"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has." -Margaret Mead

Thursday, June 28, 2012


This is my final post! I am currently typing this in the US. Right now everyone is home except for Jeseth, who will be travelling for a few weeks. She will return to Patriensa in mid-July to assess the status of the business and to bring home some Food and Drug Board-approved sachets. Right now our team is working on a few reports to pass on to our corporate partners and to any PUC teams who may work in the community in the future. Soon our work on this project will be complete and we will go our separate ways.

It’s been more than a month since we arrived in Ghana, and I still can’t believe we accomplished as much on the ground as we did. It’s been more than nine months since the team started the project, and looking back, we’ve come a long way since then. I’ve actually only been on the team since January and I’ve invested a lot time and emotions on this project, but I can only imagine how the other team members feel. And even more so for the community who’ve been waiting years to see this project to reach completion.

This whole project has been very fulfilling to me. From an engineering stand point, it has been a valuable experience. None of my 130+ class hours have really prepared me for this trip. It was surreal to find myself haggling with a mason who could barely speak English over a cement slab. Or wandering through the busiest market in the second largest city in Ghana trying to find parts that I didn’t even know the American name for. They don’t really offer courses for those kinds of skills at a university. I think the most gratifying moment was seeing the finished tank stand, which was one of my only responsibilities during the design portion of the class. I had spent several late nights designing and redesigning the structure on software I had never used before, but it was a good feeling to see a tangible fruit of my labor. It was an even better feeling knowing that I had used what little skills I have to benefit a community.

Culturally speaking, this trip has been invaluable. I don’t have much experience traveling; not even within the US. I had a lot of misconceptions about Africa coming into this trip. One was that everyone was poor, starving, and unhappy. Although there are some countries in Africa where this may be partially true, in Ghana, this is not the case. Every child I saw had a smile on its face and a plump belly. Another thing I heard before the trip was that Africa was too dangerous to travel to. Although there are several nations still facing war, genocide, and child slavery, Ghana and many other African nations, are very peaceful, and have less crime and violence than many western countries. As our driver George told me, “Ghanaians don’t fight with guns; we only fight with our words.” Furthermore, this trip has forced me to appreciate the luxuries we enjoy here in the US. More importantly, I’ve realized how unnecessary those luxuries are in order to live a fulfilling, joyous life.

Overall, I consider our stay in Ghana a success. Not only were we able to enrich our academic and cultural awareness, but we were able to help out a community that needed support. The two semesters of planning and engineering we invested were worth the pay off. Also, I have confidence that Patriensa Pure Foundation is in good hands. Between the community, the board of directors, UT faculty, and future student teams, I feel that this foundation will continue to benefit Patriensa and UT for many years to come.

That’s all for now. After I update the old posts with pictures, this blog will probably be inactive unless a new team takes over.

Thanks for all the support,

Matt, Kristina, Jeseth, Kim, and Caroline

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Day 27 – 18 June 2012

Monday was our last day in the village. Although I wouldn’t really call it a day since we left before 10 am. On today’s agenda, we planned to load up our vehicle, visit a mining company who would possibly be our first major client, and say goodbye to people who had helped us throughout our stay.

George showed up to pick us up nearly an hour before we anticipated; a huge relief, given that he is sometimes an hour late. After breakfast and some last minute packing, we loaded the vehicle and followed Nana, Pastor Kofi, and Degraft (who were all in one car) to the mines. We had met a manager of the mines during our ceremony last Saturday and he had mentioned the possibilities of a partnership between PPF and the mine. We brought with us 10 of the bags of sachets we produced the night before.

We eventually found our way to a conference room, meeting with the director of the mines and some other important leaders; who, I think, were all Australian. We spent about half hour explaining the structure of PPF, both the sachet and sawdust projects, the communities role, and the partnership with the University of Texas. The men seemed pleased with our presentation and looked interested in working with PPF, most likely as another funder of community projects.

After the successful meeting, we followed Nana’s car for one final surprise. They led us in the middle Konongo Market to a seamstress’s shop. They told us that, as a gift from the community, we would be given traditional clothing. Jeseth and Kim received traditional dresses, while Gordon and I each received a shirt. My shirt is an array of blue and green patterns, with white outline, and gold colored stitching.

After these exchanges of gifts, we said our final goodbyes to Nana Kontihene, Pastor Kofi, and Degraft, and drove away towards Accra. In Accra, Gordon will be dropped off at the airport to catch his flight back to Texas. Kim, Jeseth, and I will catch a bus to the eastern highlands of Ghana for personal touring. We plan to spend a week visiting waterfalls, mountains, a monkey sanctuary, and spending some quality time on an isolated beach. I probably won’t blog about any of that since it is my break from the project and summer school. I plan on writing one final article when I get back, reviewing the whole project and updating the blog with pictures.

Yebishe Byo,

Day 26 – 17 June 2012

Sunday was our last day on site.  Our goal today was pretty simple; we wanted to meet Degraft at the building and make 15 bags of sachets.  Before this, we planned to have lunch at Nana Kontihene’s house. We assumed that he would call us after he got out of church and maybe pick us up at the hotel. We waited for his call. It was until around 3 pm he called asking why we never showed up at his house. We explained the miscommunication, so he gladly brought the food to us. His wife made us palava sauce on yams. Palava sauce is composed of a leafy vegetable, onions, spices, some other stuff, and fish. The palava sauce had and interesting flavor and was a good way to mix up our usual meals of jollof rice.

After lunch we look a cab to PPF. When we arrived Degraft was already in the production room making sachets. One of the goals for tonight was to make sure that he knew how to run the machine and pack sachets. Of course now we knew he had no problem doing that. While there, we helped him make more than 450 and sachets and then pack them in the 30-count bags. This whole process took us less than thirty minutes to complete.

After making the sachets, we decided to spend some time recording interviews to spend back to the school of engineering. We interviewed Degraft and each member of the team. We each talked about how this project had impacted our lives and what we learned throughout the trip.

After this we called Dennis, our favorite cab driver, to come pick us up. It didn’t take him long to show up, but we still had to hand off some things to Degraft to make sure the final bits of construction would be completed after we left.  It was raining outside and our clayey property was getting soft. When we got in the cab, Dennis spun his tires in the mud when trying to take off. We were stuck. At this point it was about 7 pm (it gets dark here around 6 pm) and continually raining. We had our team, several kids, and Degraft pushing the car, but it wouldn’t budge. After about 20 minutes of discussion, in Twi and English, and after a few men had showed up to help, we devised a plan to get the car out. First we used shovel so dig out some of the mud surrounding the tires. Next we planted several boards and rocks behind the tires of the cab; we were conveniently stuck near a pile of scrap lumber and large rocks we accumulated after cleaning the site. Finally we had a few people lifting up on the tire wells and several people pushing the front end of the car. After much struggling, Dennis drove the car free of the rut and we on our way home.

Looking back, the night was an appropriate way to spend our last moments on the PPF site. Everyone worked together, through language barriers, and achieve something that was previously impossible without proper planning and extra help from our neighbors.


Day 25 – 16 June 2012


Saturday was the big day. Today we would be introducing our project to the community. Not that we they didn’t already know about it, but it was the official handing over of the project from the hands of the student team to the community.

We arrived on site early to find Francis already in the production room making more sachets. We tasted one of the newer sachets and decided that it tasted better, but still had a familiar taste from yesterday. Of course not everyone shared my opinion. Gordon tasted the water couldn’t taste anything bad. We decided to leave it up to Nana Kontihene to decide if the sachets were acceptable to give away at the opening ceremony.  We thought if he liked them, everyone else would have to like them.  We gave him a sachet, he tasted it, and approved. We decided to pull aside the sachets from Friday night and produce more to replace them. We put them in a closet so that no one would mix them with the good sachets. We then flushed the machine one final time and produced about five more large bags of sachets and put them in a refrigerator so they would be cold for the ceremony.

We then continued to help clean the building and the site so that the property would look nice for the ceremony. They brought in a few canopies, about one hundred chairs, and a sound system. A DJ began playing some fun music for the kids to Azonto (a new style of dance popular in Ghana). The ceremony began around 11 am.

The ceremony was very traditional. It started with the elders and special guests paraded in and led to their seats. Nana Kontihene was dressed in a royal fabric, with articles of gold (probably not real gold) jewelry and crown on his head. A man followed him holding an umbrella above his head. After everyone was seated, an elder poured a glass of some kind of drink and began pouring it out on the ground. This tradition was to honor the ancestors. He would say a name and then pour out a little, offering a drink to those in the grave. Next, everyone stood up, and pastor led us all in prayer. Next several different people came to the front to give their remarks about the project, including members from our own group.

After a few speeches, we gave a tour of the building. We ran the machine and handed out a few sachets. Everyone was impressed with the machine and thanked us for our work. After the quick tour, everyone returned to their seats and proceeded with the ceremony. This time women were passing around the cold sachets to the congregation. Everyone was pleased with the sachet water. I tried another and could no longer taste the funky cardboard flavor. After a few more speeches, Pastor Kofi said a final prayer and the ceremony was adjourned for refreshments (soda and crackers).

After the ceremony, we were invited to have lunch at the palace with the elders. It was here that I had my second try at eating fufu. This time around I was prepared and had a better idea of how to eat it. I enjoyed this fufu more than the first bowl I had nearly a month ago at the restaurant, probably because I had grown accustomed to Ghanaian food.

After lunch, we returned to PPF to help clean up the site after the ceremony. We hung around there for a few hours until dinner time when we had a special dinner with the board. After dinner we had a quick board meeting to reflect on the day, and talk about our accomplishments on the project throughout the summer.

Overall, I consider our project to be a success. The ceremony was well received by the community. We had finally produced some quality sachets and completed most of the construction of the facilities. Our primarily task was complete. Secondly, we had prepared the business for the final stage of the start-up. We are confident that the foundation is in good hands with Degraft and the board of directors, and the business consultant will be a huge asset in starting our non-profit business.

That’s all for Saturday. I hope to post this soon. I still have to recall our final days in Patriensa; so, stay connected.


Day 24 – 15 June 2012


Friday was another big day. It seems that a lot of tasks get pushed backed to the end of the week. This was especially true in our project, with our most productive days on Friday and Saturday. This Friday we arrived on site early to paint our tank stand. We wanted our tank stand to depict our business as a community owned business, so Kim had the good idea to get children to put their hand prints on the stand. First we needed to paint the stand white for a bright background. We were also eager to paint because it was one of the only tasks that we felt we could complete on our own, without hiring labor. Unfortunately this wasn’t true. We had a local painter come to mix the paint, something that is not usually done in the US, so we really had no experience. After mixing the paint, the painter insisted on sticking around to paint the stand. We had four brushes, so we all pitched in to paint it white. We needed to have it painted in the morning so it would be dry by the time kids got out of school. Later in the day, kids came and we had a fun time putting green and blue hand prints all over the tank stand.

While leaving the tank stand to dry, we worked more with Degraft to finish the manual for the sachet machine. We realized how hard it is to put in writing all the small steps needed to create one sachet bag, but the manual would primarily be used as a reference for the employees. During their actual training, it would be much easier to give them a hands-on course for running the sachet machine.

After lunch, Francis, the man who installed the machine and the hydraulic system returned to site from Accra. We had planned for him to arrive in the morning, but of course on Ghanaian time, people tend to show up a few hours later than planned. Francis had come to make any final repairs and insure that the machine would produce clean water. He immediately got to work flushing out the system, cleaning the residual carbon from the activated carbon filters. We soon started producing clear water, however there were several brown slimy particles floating in the water. We couldn’t figure out where they were coming from. After a while he opened up the MP-12 unit which is a bolted shut steel canister that contains several ceramic filters. We unbolted the lid, lifted the housing panel to find that someone had set the filters in there in their original cardboard packing. The inside of the unit was a soupy mess of cardboard and plastic. After about 30 minutes of cleaning the filters, removing the cardboard, and reassembling the unit properly, we were producing clear, clean water.
 Although the water looked fine, we still need to taste it. Francis tasted the one of the first sachets produced and said it was fine. We tasted it next and disagreed. I could still taste the funky odor of the old cardboard in the water. But Francis insisted that it tasted fine. He continued to produce about 5 large bags of sachets, each bag holds 30 sachets. The water would be used the next day at the opening ceremony of the building. We decided that we didn’t want to distribute the sachets we thought were bad, so we decided to come back early the next morning to flush out the machine and produce more sachets. It was beginning to get dark and starting to rain, and we still needed to get dinner at AATI; so we called it a day.

Friday was full of mixed emotions. We were really proud of our tank stand that we had primarily painted on our own. The tank stand would be a great reminder to anyone who passes by the building, that it was a community owned and operated business. We were also pleased that our machine was running well, with our own plastic and our name on it. However we were vastly disappointed that we had still yet to produce a sachet that met our standards. The sachets were completely safe and many people didn’t notice the taste, but we were afraid to give away any sachets that may not be up to our standards, and risk giving the business a bad image before we even truly started production.

We went to bed knowing that the next day would be a critical moment in the viability of our project and of the community business.


Days 20-23 – 11-14 June 2012

This was another slow week, so I’m lumping together Monday through Thursday. Our biggest accomplishment of these few days was completing most of the business purchases. We were able to go to the Konongo market with Degraft and Ofori to buy office supplies, cleaning supplies, and other small items that we lacked in the building. Degraft is currently the only employee of PPF and is officially the assistant manager, although right now he serves as the manager. We talked to a carpenter and asked for him to make a desk, two chairs, and two stools. The furniture would be finished on Friday. We also ordered some bricks for a sidewalk we are planning to build.

Asides from business purchases, we also started creating business procedures. Degraft had already typed up a standard procedures listed. This document will be posted on the doors and walls of the building so the employees will be aware of what is expected. The document still needs to be approved by the Ghanaian Food and Drug Board. We also started creating a manual for the sachet machine that describes how to install the plastic, turn on the machine, and replace the various filters.

That’s about it for these four days. I know I looks like we haven’t done much, but a lot of the tasks are slow moving and take a lot of time. At this point in the project, there are not a lot of hands-on things for us to do. There is still a little construction, but we just oversee the contracted labor to ensure that everything goes smoothly. We spend a lot of time preparing for the next phase of the project which is to start the business. Since we are not business majors, we are just preparing to hand off the project to a business consultant to use the facilities that we provided to start the ball rolling.


Sunday, June 17, 2012

Day 19 – 10 June 2012

Sunday was an easy day. We started off by going to the Methodist Church with Nana Kontihene. Like the Presby church, the service lasted several hours, was entirely in Twi, and was full of singing, dancing, and offerings. After church, Nana took us to his home for lunch. His house was probably the nicest I had seen in the village. It was made of concrete, had tile floors, large rugs, a television, radio, refrigerator, and other household items you would find in a common western house. For lunch, his wife had made us eto, a dish with boiled and mashed plantains, topped with fresh avocado, hard- boiled eggs, and roasted ground nuts. We had never had eto, but it soon became our favorite Ghanaian dish.

After lunch, Nana took us to the PPF site to watch some construction. However while there, some people had been complaining that the water tasted bad. We tasted it and realized that the chlorine that we put in two days before was still very present in the water. Luckily the tank was only about a quarter of the way full, so we attached a hose, and begin draining the tank. The process went much smoother since we had installed a drainage valve last time we drained the tank. The tank took about an hour to drain. Unfortunately there were not many people around to gather the water, so most of it was wasted. However, the kids still had a great time playing in water. To them it must have felt like a water park, relieving the summer heat. After the tank drained, we turned the pump back on and let the tank fill with fresh, un-chlorinated water. We tasted the water again, and thought it tasted fine. We had some community members try it, and they agreed that it was fine.

That’s about it for Sunday, thanks for reading.