Community Water Solutions

To implement community-level water treatment businesses in communities of the developing world that: - are run by members of the community - provide clean water for residents of that community - generate economic growth and - empower women in the community
Nov 14, 2013

New Solar Project!

Mark and Ben getting support from the CWS team in
Mark and Ben getting support from the CWS team in

It has been a very busy quarter for Community Water Solutions for one very exciting reason: we have officially launched our new solar program! Around this time last year, CWS announced the kick-off of a Social Enterprise Competition at our annual benefit; an opportunity to bring new and innovative solutions to rural communities in Ghana and to expand the CWS model and brand to more than clean water.

After interactive workshops and valuable mentorship sessions, two of our Fellow Alumni, Ben Powell and Mark Moeremans decided to team up, bringing together a diverse set of skills and knowledge. And while there are a plethora of challenges and opportunities facing the people of Northern Ghana, the duo decided they could make a difference in the region’s lack of electric power, which results in poor health, limited education, decreased productivity, and traps the region’s people in poverty.

The team – also known as InnovaSun, proposed an entrepreneurial solar power business that leverages several of the ideas of CWS’s successful water business model – providing demand to a community in the form of rechargeable lanterns and charging individuals to recharge their appliances. The team went on to win the competition and the $10,000 prize as seed money to turn their idea into reality.

This October, the InnovaSun team travelled back to Ghana to pilot their idea in the village of Wambong. After weeks of building, training, and testing the solar business officially opened on Halloween! Below is the blog post that Ben and Mark wrote for the CWS blog about opening day. So far the solar business has been a huge success and we are excited to pilot the system in more villages this spring!

With the women trained and the solar equipment in place, it was almost time to open our Solar Center. Before the big opening party could take place, we just needed to distribute the rechargeable lanterns to all of the households and add some finishing touches to the façade of our solar center.

When we had first arrived in the community we asked the village elders to provide us with a list of households in the village so we could have an exact count for lantern distribution. Each household is basically a small compound with about 6 or 7 separate huts all in an enclosed wall. Compounds consist of a man, his wives, and their children, and sometimes their elderly parents. We had been planning on approximately 60 households based on Ben’s water implementation in Wambong three year ago, so we decided to be prudent and order 75 lanterns for the village. When we finally received the new household list we realized that Wambong had grown to over 120 households, more than double what we had planned for. Luckily, when we went to pick up our shipment of lanterns the store had more than enough in stock. We were definitely relieved to know that we would have enough lanterns for everyone and excited and humbled by the idea that we would be providing access to electricity for over 1000 people.

Distributing lanterns was exhilarating. The town assemblyman had already gathered a large group in the town center in anticipation of our arrival and when we pulled up in our taxi they started making announcements via the Mosque loud speaker which is usually used to broadcast prayers. Before long we were surrounded by people and we felt confident that we had representatives from all the households present. We took the opportunity to speak to the community at large about the solar center and how it important it was that the community work together to keep it safe. We discussed prices for charging, and taught them how to take care of the lanterns. Once we were confident that the community understood the importance of the center we began listing off household names and handing out lamps. The look of excitement and gratitude on people’s faces when they received their lantern had me grinning from ear to ear and just got me all the more excited for the opening party that night. Once all the lanterns were passed out, we returned our attention to the solar center and gave it a face-lift. Ben and I used what little artistic ability we had between us to give the building a paint job that Picasso would have been proud of.

With everything set and ready to go we headed back to the CWS office to catch a breather before the opening that night. We had decided to break from the CWS tradition of having an Opening “Day” and traded it for the first ever Opening “Night” hoping that the addition of lanterns and electricity to the village would make for a lively and well-lit party. So we set off around 6:30 with no idea what to expect, fingers crossed and holding our breath in anticipation.

We were anxious but quickly put at ease thanks to the support and company of the full CWS team including Brianan, Peter, Amin, Wahab, Eric, and of course Shak as they decided to come out and partake in InnovaSun’s first ever launch party.

As we pulled into the village we were mesmerized, the whole village had a soft glow to it, or as one our translators suggested, “the village is blinking!” From the center of every household a soft light was floating up into the pitch-black sky, we knew something was working. We headed toward the town center and made our way to the Solar Center, connecting several power strips to allow for mass charging, hitting the on switch, and officially declaring the center open for business! Slowly people started making their way toward the center, first in the dark, then with flashlights, and finally carrying the lanterns we had distributed that morning. What was a trickle quickly turned into a flood of people as the center was surrounded by people wanting to get a first hand look and start charging their electronics.

Within minutes all 48 sockets were in use and charging a combination of cell phone and lanterns. Salima and Chang Chang were rockstars, quickly connecting all the appliances, adding up the total watts being used to make sure the system wasn’t overloaded, and most importantly keeping their cool among hoards of people – something I was struggling with.

More and more people continued to materialize each face more excited than the last. Some were holding lanterns and some just basking in the glow of their neighbors. I felt elated and totally overwhelmed, trying to make sure the center was working (it was), that people were having fun (they were) and that we were getting awesome pictures (we did). The community was enthralled, asking for photos, passing around lanterns, and pushing to the front of the crowd to see the solar center in action. They even organized most of the community in the center of town for a group photo, an unheard of accomplishment that took 5 different translators to coordinate.

As if lights and cell phones weren’t enough it wasn’t long before a pair of massive speakers appeared and started blasting some serious club music. Don’t ask me how or why this village, which previously had no electricity, has speakers taller than I am (clocking in at 6’3) but Wambong was bumping.

I kept wondering if we were going to get a noise complaint from the neighbors and then quickly laughed at my own stupidity. Ben and I had been wondering this whole week how quickly people would start making the electricity their own and branching out from lanterns and phones, well once the speakers were plugged in, it wasn’t long before someone else was siphoning off electricity and had plugged in a black light above the “DJ” booth. Seriously I felt like I was in a New York nightclub.

After 3 hours of pure euphoria, we decided to start winding things down. We took a ton of photos, made sure the center was in good hands and locked up, and started to head out. The village spokesperson continued to thank us, praising God for our help. It was one of the most unbelievable nights.

Seeing all of our planning, preparation, and hard work pay off, seeing the joy on everyone’s face, feeling accomplished and successful, and realizing what an impact we had had on this community. Indescribable. Ben and I couldn’t sleep last night, because we were too wired (pun intended) and even this morning I’m having trouble comprehending the magnitude of the moment and what it even means to me. All I know is I can’t wait to get back to Wambong and see how it’s going. I feel like a parent after their last child has grown up and gone off to college – empty nest syndrome for sure. I’ll just have to be patient and wait till tomorrow when we begin monitoring. I’m sure there is still lots of work to do, but I’ll be enjoying this day for a long long time.

-Mark

Boy in Wambong with his new latern
Boy in Wambong with his new latern
Group photo of the village with their new laterns
Group photo of the village with their new laterns
The solar center in action!
The solar center in action!

Links:

Jul 16, 2013

Successful Summer Fellowship!

This Summer, CWS hosted 24 Fellows in Ghana, including 5 Fellows in our new office in Salaga! Both programs were extremely successful. In all, the Summer Fellows launched 7 new water treatment centers which now serve clean drinking water to 3,664 people! We are so lucky to work along side such amazing fellows!

 

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Carole Anne, Lilly & Taylor pose with the proud ladies of Kideng!

caroline and brigid

Caroline & Brigid pose with the excited kids of Kasawuripe!

Team Shak (Victoria, Eda, Jacob & Hailey) peacesigning with their lady entrepeneurs, Mary & Fushiena on their opening day in Vogyili

Victoria, Eda, Jacob & Hailey peacesigning with their lady entrepeneurs, Mary & Fushiena on their opening day in Vogyili

Team Sharifa (Katie, Lucas, Stephanie & Sandra) post with their women entrepenuers and some kiddos in front of Namdu's up and running water treatment center

Katie, Lucas, Stephanie & Sandra with their women entrepenuers and some kiddos in front of Namdu’s up and running water treatment center

Team TJ (Maxine, Casey, Jhanel & Bryan) pose with their grateful chief!

TJ, Maxine, Casey, Jhanel & Bryan with their oh-so-grateful Chief of Kpali!IMG_2556
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DSCN0219Kirsten, Sarah, Ethan, Angie & Nestor with the women as they fill their very first safe storage container of clean water in Gundaa

Mar 14, 2013

CWS on the Road: Pilot in Tunga

Our awesome building team!
Our awesome building team!

I’m sure that you all have been on the edge of your seats since our last update about CWS’ expansion! To recap: After a scouting trip to Liberia, Burkina Faso, and Togo last summer, Kathryn and I decided that for CWS’ first satellite office, there was really no place like home and began to focus our search on other Regions in Ghana. Kathryn spent the fall traveling around this beautiful country to learn about the water needs in the Upper East, Upper West, and Volta Regions as well as exploring more remote areas of the Northern Region. After months of moto, tro, and market bus rides to both big cities and rural villages throughout Ghana, we decided that the small city of Salaga, a seemed like the best fit for our next base of operations!

The river in Tunga - the village's only source of drinking water.

The river in Tunga – the village’s only source of drinking water.

Once we had selected Salaga as our potential new base of operations, the next step was to pilot a CWS water business in a nearby village! While we were fairly confident that both our water treatment technique and our business model would work well in this area, this pilot was essential in figuring out our supply chain and transportation logistics. As many of our past Fellows know, transportation is a huge challenge here in Ghana!  With the very poor road conditions around Salaga, we knew that finding a reliable way to reach the rural villages would be difficult. As far as supplies go, Salaga is much, much smaller than Tamale with a very limited market. So, about 90% of our supplies will have to be shipped down from Tamale – a process that we knew little about. A few more trips around Salaga later, we picked the village of Tunga for our pilot.

Tunga, is a rural village of about 500 people located 40 minutes north of Salaga and right outside the larger town of Banjai. The only source of water in Tunga is a river, that is highly turbid and fecally contaminated. We met with the village chief and elders in early December and, after a great conversation, they agreed to work with us!

Both Kathryn and I had a blast working in Tunga over these past few weeks. I have not implemented a water business since we launched the Fellowship Program in June 2010 and Kathryn’s last implementation was when she was a Fellow almost 2 years ago! After some initial delays due to the election.

The people in Tunga were extremely welcoming and a joy to work with – A group of local guys were very helpful in building the polytank stand and provided endless entertainment as we worked in the hot sun; An enthusiastic team of kids helped carry our safe storage containers all over the village as we distributed them to each family; And the women entrepreneurs, Sana and Aya, are a force to be reckoned with!

We celebrated opening day on Sunday, December 16th and were very impressed with the turnout! Sana and Aya were completely in charge, leaving Kathryn and I with little to do besides take pictures!

So far, the pilot in Tunga has been a success! Stay tuned for more updates on CWS’ expansion plans!

-Kate

The finished polytank stand
The finished polytank stand
Buckets all lined up to be filled with clean water
Buckets all lined up to be filled with clean water

Links:

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