Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Beach day

Day Fourteen
Sunday, May 31, 2015

The day began pretty late, as we took our time getting up on this lazy Sunday.  We rode about an hour west of the city after picking up a young man named Mubarak, an old friend of Ben and Rosy.  We had a good beachside breakfast before jumping into the ocean, bodysurfing, and otherwise enjoying the day off.

The relaxed attitude did not come without any trouble, however.  Ken got pulled out by the strong rip tide and panicked, forcing Mubarak, Kate, and Peter to help bring him to shore.  Some locals ran from the beach into the water, after the situation was taken under control, and ‘saved’ him from drowning.  After it was clear that Ken was OK, they demanded money for their actions, and argued with us for   while before we eventually gave in and handed them a small sum of money.  We left the beach a bit early because of this weird series of events, and went to a market.

At the market, we were greeted by some of the most relentless, shameless, yet efficient salespeople I have ever met.  Upon seeing a group of visiting obrunis, flocks of shop owners ran up to us, asking us questions and telling us to look at their shops.  Eventually, some of us actually did buy things – fabrics, drums, bracelets, clothes – but for the most part we were just browsing.

We returned to iDE and cooked dinner, after which some of us did some work and planned for the next few days, while others watched videos of Annie, Ken and Ndungu (a former ADE Ghana team member) perform dances in their most recent BDE show.  Others planned out things to do on their upcoming vacations, caught up with friends and family, and otherwise made good use of the bit of down time before going to sleep, alive and well.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Vans, villages, and ventures (and veloce mangos)

Day Thirteen
Saturday, May 30, 2015

                We got up early and packed our bags into a tro-tro, van, and pickup truck, each of which was going to different places (with three different groups):
  •          One group went to Konongo, for a brief meeting with Priscilla from the Rural Enterprise Program (REP), which was more informational than anything, and which was completed in a short amount of time (the first meeting covered most of what we wanted to discuss) – that group then headed to see Auntie Howe in Adumkrum.
  •          Ambika, Anna, and Peter hopped in an air-conditioned van that traveled to Akutuase before meeting up with some of the others at Auntie Ama's and Auntie Akosua's in PKK.  At Akutuase those three met with Auntie Rebecca and her husband Tsikata and gave them the new press.
  •          The third group met in Odumase with Samuel, who has not been using his grater for the intended benefit (he is keeping it in his home as a kind of art installation / decorative piece) and did not make his last payments.  We will seize his grater if he does not make his next payment.  We are okay with this possibility because he is not using the machine for its intended purpose right now, and would rather it go to an economically constrained gari-producing woman. We need them to be in the hands of people who will use their graters and presses in a way that will benefit lots of people, as more than just a status symbol.
Upon meeting back at PKK, one group quickly got to work showing Auntie Akosua her new and improved grater.  The team learned, from Auntie Akosua, about a new method of grating that result in different consistencies in the grated cassava, and therefore even more benefit from the one machine/head.  The secret is the pressure put on the cassava when it is being pushed down in the chute.  We documented some footage, and took plenty of notes, and soon were piling back into the vans. 

We said our goodbyes at PKK and took off for Konongo, where we arrived at around lunch time and got food from a few different places.  The team gathered under the shade of a small bakery and snacked on some very inexpensive fruit, bread, and crackers from the nearby markets.  We also got one another up to speed with the happenings at each site visited today. Ken probably ate an entire village’s share of mango this day, and for less than the cost of a McDonald’s happy meal.

After reconvening, we piled all of our things into the truck and squeezed into the tro-tro for a long ride to Accra.  We had a couple stops to make along the way, however, and so the five-or-so-hour ride was not too unbearable.  The main stop that we made was Koforidua -- a few of us (Kari, Kate, Peter, Rezzy, and Rosy) chose to go to Ability Bikes and talk with some people who are doing some really cool stuff there (see https://bikesnotbombs.org/ability-bikes-cooperative for more info).  We learned a lot from these awesome people about doing business in Ghana, working through corruption, and overcoming other challenges like gender roles and financial difficulties.  The rest of the team went to BURRO, where people are making cool, affordable products that help off-grid and other customers gain access to electricity (see http://www.burrobrand.biz/ for more info).  That group learned a bit about doing business in Ghana, scaling up a small enterprise, and how sustainability and business can coexist.  These two visits were very interesting, and were definitely a highlight of the trip.

After a couple hours back on the road, and a pretty gorgeous [but very bumpy] drive down to Accra (Rosy really likes the switchback road that leads down a mountain and overlooks the city), we arrived at our new place of stay - iDE Ghana office in Accra.  A few of us (Ben, Rezzy, Wendy, and Peter) got a late dinner at a restaurant near the office upon arrival, but most of the team went to bed early after what was a long day of work and travel.

Oh, and by the way… the mango [almost] hit the chicken.  !

Monday, June 1, 2015

Build, build, build.

Day Ten, Eleven & Twelve
Wednesday, May 29, 2015 through Friday, May 31, 2015

Build, build, build. Buying materials, welding press parts, and testing and building graters and presses took up the next three days of the week.

We worked hard at the shop, even though the power continued to be an issue.  We tried to get lots of welding done whenever the power was on, but had to resort to use of a diesel-powered generator on Friday because we had so much welding to do.

Ken and Peter helped in the shop pretty much all day Thursday and Friday, filing, cutting, drilling, and more.  Wendy continued plugging away at the distributor guide and user manuals/binders.  The hard work did not happen without a bit of fun, however.  The team was able to go swimming on Wednesday night at the KNUST swimming pool, to let out some steam.

On Friday, we said our goodbyes – Francis collected everyone’s contact information that had not been exchanged already, and others from ITTU wished us the best as we prepared to distribute the graters and presses that we built.

We got back to the SMS Guest House and proceeded in a similar fashion, packing bags and saying goodbyes to the people there.  The weekend ahead was going to be very busy, and we did not want to leave anything behind as we moved on to the villages and to Accra.  We would be staying at an iDE office in Accra for the next few nights and would be able to settle in there, but there was still work to be done in between.

Back to work

Day Nine
Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Today, the grater team completed a second grater, despite many frustrating attempts to align the motor, and cleaned and grated a bunch of peeled cassava in order to run some more tests and diagnose the overheating problems that some of our customers were experiencing.  The press team, meanwhile, chugged away in the shop, measuring, cutting, filing, and grinding metal pieces to build frames for their machines, and also oversaw the delivery of several wood boards – a key component to the current press design.  The business team completed a few small tasks, but mostly worked with the other sub-teams, quoted prices for stainless steel, and did some blogging.

Testing a grater

Unfortunately, we had no power for most of the afternoon, which slowed down building and testing. We still managed to run some tests without power for the grater, and we began pressing a large bag of cassava that we had grated earlier in the day. We took the grater and some cassava back to the guest house, hoping to run tests there if the power came back on, but it was out for most of the night.


Day Eight
Monday, May 25, 2015

We slept in late on what was a national holiday in the US and in Ghana – Memorial Day in the United States and African Union Day in Ghana.  ITTU was closed and we were unable to work in the shop.  We spent the morning and afternoon at Kejetia Market, one of the largest, if not the largest, open-air markets in Western Africa.  Some of us bought fabrics, but for the most part we just walked around the tight, crowded alleyways and browsed the thousands of small shops.  We ate lunch at the cultural center, and returned to the SMS Guest House in the middle of the afternoon.  Upon return, we held sub-team meetings to prepare for the coming week.

...and working with them.

Day Seven

Sunday, May 24, 2015

The morning was greeted with big smiles from friends.  Omelets fresh bread rolls from the bakery in Konongo, along with coffee and hot chocolate, made for a good breakfast.  Work began for Teams One and Three around 8:15 am at Auntie Akosua’s house.

Everyone learned a ton, including, but definitely not limited to, how and where she stores her cassava: in two forty-gallon barrels filled with water.  The grating team was able to identify and provide preliminary diagnoses of the problems that the grater was having. The machine needed more servicing back at ITTU, however, so they used the new grater to grate nearly all of Auntie Akosua’s stored cassava. This provided a few hours of testing on the new design and also ensured that Auntie Akosua’s stored cassava wouldn’t go bad when she didn’t have a grater for a whole week.

Upon return from church, however, Auntie Akosua asked her sons to begin pressing a bag of the grated cassava using heavy rocks.  We captured this, and lots of other things, on camera, and for good reason – the process is quite strenuous, time consuming, and very dangerous (not to mention inefficient). Everything we had heard about the traditional pressing held true. 

Auntie Akosua watches as her sons press cassava with rocks, next to her ADE press.

The double-lead screw press, on the other hand, was doing very well (despite a couple half-broken parts).  We were able to begin pressing two big bags of grated cassava on the press.

While all of this was happening, the business team was having great success as well.  First, we got a lot of useful information from Kingsford regarding rental income that Auntie Akosua was realizing by sharing use of her press, and names of more leads for potential customers.  Hayley, Peter, Rosy, Asante, and Debbie met with Robert (a tomato farmer from Konongo), Kingsford, and a few other locals who are familiar with the local tomato farming and processing industry.  We grated a bag of tomatoes to see if our grater, in its current form, could be used to create a tomato purée.  We decided, after a long meeting/interview, that there is a huge opportunity to significantly reduce food waste and food insecurity, as well as to significantly increase tomato farmer income and productivity.  However, those grinders already exist in the marketplace.  Though ADE may not devote an entire team to this, we may, as a potential side project, connect these farmers with people who sell tomato grinders and work with REP to help finance and distribute those machines to the right people.

Robert, a tomato farmer, with some the ADE team and three PKK district officers.

After this meeting, Rosy and Peter went with Kingsford and Joe to Kingsford’s half-acre rice farm about three-quarters of a mile from Auntie Akosua’s home.  He told them about the growing process, including the time- and labor-intensive rice thrashing that has to happen post-harvest in order to create a marketable product.  They also were met by two very young children who had carried water from a pump about a half-mile from the farm to industrial-strength pesticide sprayers, which Kingsford said that they operate.  Upon a short discussion, Rosy and Peter agreed that although there is enormous room to improve this entire process, a much larger organization (or collaboration between multiple organizations with a many more resources than ADE) would have to intervene to make a significant and lasting impact.  As much as they would love to improve the conditions at this rice farm, ADE simply does not have the capabilities required.  One project at a time.
Kingsford eating corn on the cob and talking to Peter and Rosy about his rice farm.

Around noon, we headed back to Konongo to meet up with a team that had briefly visited Auntie Howe, our very first user, in another village, Adumkrom. Six months ago, we had given her one of our early press designs, which required the user to tighten a ratchet strap, compressing the bag of grated cassava between two boards. We were hoping to pilot the design with her by learning about her interactions with it over a six-month period. On this visit, however, we learned that she hasn’t used that press at all – it even collected some cobwebs. Apparently, it was difficult for her to figure out how to use – something that we were concerned about – and so she hadn’t touched it. (This semester, the team put significant effort into improving the interaction with the press, and users have found it intuitive to use. We are excited to field more presses from the new design, the double lead screw press.)

We were happy to see that Auntie Howe’s grater, the first one ever deployed, is still functioning well.

We got back to the guest house, had a team meeting over dinner to review the weekend, and talked about plans for the future – both short and long-term.

Meeting our customers...

Day Six
Saturday, May 23, 2015

A big day: a long-awaited (and for Ambika, Hayley, Ken, Peter, and Wendy, a first) visit to our majority stakeholders – gari-producing women in rural and peri-urban regions of Ghana.  We woke up earlier than usual and loaded a pickup truck full of machines, tools, food, water, and a whole bunch of supplies we needed for the next two days.  After about an hour-or-so ride to a bakery near one of our customer’s restaurant (specifically, Auntie Aba’s chop bar) in Konongo, we split into three groups to accomplish a bunch of tasks on Saturday, outlined in the table below (note that Sunday tasks are not included in this table):

Team One:
Ben, Ken, Rezzy, Peter
Team Two:
Kari, Kate, Rosy, Wendy
Team Three:
Ambika, Anna, Hayley

Visit the Rural Enterprise Program (REP) office in Konongo. Interview Priscilla and learn more about the potential partnership (financing, production, and distribution) between ADE Ghana and their organization.

Reconnect, over lunch, with Team Two at Auntie Aba’s chop bar.  Look at the grater and take measurements to diagnose the problems.  Take the grater with us for servicing.  Continue onwards to Auntie Akosua’s home in PKK.

Visit Auntie Aba and Auntie Atta at Aba’s home/kitchen (close to the chop bar and the bakery) to learn more about the problems that she was having with her grater that she uses there.

Meet up with Team One outside the bakery, then continue onward to Auntie Akosua’s home in PKK.

Visit Auntie Rebecca and Tsikata in Acutuase to service her grater and to perform a few interactions with a prototype version of the press.

Eat lunch at a hotel in the area.

Meet with Teams One and Two at Auntie Akosua’s house in PKK.

A big, clay oven at a small, local bakery in the town of Konongo in Ghana.

After arriving at Auntie Akosua’s, Teams One and Two met with several friends and got right to business.  We had a nice meeting with Auntie Akosua’s husband Kingsford, the district director named Stephen, Debbie, Joe, and another district officer. We discussed our project and talked about the opportunities we had, and will have, for the community as a whole.

Peter (not pictured - took photo), Kate, Ambika, Annie, Ken, Kari, Ben, Wendy, Joe, Rezzy, Anna, Hayley, Dona, Debbie, and Stephen meet in PKK.

After the meeting – and a heavy rain - we began walking to the compound in which we were staying, about a half mile up the road from Auntie Akosua’s. We settled into our respective rooms, set up mosquito nets to keep ourselves from contracting malaria, and had a big meal of ground nut soup with rice balls and garden eggs.  After, we played a few card games by lamplight and then got some sleep.