Preparation Days-Global Women’s Water Initiative West African Women and Water Training
By Mariah Maggio
The latest adventure of GWWI’s Women and Water Training program in bringing powerful African women together to create solutions for water issues has begun!
The phrase, “hit the ground running” was never as appropriately applied as to how it describes the flow of our schedule when we stepped off the plane into the muggy enveloping heat of Accra, Ghana’s coastal capital city, at 9:00 p.m. on Monday night. Within two hours of stepping off the plane we were meeting with the director of Kokrobitey Institute, the venue where the Training is being held.
The first steps when we arrive in the host country are to connect with our host country partners, search for materials, coordinate logistics of travel for the participants and ensure everything is set up and operating smoothly by the time the participants arrive.
The GWWI Women and Water Trainings have a component which aims to teach the women participants about appropriate technologies through practical hands-on learning. The West African Women and Water Training gives the women the opportunity to learn one of three technologies (BioSand water filters, composting toilets, rainwater harvesting), along with the construction of Solar CooKits and water testing with the Portable Microbiology Laboratory.
So the challenge lies in locating, purchasing and delivering all of these materials in one week! The days were full, often eating the noon meal at 3:00 p.m., hot, hectic and absolutely productive! This was due in large part to the efforts, attitude and graciousness of one woman, Cecilia Mensah, who works with ProNet Accra, our on the ground partner for the Women and Water Training. She and I spent the day together, driving around Accra in her car, checking off lists and ending the day with a call to plan for the next day and say good night. Her daughter, Samuela, selflessly gave us her mother for five straight long days and we are truly grateful! Here they are below sitting down on our last day of shopping waiting for the welder to finish making our BioSand filter mold.
If you have never had the experience of having a personal shopper I suggest you try it here! Start with a list of the things you need, locate a shop that looks reputable that you pick at random or have been pointed to, get rushed out of the hot sun and into a chair, the list is whisked out of your hands and two or three young men are employed to rush around, appearing and then disappearing from sight, finding all of your materials and adjusting them when it’s not quite what you wanted. All this while you are chatting with the store keeper, sipping icy “pure water” out of a 500 ml plastic sachet and eating fresh mango or pineapple pieces out of a plastic bag (which you got from the lady walking halfway down the street who had the tray of fruit carefully balanced on her head)! I did at one point, while navigating the narrow lanes of Accra’s central market, move the 20 liter buckets we had just purchased onto the top of my head, purely out of necessity for trying to squeeze through the crowds, and what a reaction I received from the women to see this white lady carrying her goods in the African way!
I was accompanied the last day by the two other technology trainers, Ayooma A. Monica and Nasiba Sibaweh, who come from a town called Tamale, Ghana. These ladies are experts in the construction of community toilets and rainwater harvesting systems. Their efficiency in finding and buying their outstanding materials was impressive, especially when Monica essentially took over this man’s plumbing shop and had to turn people away when they asked for her assistance.
With our hired truck piled with materials we arrived at Kokrobitey Institute and got to work on preparations for the technology trainings. With the help of two local masons we enlisted, we built three BioSand filters, the foundation and cover for the composting toilet and the foundation for the rainwater harvesting tank (located at a nearby primary school that has no access to water). Nasiba is seen below forming the squat holes for the composting toilet in the wet concrete.
Also joining us for the technology preparation was Faustine Odaba, “Mama Solar,” from Nairobi, Kenya who participated in the 2008 African Women and Water Training and is here again to teach the women about the incredible potential of cooking and pasteurizing water with the sun. She painted pots and buried herself in carton boxes, working non-stop to get her materials ready.
So we are prepared and ready to receive these women and teach them the a few simple, appropriate technologies which they will be able to take back to their communities and implement!
I am humbled by all of the people I have met and observed in the week I have been here, from the woman who’s shop we frequented for construction supplies telling us she was so glad we had come because now she could pay the school fees for her daughter in secondary school to the children by the roadside selling us plastic jerricans (for carrying water) for $0.80.
Day 1-Global Women’s Water Initiative West African Women and Water Training
The anticipation and preparation has been building for a long time for this day! The first day was filled with gems, from stories to realizations and lessons learned, shared by the women participants, organizers and trainers!
A powerful tradition has started to open the GWWI Women and Water Trainings with a water ceremony allowing women carry water from their homes to the Training and together we pour our water together in one vessel, telling our stories and uniting as one from the beginning with an understanding and respect for what we have come together for during the next seven days.
We learned about the issues surrounding the water we all brought together; about how young girls are dropping out of school due to the demanding daily chore of collecting water, how water sources are shared by animals and people alike, how contaminated water caused the death of 14 children in one village in one week, how some water is abundant but taken for granted, the time and distances it takes for some women to find their daily water, how successful rainwater harvesting projects have brought clean water to school children…the stories were moving and inspiring and at times shocking, horrifying and humbling. Here are a few highlights that stuck with me from what the women shared:
- “The only water source in this community is like Milo (the local brand of chocolate milk powder); all you need is milk and sugar to take it.”
- “I want to use the school children as agents of change to help the community change their attitudes and behaviors.”
- “When you start in development another issue always rises up…we were waiting for a savior to come (to help us) and it happened with the announcement of this Women and Water Training.”
- The babies are drinking this dirty water when they are only two days old; tears almost flew from my eyes when I heard about it.”
- “These horrible water situations are keeping women’s attention when they should be using that time to be involved in economic activity.”
- “The people in Lagos (the capital of Nigeria) run their taps when they aren’t even using the water and they don’t think about the people 5 kilometers away that don’t have water…wastage in one area is a lack in another.”
- “I was humbled when I learned that not only was the water coming from my household tap in the United States, but also the water in my toilet, was drinkable!”
The impact of the ceremony created in everyone a real sense of responsibility to take what they learn at this Training back to their communities to help create change for those whose stories we had just told.
The morning hours of the Training are filled with sessions on WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) and action planning while the afternoons are devoted to practical technology training sessions. We discussed as a group, with brilliant insights and sharing from all of the women, the challenges and opportunities of African women in relation to water and the effects of climate change on water and their environments.
Today we started the afternoon sessions on a high note with Mama Solar, Faustine Odaba, giving a demonstration on solar cooking and directing the women in making their own CooKits, which they will take home with them. This dynamic, energetic and inspiring woman has been cooking with the sun for over 20 years and has motivated these women to change the way they have until now thought about the sun in their daily lives. She endears herself to an audience in the first few moments she speaks
The anthem for the day came from one of the Cameroon participants, Catherine Makane Mwengella, which we stood and sang many times to remind ourselves of the common goal of being here this week talking about women and water, challenges and solutions
“We are one. Eh Eh! We are together. We are one.”
The next few days will be intense and rich and rewarding and we are excited to channel knowledge and new skills to the women from Nigeria, Cameroon, Ghana, Togo, and Liberia to strengthen the work they are already doing on water, sanitation and hygiene in their communities to create more waves of healthy change.
And as we fall asleep tonight the rain has begun to fall here in Ghana!