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)-Matt