"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

Monday, May 28, 2012

Day 4 – 26 May 2012

Maha (good afternoon),

Saturday was a relatively slow day. We set off in the morning around 10 am to a sachet factory about 20 miles up the road from Patriensa. Our goal was to check out their facilities to get an idea of what our final product should look like. Unfortunately when we arrived we found that the factory is not open on Saturdays; however Nana Kontihene was with us, so the manager of the factory opened it for us anyway to look around. They have a much larger operation than we are building ours for. This factory had six sachet machines, two delivery trucks and produced nearly 10,000 sachets a day. When we get our business up and running, we will have one sachet machine that will produce 1,500 sachets a day and we are still trying to figure out how to distribute them. The tour around their factory gave us a good idea of the furnishings we lacked to truly make out building into a business.

On our way back to PPE, we stopped in a small village to look at cocoa beans. After Nana Kontihene spoke with the farmers, they were nice enough to take us into the forest and show us their farm of cocoa trees and explain how they are grown. First, saplings are cared for in a separate garden until they are mature enough to produce a cocoa pod. We noticed that they were using thrown away sachet bags to hold together the roots and soil of the saplings. Next the saplings are planted in the forest where it takes about 6 years for a cocoa pod to sprout and mature. After picking a mature pod, the farmers break it open and take out the beans. The beans are then covered in leaves in a large pile for seven days to begin the drying process. After seven days, the beans are taken back into village where they are assorted, selected, and dried for seven more days. Finally the beans are shipped off to be processed where they will become chocolate, coffee, or products like that.

Next we returned to PPE where Nana Kontihene had a meeting with the Queen Mother and another important person (we had no idea who). Before the meeting, he mentioned they were planning to put large cement slab in front of the building, something we had never planned or budgeted for. But the conversation was quick because he had to attend the meeting. The meeting lasted nearly 2 hours. While they were meeting, we sat around outside and watched the masons finish a slab outside for repurposing and some touching up of the community tap. The mason began to cover up some plumbing that we wanted exposed until we could test the pump. Kristina approached them saying. “Dabe, Dabe, we want to wait.” (“No, No, we want to wait.”) However the mason continued and covered the pipes.

We never really expected him to listen to us since they were asked to do it by Nana Kontihene and also we knew the piping was done by Francis and there shouldn’t have been any problems. However the issue made us think about our roles on the project and consider our effectiveness on the construction site. It seemed to us the community did not recognize as an authority or even as engineers, but rather they probably us as a source of money, or even worse as just Obruene tourists. This can be expected though because we don’t get to present ourselves to the community as a whole but rather to the leadership. So the average community member or construction worker may have no idea why we are here. Although we could always talk to Nana Kontihene or Pastor Kofi to influence a particular person, we thought it would be better to engage ourselves in the project more by doing more hands-on activities, by talking to more people about the project and our roles in it rather than just chatting and trying to learn Twi, and by asserting ourselves more as technical authorities, since after all, we spent two semesters planning and designing the ins and outs of this whole operation.

After Nana Kontihene finished with his meeting, we talked again about the cement slab. They wanted the outside to be cemented so that people wouldn’t track dirt into the building and because it looks nicer. We really hadn’t budgeted for a slab this big, although we did have some extra money from other budget items, however we didn’t want such a large slab. We compromised. We decided to put cement around the perimeter of the building to cover the septic pipes and create a sidewalk from the driveway to the steps of the building. Since that negotiation went well, we asked him about the shallow pipes that we were not pleased with. We asked if we could lay the electrical conduit from the pump in the same trench as the pipe, and since we would re-dig the trench anyway, we could make the trenches deeper. Nana Kontihene agreed with the idea and said we could do that on Monday when Francis returns. I was a small issue, but I think it was a big victory for our team, since we were able to assert our presence on the project.

After that we walked to the school for dinner and a meeting with the PPE board which oversees our project as well as the Sawdust Team (formerly Briquette). The purpose of this meeting was to introduce everyone, discuss the current status of each project, and bring any issues up to the board for recommendations. The meeting lasted about 2 hours. One conflict we realized was that the board asked us to raise more funds for the delivery system. We liked need more money to fund the delivery of the sachets, however we were weary of requesting more funding from our partners at Afren (an oil company that donated money to PUC) and UT. We had a lot of success communicating our issues with the board.

This day has brought to mind problems that we been dealing with since the beginning of the project. It has been a difficult balance to involve ourselves in project. We want the community to take ownership of the project. We don’t want a situation where we provide something that is unneeded or unwanted that the community will not be able to sustain on their own. This requires years of relationship between our partners to understand their sentiments on the project. At same, we can’t separate ourselves from the project. If we don’t become necessary in the design and implementation of the project, the community will begin to just use us as a source of money. If we cannot achieve an appropriate level of involvement, the project may be completed but it may not be sustained. Our goal is for the community to sustain the project with little help from us, for 20 or more years. We need to make sure that our investment continues to benefit the community beyond our short time here.

That’s all for now. We finally got a hold some internet so I've posted the last three days at once, but I’m still behind on the blog. I hope to find some time to keep everyone up to date.

Yebishhe biyo, (we will meet again)

Day 3 – 25 May 2012

Day 3 – 25 May 2012
Maju (good evening),

Friday was our longest and most productive day yet. We arrived to PPE (Patriensa Pure Enterprise, the name of our sachet manufacturing building) at 8:15 am to find tons of people already there relocating a pile of clay. Friday was a holiday in Ghana, equivalent to our labor day, so no one had to go to work or school. The clay was what had been excavated when the septic tank was installed in the ground. We immediately were put the work. Gordon and I (the males of our team) were handed shovels and began filling wheel barrels and large bowls and pots with the clay. Kim, Jeseth, and Kristina were given the task of lifting the heavy bowls of clay and carrying them on their heads to the front of the PPE plot to be dumped. Community members of all ages were working with us. Boys of ages 9-15 and a few adult men were responsible for breaking up the hard clay and shoveling it into various containers. Girls and women of all ages were transporting the soil across the plot. Usually the older and stronger the woman, the larger and heavier the bowl they carried on their head.

 After that, we moved into the building to watch Francis install the sachet machine and filtering system.  He explained the filtering process to us. Gordon had worked on drinking water purification systems before, so he was pretty familiar with the process. I had only taken a class and studied the process a little so I was eager to learn the mechanics of the system. Our system has five filtering containers, each of different size pores. Next the water passes through another tall filter which I think used some kind of activated carbon. Next the water goes through what was called the MP-12, a large kettle like container with some type of filters. Gordon and I had never seen anything like it, but Francis informed us that it killed bacteria. After that water passes by a UV light which does a final sterilization, killing any remnants of biological matter in the water. Biological matter like bacteria, pathogens, and other tiny creatures in water is the leading the cause of death in the undeveloped world. I believe there is a statistic that says that 4 children die every minute from diarrhea in third world countries.  Severe diarrhea can quickly dehydrate a person and if they don’t have any available clean water to rehydrate themselves, the diarrhea is fatal.

While Francis was still installing the filtering system, the community had started putting the tank on the tank stand. The tank is about 10 feet tall and probably 8 feet in diameter. The tank stand is a cement structure about 5 feet tall. The men had built a ramp out of a few wood planks and rolled the tank onto the tank stand. The tank was on the stand; however it was lying on its side and there was an electrical wire right above it going from a wooden pole to the PPE building. After much discussion and planning, all of which was in Twi and incomprehensible to us, the men had devised a way to stand the tank up on its base, just missing the electrical wires. 

Next we took a break and talked to the kids some more. They had just cleared a patch of sugar cane near the community tap where we had to dig trenches to lay pipe. They chopped the sugar cane into smaller pieces and gave it to us to chew. The cane was very tough on the outside, but once I was able to expose the sugary fibers it was very sweet and refreshing. After the quick break, we returned inside the building to watch Francis finish the sachet machine system. In a matter of about an hour he had already installed all the necessary piping, filters, and electrical finishings. He was only using the blade of a hack saw, plumbing glue, and thread tape but had quickly finished the sachet room.

After finishing the inside of the building, he moved outside to connect a few of the pipes in the trench and prepare them for connection to the pump and community taps. We helped out by burying some of the pipe. We realized that the trenches were not as deep as we had designed for. We asked for the pipes to be 12 inches below grade; however they had only dug the trenches 6 inches. We planned to re-dig the pipe after lunch. But when we returned from lunch, which lasted about an hour, Francis had already finished the connecting all the pipe. Because the pipe is connected at the tank and at the community tap, we can no longer dig the trenches deeper without cutting the pipe.. We’ve decided as a safety measure we will resurface the ground around the pipe to ensure that rain water would flow away from the buried pipes to decreases the possibility of eroding our cover soil.

After finishing work at PPE we returned to the hotel to get ready for a ceremony in the palace. The purpose of the ceremony was to introduce our teams to the queen mother and the council of elders. The ceremony lasted less than an hour but was filled with history, tradition, and merging of cultures. We started with a prayer (Ghana is predominantly Christian) and then we stated our mission of the trip for each team. Everyone then introduced each other; 10 of the elders, the Queen Mother and the Kontihene, and all 11 of the team members each stated their names in Twi. After asking a few questions about the history of the village we presented the Queen Mother and the Kontihene gifts. We wanted to bring them gifts that reflected Texas, so we gave them barbeque sauce.

After the ceremony ended, we walked to PPE to check out any new construction. The men had nearly completed a roof next to building under which we would dry sachets for the repurposing initiative. While there, we noticed our neighbors cooking their dinner. They were in the middle of making fufu. To make fufu they used a large pole to mash the ingredients of the fufu and mix it into a consistent ball. On a fire, they were stirring a pot filled with some kind soupy broth with sugar and other ingredients I’m not familiar with. We then walked to the school to have our own dinner of chicken and rice. After dinner we returned home for some needed rest.

Our third day was the most productive day we’ve seen since we started the project last year. We were amazed at the speed of the work with the help of so many community members. It was especially great to see the fruit of all our planning and designing throughout the school year and witnessing the community take ownership of this project. That’s all for now; I’m not sure when this will reach the web but I hope it finds you well.

P.S. Sorry for the lack of pictures. I have a lot but it takes to much time to upload one photo. Once I get some reliable internet, I will upload some pictures.

Day 2 – 24 May 2012

Hey everyone,

Thursday was another long and successful day! We started the day off normally with a continental breakfast until we received notice that the Kontihene was coming to meet us (The Kontihene is the second in command of the Patriensa village). We had already planned for him to come however he had arrived more than two hours ahead of time, meaning we had to rush to call George, the driver, load our things, and sit through the rush hour traffic of Accra (which is much worse than I-35) to meet the Kontihene who had been waiting on us. So we were now experiencing the inverse of the theme experienced on the first day of waiting.

After the Kontihene finished settling the purchases of the equipment from the previous day, he came with us to sit in more traffic to pick up Francis, the hydraulic contractor, and make our way to Patriensa. Our van was completely packed. Our luggage, groceries, and generator took up the last two rows of seats, leaving only 8 seats for the 9 of us. The drive lasted about four hours, not including our stop for lunch, and stretched various terrains like small villages, hilly forests, and about an hour and a half of a dusty dirt road that was still under construction and abundant with bumps and potholes. 

For lunch, we stopped at Linda D’or, a popular rest stop and restaurant in the middle of the route from Accra to Patriensa. The restaurant had a great variety of international food like Hawaiian pizza, cheeseburgers, Chinese, and others, as well as traditional Ghanaian food. I was more daring than on Day 1 and decided to go with fufu. The waiter laughed at me when I made the order. Fufu is like a huge, unbaked bread ball made from cassava, plantains, and other ingredients I’m not familiar with. The fufu sits at the bottom of a large bowl of stew with spicy peppers, fish oil, goat meat, and tons of other stuff I’ve never heard of. The reason Ghanaians tend to make fun of Obruenes (white people) for ordering fufu is that it takes a lot of skill to eat. You can only use your right hand and you are not supposed to chew the fufu because it has a bland taste. The goal is to dip your hand in the hot soup, pinch of some fufu with your index and middle finger, and scoop out some broth in your hand on its way to your mouth. I really enjoyed the soup and the goat meat but had a hard time swallowing the actual fufu and could never really get a handle on the whole eating process.

We arrived in Patriensa around 5pm, just enough time to tour the sachet building and get to know the community before dark. We began talking to kids and learning a lot of Twi. I can almost count to ten and say things like, “Hello, Good afternoon, How are you? Thank you, etc.” After a few hours of getting familiar with our plot of land and especially our neighbors, we met up with the Briquette team and drove to our hotel for a good night’s rest.

Our second day was much more relaxed and full of fun times. After getting better adjusted to the slow pace of Ghana time and enjoying our time with each other and the local people, we were able to really get to know each other as well as the community, and settle into our new environment. That’s all for now; you may not read this until several days after the fact, depending on when I can find some internet.


Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Day 1 – 23 May 2012

Hey everyone,

We are finally here! We arrived last night to the hotel around 10pm and got settled in. Right now we are in Accra, the capital and largest city in Ghana on the southern coast. Tomorrow we will drive north to Patriensa, the village we will be working in. Right now Gordon (our technical advisor) Jeseth, Kim, Ivi (a member of the Ghana Briquette team), and myself are here in Accra while Kristina (our project lead) is already in Patriensa with the Briquette team. Besides us, there about 20 other UT social work students here to attend a study abroad May-mester, so we have plenty of company including the very friendly Ghanaians.
Today was very successful and at moments very stressful. At the start of the day we immediately realized the common theme of “Hurry up and Wait,” as we waited on our driver wonderful driver George. Although once he arrived he had to leave again to get a smaller vehicle for us. Asides from driving us around George also explains Ghana culture, guides us through the city, helps us make purchases, and most importantly helps us communicate with the Ghanaians. 

Our biggest accomplishment today was purchasing a submersible pump for the well and a generator. The whole process took about 5 hours even though someone had already paid for the equipment and it was all the same store. After a lot of miscommunication, phone calls, and decision making, we finally left the store with the correct pump and generator.  After that, George took us to a restaurant that served authentic Ghanaian food. I thought the food was great and not very different from what I’m used to, however I had fried barracuda with fried rice and a Coca-Cola, which wasn’t as exotic as some of the other dishes. Next we sat in traffic for about two hours to go back to our hotel to unload our equipment. The streets of Accra were jammed packed with vendors trying to sell things to people in the drivers stuck in traffic, small tables and carts selling things to people walking by, and small shops for people who are intentionally seeking to buy something. After the long drive, we unloaded the generator and pump and headed to Shoprite to buy food for our stay in Patriensa. We spent about an hour purchasing things like 10 boxes of cereal, 28 cartons of milk, 6 loaves of bread, and 20 gallons of water never really sure if it was enough or too much for the next two weeks. After filling 3 carts with food we felt we had enough and returned to the hotel. 

We achieved everything we set out to do today, but, I think, most importantly we grew accustomed to Ghanaian way of life and felt more comfortable in a land half-way around the world.  That’s all for now, but I plan update again soon, assuming I can find some internet to connect to.


Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Almost there!

Hey everyone,

The Sachet team will arrive in Accra one week from today! Our counterparts, the PUC Briquette team will arrive  by the end of this week. So hope for safe travels and that we all arrive on time. I plan on updating the blog much more frequently when we get on ground, so stay tuned.