Opening night in Sakpalua was a success! More updates to come, but for now, here are some pictures from the evening!
Opening night in Sakpalua was a success! More updates to come, but for now, here are some pictures from the evening!
Sam and I have been having a blast in Sakpalua this week! I hope that you all enjoyed the video of building the solar center. Since then, the village has helped us plaster the building and install the solar panels. It looks great!
Once the solar center was all set up, we started training the women entrepreneurs. The village nominated 4 women to work at the center: Lydia & Damu – the two water entrepreneurs; and Fuseina & Saramatu – two new ladies! We were so thrilled that the elders nominated 4 women because it means that this great income-generating opportunity could be shared. Lydia and Damu are also planning to show Fuseina and Saramatu how to run the water business, so all four of them can manage both businesses together. Sam and I think that its going to work out really well!
On Wednesday, Sam, Shak and I showed the ladies how to hook up the battery to the inverter, and then the solar panels to the battery (through the Burro Genset which also has a charge controller). They caught on very quickly and were pros before we knew it!
When we returned to Sakpalua this morning, we had the ladies de-wire the whole system and put it back together again without our instruction. They nailed it!
After finishing up our training with the women, Sam, Shak and I distributed the Burro lanterns to the families in Sakpalua. These lanterns usually retail for 20 GHC (about 9 USD) but each family had the chance to “opt in” to the solar program by buying a lantern for 1 GHC. If they decided to pay 1 GHC, each family received 1 lantern to share. They can buy more at retail price from the women entrepreneurs at any time. Every family that we visited opted into the program and they were all so excited to receive a lantern!
Each lantern uses 3 rechargeable batteries that people in Sakpalua can rent from the ladies at the solar business for 10 pewas (about 5 cents) each. The batteries should last about a week, depending on how often each family uses their lantern. When the batteries lose their charge, people can return them to the solar center and get “fresh” ones for 10 peswas each. Just like Kurugu Vohoyilli and Wambong, people can also charge their cell phones at the solar center for 50 peswas each (about 23 cents). The ladies in Sakpalua decided that they wanted to charge the same price to charge a cell phone as the people in their village pay in Tamale. Fuseina noted that if people are willing to travel for over an hour to charge their phone for 50 peswas in Tamale, they should be happy to avoid the travel and same the same price in the village! We will see how sales go, but so far everyone seemed satisfied with the price when we explained it during distribution. Gotta love Fuseina’s supply-and-demand theory!
The only hiccup that we ran into today was that the roof of the solar center was leaking. Shak and I will be bringing a carpenter tomorrow morning to fix it so that we will be all ready for opening night tomorrow night! While we are fixing the roof, Sam will be going to Chani with Wahab to hold a meeting with the chief about bringing a solar business to their community. If all goes well, two new villages and over 1,000 people will gain access to solar electricity this month! A HUGE thank you to Next Step Living for supporting CWS’ expansion into solar. We could not do any of this work without you!
Here’s a recap from the past two days of building in Sakpalua! Enjoy!
Anula (good evening) from Ghana!
Sam and I arrived in Tamale on Thursday and got straight to work on our 3rd solar business pilot in the village of Sakpalua!
Sakpalua is a rural village of about 500-600 people located about an hour outside of Tamale. We first started working in this community in April 2012 when the Spring Fellows implemented a water business with Lydia and Dama, two awesome water entrepreneurs. Over the past two years, these two ladies have been working extremely hard and as a result, the water business as been a huge success! Lydia and Dama are able to solve most problems on their own and run their water business with little to no assistance from the CWS staff. Since Sakpalua is not on a main road, they will not have access to electricity anytime in the near future. They were the perfect choice for our next solar pilot!
Sam, Shak and I arrived in Sakpalua on Saturday morning for our first meeting with the chief and elders. We learned that most families in the village were using kerosene lamps for light, but many have stopped due the the high price of kerosene. These lamps are not only extremely hazardous to health, but are also horrible for the environment. However, there are limited options other than kerosene and most families have no light in their home once the sun goes down. Many people have cell phones, but must travel all the way to Tamale and pay high prices to charge them. The chief and elders were thrilled to hear about the solar-business idea and couldn’t wait to get started!
After returning from the village, Shak taught Sam and I how to assemble Burro’s solar Genset. The system has worked really well in Kurugu Vohoyili and we are excited to continue our partnership with Burro in this next pilot! Shak has learned so much about solar power since his first pilot with Ben and Mark in Wambong and was a fabulous teacher!
Today we started building the structure for the solar business. We used all local materials found in the village and almost 50 people came out to help build! Tomorrow we put on the roof, plaster the walls and then will bring the solar panels on Monday!
The solar center is officially open in Kurugu Vohoyili! Last night, Shak, Wahab, Amin, Eric and I all went to KV to celebrate the opening. We pulled up to the solar center and there was already a queue forming next to the shop window with community members lining up, Burro lantern in hand.
Ayi and Fuseina met us at the door to the center and opened up the shop for business. It was Wahab, Amin and Eric’s first time seeing the solar business in KV and they were impressed! We immediately got to work unwrapping more power strips and plugging them in to make slots available for people to charge cell phones. There wasn’t much time. The crowd was getting rowdy outside the shop. People were demanding batteries.
Shak and I had a quick pep talk with Ayi and Fuseina. “Ok so who is going to run the window taking battery orders and handling the money? Who is going to load batteries and keep track of sales?” Fuseina took the window and Ayi grabbed the sales book. The shop window was pushed open for Fuseina to take the first customer.
Within a few minutes, there was a problem. Everyone had come to the shop with big bills! Customers were holding 5 GHC and 10 GHC notes to purchase 10 pesewas batteries. The women did not have enough small change for these kinds of transactions. Shak and I hadn’t thought of this. We had a quick meeting with the chairman who suggested that those who have small change pay for their batteries tonight and the rest of the households will be held accountable to pay the women tomorrow. I was worried. I wanted to make sure Ayi and Fuseina actually received their money. The chairman reassured us that the women would be paid back the following day and that in the future, people would come to the center with smaller coins. That’s the plus side of doing business in a community network like Kurugu Vohoyili.
We got back to work. Ayi and Fuseina were getting overwhelmed. With the rate of sales, Ayi had too much on her plate: recording sales, handing Fuseina charged batteries and replacing batteries in to the empty slots. Shak helped Ayi with the sales book, Wahab, Eric and I handed Fuseina charged batteries and replaced the empty slots. Opening night will be their busiest night because in the future, community members can come buy batteries or bring their cell phones to charge at their leisure throughout the day. It will take time for the women to get used to the process of counting money, replacing batteries and keeping track of sales. Shak and I will continue our training with the women later this week when we go back to monitor.
The women ran out of charged batteries, it would take a couple of hours to charge up more. There are only 15 battery chargers (4 battery slots per charger) at the center. Meaning only 60 batteries can be charged at once, giving 20 households 3 batteries each for their lanterns. This would only be a problem opening night.
Amin had been outside helping customers put batteries in to their lanterns and socializing. He came in to the shop when the women finished sales and said, “Oh, the people are happy. I saw one man just playing with his lantern trying all 4 light settings about 15 times, then he ran home to show his family. Wow!” Indeed, customers had all run home with their new solar charged, battery-powered lanterns. I peaked outside and only the chairman and some small children were left. Ayi and Fuseina let out a sigh of relief. They did it!
What a whirlwind of a night but overall a success. We are looking forward to monitoring the solar center’s progress and talking to families to see what they think of the center and the lanterns. A big thank you to Next Step Living for funding this solar pilot, Burro for our new partnership in bringing solar gensets and lanterns to rural communities and Mark and Ben who developed the first solar pilot in Wambong. Monitoring and household survey reports to come!
Yesterday, we arrived in Kurugu Vohoyili nice and early to finish training the women and to start approaching households with lanterns. It has been HOT in Tamale, so we wanted to beat the heat. Ayi and Fuseina were ready to start when we got to the center. As we had explained to them yesterday, they would have to wire the solar panels to the battery and set up the genset all on their own. Ayi laughed when I told her this and said, “oh we will try.” They were able to do it!
We started plugging in power strips and battery chargers in to the genset to ensure that everything was working. Shak and I gave Ayi and Fuseina a few scenarios to see if they were comfortable with all of the information. We pretended to be customers, asking how much it would cost if we charged x amount of phones or x amount of batteries and what that would look like in the sales book. We also tested the entrepreneurs on how many cell phones and batteries could be plugged in at once and had them look to the genset infographic for guidance. They got everything right! We decided to teach them how to use tally marks in groups of 5 to make it easier to keep track of sales. Ayi said they had never gone to school and asked if it was even worth it to try and teach them. Shak and I said yes! And within a few minutes they grasped the concept. Ayi and Fuseina are sharp. We completed training by practicing to insert batteries in to the chargers, opening the battery slots of the lanterns and turning the genset on and off. We decided to let the solar panels charge up all day. This morning, the women will charge the batteries to open for business tonight!
After training, Shak and I visited all 22 households in Kurugu Vohoyili asking families if they would like to participate in the lantern program for 1 GHC. Every single household joined! We briefed each family on the lanterns and the solar center. We told them that they had to pay for the batteries and to charge their cell phones so the women would have money to fix broken parts, to buy more batteries and to earn a profit for their hard work. We also discussed the health benefits of using this lantern instead of kerosene or lead acid battery powered torches. If any household loses a battery, they will have to pay the women 3 GHC to replace it. Everyone seemed excited and receptive to the system. Tonight is opening night. We will head to Kurugu Vohoyili after dark with the rest of the CWS Ghana staff. We can’t wait!