the community and long term action plans for ourselves.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Mma ajo! We're nearing the end of our third day in Ghana, with a greatly expanded Twi vocabularly, new Azonto dance moves, and an increased resistance to the smell of human excrement! We spent the first day recovering from a very long trans-Atlantic flight, and started early the morning of the 4th with a scenic, hour-long walk from our lodge to Obodan. Along the way, we were given two pineapples by field workers. We ate them like corn on-the-cob, and they were the most delicious fruit an of us had tasted in a while. We spent the day doing soil tests of the contents of our source-separating latrines. Fashioning "shovels" from long sticks and cut bottles, we braved the stench and the flies to take fresh latrine samples. Our tests confirmed that at least one of our latrines is producing usable fertilizer! That night, we met with the Water Committee and got a better understanding of the success of the water system thus far, and how the community was taking responsibility for it and fixing problems that have arisen.
    We rose bright and early this morning for an 8am meeting with the Queen Mother and various village chiefs. More latrine soil tests and water quality tests followed. Throughout the day our moral was boosted by Ghanaian music blaring from an impressive sound system rented for a naming celebration. This evening we held a community meeting that was attended by scores of community members. We were able to gauge their understanding of the process behind source-separating latrines, their plans for the future, and issues they have been having. It was a great dialogue amongst the community members! We hope to have more of these meetings, and another educational workshop in the next week.
    After dinner at McDonalds (which is not the golden double arches McDonalds I know you're thinking of---we got chicken and rice). We're feeling ready for more community surveys and water tests tomorrow.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Travel Team Leaves for Ghana!

We are at JFK now boarding our flight to Accra, Ghana connecting in Lagos, Nigeria. We're super excited!