Monday, January 12, 2015

You've been SURVEYED!

Afwee Shepa! (still relevant, we think)

We've finally made it to the internet cafe! After navigating through a maze of Nsawam's busy streets of taxis, fruit stands (without fruit), and market hustle and becoming completely lost, we've finally collected our wits about us and used our resourceful teamwork to locate familiar territory once again to bring you this run on sentence. What a triumph!

The past few days have been full of meetings and surveys and we are brimming with new information, ideas, and motivation to begin the next stages of our projects. On the side, we've also completed the plumbing on the Central and Western latrines (2 of the main latrines in Obodan), that was not finished from last winter's travel trip. It's been a busy few days.

Our first community meeting was with Kwasi Doi on Saturday, in which we responded to the community's feedback that their latrine is low functioning with water often filling the pits. We have been faced with this issue for the past 2.5 years and cannot locate the source of the water. Thus, we've decided in keeping with our end of the bargain, it is our responsibility to provide a new, functional latrine that meets the need of the community. During the meeting, we discussed the latrine options and design criteria with the attendees for the future toilet plans. The conclusion was that the community prefers a KVIP with more seats to meet the demand of the community members.

The second community meeting held over this weekend was with Akwakupom on Sunday (nice and early at 630am). At this session, we deliberated the future of their current latrine system, which had been converted from a source-separating latrine into a lined pit latrine (similar to a KVIP) since our last travel trip. The pits on both sides of the latrine were opened a month ago due to the great demand during a funeral. The key intention of this meeting was to make the community members aware that the original functionality of the latrine was lost since the design was modified. The meeting was concluded with responsibility for the latrine's maintenance being handed over to the community.

Our final meeting was our Latrine Education Workshop with the greater community of Obodan. Here, all the posters and shoeboxes we lugged to Ghana came to use. These materials were used to explain the components of the latrine that caused the most confusion as highlighted by our surveys. We also passed around a bag of compost from the pilot latrine to show the end goal and results of source-separating latrines (beautiful black soil). The community members actively participated with questions and discussions and we are more confident than ever that the latrines are in capable hands and will be well maintained in our absence.

Today we switched gears (and communities) and headed to Amanfrom. Mike, the assemblyman from Amanfrom previously introduced, was waiting for us as we showed up at 830AM Ghana time. Mike's punctuality will definitely take some getting used to! We spent the entire day with Mike and Emmanuel, another member of the community, talking and surveying the different households through Amanfrom to gain a better understanding of how our skills can best help. Some of the problems that the different households brought up included lack of water access, lack of a secondary school in the region, and a low supply of public latrines to meet the demand of the community. We will be taking this information back to Columbia and can't wait to share it with everyone at home (who are all reading this, we're sure).

For the comic relief part of this blog post, the team decided to cook Faustina a meal to show our appreciation for all her assistance with translation work over the past week. Moral of this saga, never try new recipes with guests and Mexican-American Ghanaian fusion will not catch on anytime in the near future. However, if you don't like to see or taste your onions or tomatoes, you can hide them quite well in a stew of black beans, casava, and taco seasoning. Faustina was a delightful dinner guest and when asked her opinoin of our meal, could only muster laughter.

We'll be eating out tonight; until next time!

Friday, January 9, 2015

Angelina Poolie and Brad Pit

Afwee Shepa (still relevant, still 2015). To celebrate the New Year, we've accumulated quite the selection of tropical fruits, root vegetables, and services. As of now, we've received:
- 9 pineapples
- 7 cassavas
- 2 coconuts
- 1 puo puo (still not sure what this is as it is currently rotting under our desk)
- multiple offers of prepared food
- numerous offers of marriage
- 1 offer of a kid goat for 10 dollars
- 1 new sister-in-law for Kiersten as her brother was married off in a "love at first mention" wedding by an eager lady from Obodan

All of these goods have come as a result of the commencement of our household surveying the past few days. This Wednesday, Faustina (the sister of Assemblyman Sammy, our community contact) arrived in Obodan to help us translate our survey questions from useless English into the local language (Akwapim Twi). As of now, our lexicon consists of:
- Afwee Shepa (Happy New Year, again still relevant)
- Medase (Thank You)
- Obroni (Us, foreigners)
- Ma Chi, Ma Ha, Ma Jo (Good Morning, Afternoon, Evening respectively)
- Me Din De (My name is...)
- Other basic terms like "sorry" are still in the works. We'll update you on that later

Our Buzzfeed lists are now over, onward to the good stuff!

The surveys have proven extremely helpful in determining the work to be completed for our source-separating latrines over the next few days. These modifications are instrumental in making the latrines suit the needs of the community. Some of these needs are (last list, promise):
- converting seated seats to squatting seats
- completing piping for urine diversion
- education workshops to improve maintenance and cleaning techniques

Meanwhile, we've had a couple celebrities drop by Obodan in the form of Angelina Poolie and Brad Pit (see title). These have become some of our team members' alter egos on the front line of sampling material from our latrine "Pits". These brave visiting heroes are extracting samples from the longest composting latrine to understand the power of poo. In other words, we are using field sampling kits to understand the progress of composting waste within the latrine pits. Poolie and Pit determined that the coupling of dry conditions and feces is a powerhouse, just like them. The current compost Pit was found to be at the borderline between the Ideal Curing and Mature Compost stages. Success!

Our team has also been busy working with Amanfrom and their assemblyman, Mike, to assess their water sources and needs. From our limited first impressions, the community of Amanfrom seems super excited to work with us and to form a partnership over the next few years. We also realized they have a lot of hair salons (note for future travel trips). The first step after this past Sunday's community meeting was to collect water samples from all six utilized water sources:
- Anofo Stream
- Tonto Stream (potentially a spring)
- Nana Obodan River
- Amoani Spring (that has catfish that look delicious but are according to the community members, essential to the spring's existence, and therefore are taboo to catch and consume)
- Primary Well (hand-dug)
- Cemetery Well (EWB's nickname, also hand-dug and taboo to use)

These water samples are being tested AS WE TYPE in Accra for coliform and inorganics. We are also testing the water system in Obodan for coliform (samples taken at the spigot by the pump, the borehole, and the pump inlet). We anticipate these results by next Thursday, watch out for them!

Water Testing/Sampling happened
Poop Testing/Sampling was gross but informative
Surveying was good

Monday, January 5, 2015

The Day(s) Without an End(s)

Afwee Shepa! (Happy New Year- in twi!) We are so excited to be here in Obodan and work with our partner communities. Today is our third day in Ghana. We got here on Jan. 3rd, and had a very exciting and productive first day! After settling in to our room in the Obodan community center, we met with Obodan's assembly man and longtime EWB community contact, Sammy Gamson. After catching up with Sammy, we went to a party in Fotobi. The party turned out to be a young woman's graduation event. After being set down in literally the spotlight of the party, the MC came up and suddenly we were the center of attention during this girl's celebratory party. We made the (ultimately positive) mistake of saying that our favorite Ghanaian song was Azonto (which is awesome) and then were brought reluctantly on stage to dance for it. After a heroic attempt at dancing with grace and poise, we were eventually, mercifully joined by children who taught us how to dance unterribly (for the most part!).

After the party we met with Sammy and our mentor, Steve, to talk about our projects and plan for the next two weeks. Then we received our mattresses, went back to the community center, and finally went to bed. After being up for 36 hours at that point, we fell asleep within 36 milliseconds of our heads hitting our pillows (stolen from the plane!). A well deserved nights sleep!

DAY TWO:  After an early rise to prepare for a full day of meetings, the travel meet met with Obodan's brand new Unit Committee (formally known as the water committee). We had a very productive meeting discussing Obodan's water distribution system, going over our shared concerns and goals for our future projects, and going over new programs to improve the latrines, including the implementation of a latrine ambassador program. The unit committee seemed very enthusiastic about the program and eager to take a role in latrine affairs as well as water distribution things.

Then we met with the Amanfrom community, who voiced to us with much enthusiasm that their biggest concern is water. We went around to all of their water sources and spoke with community leaders about the steps we need to take to decide whether we can help with their water availability. Then we went to Fotobi for food and drinks!

DAY THREE: After yet another early rise, the team went to collect water using buckets and carried them on their heads for the first time. We looked at the latrines in Obodan and Alata, and then went to Akwakapom and Kwasi Doi to meet with the communities and look at the latrines. It was a great day!

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Hi everyone,

Though ebola has not been confirmed in Ghana, Columbia's emergency insurer has unfortunately decided that it would not be able to handle a medical emergency in West Africa because of the policy of restricting or canceling flights in affected countries.

This unfortunately means that the August 2014 monitoring trip has been canceled. Luckily all of the team was notified before arriving in Ghana, though some of us were on the first or second of a string of connected flights and are now preparing to return.


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.