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Our Blog: Ghana
October 22, 2013
Mapping water resources in Ghana pt. 2

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.

Jon with Gaaper chief

The Chief of Gaaper presented me with a traditional smock for mapping his community.


cactus trees

I often saw these incredible "cactus trees" while mapping the perimeter of a village.


traditional house in Ghana

While mapping a village, I often encountered traditional-style homes like this one.


man with Portland Trailblazers hat

A local Ghanaian villager wears a Portland Trailblazers hat — it truly is a small world after all. 

October 3, 2013
Mapping water resources in Ghana

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


July 19, 2013
New Uniforms at Nemoro Primary School
By Lenny Baer
Fielmuo, Ghana: At Nemoro Primary School, as throughout Ghana, children at public schools are required to wear school uniforms; boys at this school wear a yellow shirt and khaki shorts and girls wear a yellow dress. Many of the children cannot afford a uniform so they go to school wearing other clothes. Some wear old and torn uniforms, and some explain that they do not go to school because they do not have a uniform.
At the end of November, we invited tailors from Wa, the nearest urban area, to measure the children at the school for new uniforms. After several months of work by the tailors, the uniforms were completed and ready to hand out to the children. Teachers collected one Ghana cedi (about 50 cents) for each uniform. Last week the school organized an event to distribute most of the 375 school uniforms to the lower primary school children (the equivalent of first through third grade). Two tailors were there to help kids find the best fit. 
Before getting their uniforms, the children stood stiffly in line, on their best behavior. As more and more pupils received and tried on their uniforms, they began smiling and playing with one another. Once the majority had received their uniforms, the children started jumping, dancing and clapping in rhythm. It was a wonderful way to show their appreciation. 
Now that we have distributed the school uniforms, we will monitor the impact on school attendance and retention. This week was a good, small step forward for the children in this community and is only a small part of our efforts to turn Nemoro Primary School into a model school.