When September came, I was Africa-bound. Leaving Concord was bittersweet, but as my plane took off from Boston, I was pleased to feel the nervous excitement of a new adventure. I had a week layover in France to visit some dear friends, eat delicious food, and spend some time with Justin, but after that, it was time to get to work. I arrived in Tamale, Ghana on September 15th, where I am to spend the next three months working with an organization called Saha Global. Its been five days and I can already tell that this is going to be an amazing experience.
Tamale is situated in the northern region of Ghana, and I have arrived just as the seasonal rains are ending so the days will only get hotter and hotter. While the southern region of Ghana is primarily Christian, the northern region is majority Muslim, in fact there are at least 4 mosques within walking distance of me! Needless to say, it has been quite an adjustment to the sounds of the daily calls to prayer, and last night I finally slept through the 4:10 AM call!
Water is life. Life is water.
As for the Saha staff, I couldn’t have asked for a more kind and welcoming group of people. They are very excited and grateful to have me here, and I think we can accomplish a lot together. Saha Global’s mission is to provide clean drinking water to rural communities in Ghana, thus improving the livelihoods of thousands of people. They do this by setting up small clean water businesses run by locally-selected women entrepreneurs. The entrepreneurs treat contaminated water using local products, making it safe and affordable for the community to purchase.
In just a few short days, I have learned so much about the global water challenge. In 2000, access to clean water was declared goal number 7 of the Millennium Development Goals. In 2012, the UN announced that the drinking water target had been met, however, almost half of the two billion people who have gained access to drinking water since 1990 live in fast-growing, population-dense areas like China and India. Additionally, the measurement tools used to track the international drinking water targets focused specifically on protecting or “improving” sources of drinking water. They neglected to consider risks like recontamination or broken technology, so while there has been an increase in “protected drinking sources”, 1.8 billion people are still using a water source that is contaminated with fecal matter (UN 2015).
Such is the case for 110 different communities with whom Saha Global works. These rural, farming communities get their water from local reservoirs (aka dugouts), streams, or wells that are filled with chocolate milk-looking water that always tests positive for fecal-related bacteria like e-coli! Each day, nearly 1000 children die globally due to preventable water and sanitation-related diarrheal diseases. By providing clean water, Saha Global is contributing to the improved health and wellness of the community and literally saving lives, and since local women are running the businesses, the profits stay in the communities to support things like education.
My Role at Saha Global
Over the next three months I will be embedded as a conflict consultant. I’ve designed a customized conflict management curriculum that includes workshops, coaching sessions, Saha-specific simulations, and more. My stated purpose is “to help the Saha Global team improve their capacities as effective communicators and problem-solvers”. I’m also here to help them identify places where they can strengthen team dynamics and to offer them the tools and skills to do so.
The first phase of my involvement at Saha Global is mainly through observation. However, it’s an exercise in patience to hold back and purely observe, and to not start making recommendations immediately. Not that they are in bad shape, but my desire to be helpful can be hard to resist. But patience and deliberation make it possible to offer theory, skills, and opportunities for practice that enable them to become more effective problem-solvers together, rather than me solving their problems for them. So for now, I just watch.
Every morning begins before 6am, and includes breakfast and a motorcycle. One of Saha’s monitors will pick me up and we’ll ride up to 60 min on dirt trails to reach the distant rural communities. Once we’re there, “in the field” so-to-speak, I observe the monitors as they check on the water centers, discuss business with the entrepreneurs, and go door-to-door to visit with community members. The purposes of the door-to-door visits are to re-educate folks on the importance of drinking clean water, to fix any problems with their storage containers, and to answer survey questions. These community visits have showcased to me Saha’s impressive monitoring and evaluation processes, and are likely to credit with ensuring that 100% of their businesses are still functioning today.
Final Thoughts for today
The days here are long, but very satisfying. The landscape around Tamale is just stunning! None of the grasses or trees are very tall but they are all beautiful shades of green contrasting sharply with all-consuming skies above or clay dirt below. It’s also harvest season for the groundnut, which is basically a peanut, so when you’re driving along the red dirt roads, you can see colorful patterns of women’s clothing dotting the fields. They are always very friendly and shout out “Despa”, which is good morning in Dagboni, as we cruise by on the motorcycle, waving back at them.
Stay tuned for updates on next week’s workshop on Interests-based negotiation.