By Molly Rooney
Molly is an Agriculture Volunteer through the U.S. Peace Corps (2012-2014) working in Bugubelle, Ghana.
As a Peace Corps volunteer in the community of Bugubelle in the Sissala East District of the Upper West Region of Ghana, I have the opportunity to work closely with a wonderful women’s soap-making group. The group works together to make a wide variety of soaps that they sell in the local market. To increase their capabilities, some of the women have been looking for a way to start training other women’s groups in soap-making. Recently, we were delighted to receive an invitation from Vibrant Village Foundation for two of the women from Bugubelle to lead a three-day soap-making class for 20 women in Fielmuo. None of us had traveled to Fielmuo before and, although we were nervous to begin the training, we were welcomed warmly by the community. The Fielmuo women were enthusiastic to learn the fundamentals of soap-making and its application as a business in their community.
The training started as soon as we arrived in Fielmuo. The first two days were spent carefully going over the recipes and methods of preparing each kind of soap. The women then mixed the oils and lye. Once soaps hardened, the women got busy stamping and cutting the soaps to create the beautiful final products. The last day was devoted to the Fielmuo trainees showing off their new knowledge by preparing new batches of the soaps they had learned in the training.
Besides the amount of soap produced, what amazed me the most was how enthusiastic all of the women were to get started with work, to help each other, and to stay as late as needed to clean up after the day’s activities. It’s never an inactive period for any of these village women – but they put aside their household activities to do something to better themselves. The support and enthusiasm with which the women received us in Fielmuo made a lasting impression on us. I cannot wait to see the Fielmuo women build upon their training and start making some fabulous soap for sale in their own markets!
Jon Schafer, a student of Geographic Information Systems at Portland State University, visited Ghana's Upper West Region to support our Vibrant Village team there to develop maps of boreholes and water access and distribution in the isolated area. Read his first blog entry here.
August 2, 2013
The mapping project is really starting to take form, and it’s rewarding to see such noticeable progression with the map after each intense day of fieldwork. To create a detailed and informative living map depicting water access and borehole distribution in the region requires an extensive amount of data collection. So far, we have finished mapping the precise locations of more than 100 boreholes, local schools (kindergarten, primary and junior high), as well as identifying the most deprived and isolated sections far from borehole access within each of the 32 communities comprising the Fielmuo region.
Before mapping an underserved area we must first meet with the village chief, who explains to us which sections of the community have the most difficulty accessing water. He appoints someone from the village to lead me around the perimeter of these isolated areas, which I then map with my Trimble GPS unit. The total size, resident population, and degree of isolation in an area can vary greatly from one village to the next. It is always exciting to interact with the residents of the local villages while collecting this location data, and often turns humorous attempting to explain (through the use of my incredibly limited Dagaare language skills) why I am randomly wandering around the perimeter of their homes carrying a strange looking electronic device. This has definitely been the most demanding portion of the project, but one of the most rewarding and eye opening; realistically, the trouble it took for me to locate, travel to, and map the locations is nothing compared to the challenges faced daily by the individuals living within these isolated areas.
The Chief of Gaaper presented me with a traditional smock for mapping his community.
I often saw these incredible "cactus trees" while mapping the perimeter of a village.
While mapping a village, I often encountered traditional-style homes like this one.
A local Ghanaian villager wears a Portland Trailblazers hat — it truly is a small world after all.
Jon Schafer, a student of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) at Portland State University, visited Ghana's Upper West Region to support our Vibrant Village team there to develop maps of boreholes and water access and distribution in the isolated area. He recently returned to Portland, and shared stories of his experience, beginning with this part one of a three-part series:
I have been in Ghana now for about two weeks. I am here to map water access and the distribution of boreholes in the Upper West Region (UWR) of Ghana, specifically in the remote Fielmon Fielmuo) region, which is comprised of roughly 32 villages.
Before coming here, I was told how the UWR of Ghana was a place few people ever get the chance to see; even the vast majority of Ghanaian residents have never traveled to this part of the country. Simply put, Fielmon is in the absolute middle of nowhere. The trip from Accra (Ghana’s capital city) to Fielmon was really a journey in itself, and took about five days. After spending a day in Accra purchasing some supplies, we hopped a regional flight to Tamale, the only real transit hub in the Northern Region, and the third largest city in Ghana. From Tamale we drove six to seven hours on a very, very rustic dirt “road” to Wa, the largest city in the UWR.
From Wa, we headed to Fielmon down an even more challenging road. Along the way, as our vehicle went over large bumps in the road and nearly went airborne with all four tires off the ground, Lenny Baer (who runs the program here) would immediately ask the fellow passengers in a half-joking manner, “Is everyone OK? Did anyone throw up?” Luckily, we all made it through the drive without any incident!
Jon (left) stands with Vibrant Village staff in front of the office in Fielmon
The sun had set by the time I arrived in Fielmon, my new home for the next five weeks, and I was anxious to see it in the daylight. The next day I was introduced to the fellow staff members of Vibrant Village in Fielmon, and went on a tour of the surrounding communities to gain perspective on the scope of the project. I was amazed at the cultural differences that exist in such a relatively close proximity to one another. Language, religion, and even the style in which homes are constructed all vary significantly from one community to the next. Although, for all the variation that exists there is one common theme: this is a harsh environment to live in. Water is scarce, food options are limited, electricity is a rare luxury, and the heat is unrelenting. Yet for all the challenges faced on a daily basis, the optimism shared by seemingly everyone in the local population is contagious. The people I have met have greeted me with such warmth, be it the chiefs of local villages, or residents fetching water from nearby boreholes. Without question, this is one of the most welcoming places I have ever visited.
Children in their school uniforms gather around a borehole while Jon takes a geographic location reading with his GPS device
While mapping the boreholes, wells and schools in the region we are always approached with curiosity, especially from the children who gather around and try to decipher what exactly we are up to. I am using a Trimble GPS unit to accurately map through satellite positioning the location of each borehole. Additionally, I am recording useful attributes about each one, such as what community it is located in, when it was constructed, the pump type, its current functionality and condition, images, and other relevant information that will help in creating a comprehensive map of water resources in the area. When finished, we will be able to highlight the areas where water accessibility is unevenly distributed, and the map will greatly aid in determining where to drill boreholes.
I am excited to be here and there is a lot of work to be done. The local population is very grateful for this project and I truly understand now how important this work really is to the livelihood of so many people. I look forward to providing more updates as the mapping continues to evolve.
Jon used this Trimble GPS unit to measure and record the location of boreholes and other water resources