Thursday, March 02, 2006

What the hell do I do?

So people are curious about my job. I’m pretty curious about it too, and am still in the learning process – when that’s complete, I’ll be better able to define the role I’ll be playing for the next while. But I’ll provide some background here.

I’m working for the Community Water and Sanitation Agency (CWSA), which is a governmental body dedicated to providing safe drinking water to rural towns and communities throughout Ghana. Ghana is split up into regions, similar to our provinces, and I am based in the largest of these, the “Northern Region.” In the Northern Region, there are three main water projects going on that are overseen by the CWSA: one is funded by CIDA (this is the largest project), another by the European Union, and the last one by the AFD (the French development agency).

Basically, the idea behind the projects is to provide these communities with access to safe drinking water, and to couple this with education on health and sanitation, and the installation of latrines. The overall goal is to improve the health of these communities.

The water comes in a few forms: it can be from boreholes (which are deep and narrow holes dug by a machine), from hand-dug wells, or from mechanized systems that use boreholes to distribute water to small towns. Ground water is generally very safe and free of contaminants, although high fluoride has been a problem is certain regions. Without point sources, communities will often seek their water from sources that are at high risk for contamination (e.g. bacterial, Guinea Worm), such as rivers or ponds. The members of the community (notably women) also must often walk huge distances to collect this water, which is a pretty massive drain on time that could be used in other ways.

The education component seeks to teach proper sanitation techniques: such as hand-washing after going to the washroom, keeping borehole sites clean, good kitchen cleanliness, etc.

This is a very brief overview of what the CWSA is aiming to do. Their role is basically that of a facilitator in this process – they make sure that all of the stakeholders are working together and communicating effectively. They also help to ensure that standards (e.g. water quality, latrine construction quality) are set and maintained. The projects themselves are implemented by many different levels of people, from the grassroots to the private sector to the district level to the CWSA.

My role thus far has been primarily doing monitoring and evaluation of the performance of one of these stakeholders – local non-governmental organizations called “Partner Organizations.” They’re responsible for helping communities set up accounts to pay for operation and maintenance of their water point, as well as for some hygiene education. I’ve been travelling to meet with various PO’s in order to determine how effective they’ve been, and what problems they’ve encountered that need to be addressed.

I know, doesn’t sound too technical, but EWB volunteers are more often than not involved in improving the deliverables of a given project, instead of tinkering with pumps and motors. I’ll keep everyone posted on the direction I take in my project!

In other random news, I visited a village yesterday and ended up carrying a large bucket of water on my head back to the village from their borehole, just to see what it was like. I’m not going to lie – it was ridiculously hard work, and I was made to feel pretty emasculated when I saw children as young as seven carrying comparable buckets on their heads without even breaking a sweat. I don’t think my neck is used to this type of work. I was also given a gift by the chief of the village: two live birds (kind of looked like pigeons). I probably won’t eat them.

Oh, and I’ve moved into a family compound. One of the sons, Samed, runs a little movie rental place out of the house. Him and his friends like sitting around their shop listening to music. Today I came home from work to find them listening to Dolly Parton and some 90s-era boybands. I was pretty horrified, so I went to my room and got a CD by the Scottish indie pop band “Ballboy” (A Guide for the Daylight Hours – one of my favourites!), and had them put it on. So they were blaring this Scottish pop music onto the streets of Tamale, and seemed to like it. I kind of felt like an indie cultural imperialist, but I figured that I was battling the much more nefarious foe of American Corporate Rock, so I’ll sleep soundly tonight.


Laura said...

you indy rock, snobs. the snobbery never ends with you people.

you put quotes around the "Northern Region"; does that mean it's not actually called that? What's it called?

where did you put your new birds? you should name them. how about antony and cleopatra?


Steve-o said...

Seriously Luke. The only thing worse than American cultural imperialism is indie-rock imperialism. Well...maybe not. But still. Why not give them some Philip Glass or some Bach or some Miles Davis or something?...sheesh.

I also tend to get the "what the hell do you do?" question a lot. Which is usually followed by "so what the hell do you do all day?" I guess there's a single similarity between our respective professions.

You'll be happy to know UofT people are pushing the EWB cause with the Bay Street rich folks here in Toronto. Read this.

You should give your birds to someone who will actually eat them. Or sell them for some cool Dolly Parton records...but please god no more Ballboy.

Weinstein said...

I saw this British show about hunting pigeons. Apparently the only good part to eat is the breast.

First you cut off the wings. Then you remove the head as closely as possible to the breast. Finally you sort of peel the skin and feathers off.

Just in case you do decide to eat them after all.


Gail said...

So what's wrong with Dolly Parton? Much as I like Ball Boy (sorry Steve) did you relly have to introduce Scottish cynism and irony instead?

Dr. Fish said...

Great interview in the Western Gazette!!! That's going in my Luke Brown Shrine. I would also like to know what the Northern Region is really called. Why the secrecy??

Unfortunately, the technologies you are using fall under an Exxon patent and we are going to have to shut down your operation if you don’t give us half your budget. This isn’t extortion, it’s capitalism. If you don’t like it, do development work in Cuba.


Anonymous said...

Very pretty design! Keep up the good work. Thanks.