The first couple of weeks living at my site, Abutia Teti, have been both exciting and challenging. So far the Peace Corps hasn’t been a two-year vacation. I’ve been very busy working with my Local NGO, which has been subcontracted by Relief International to implement the Ghana WASH (Water and Sanitation Hygiene) project. In short, Ghana WASH is split up into “hardware” and “software” portions (I knew this engineering thing would come in handy eventually).
The main goal of the hardware portion is to work in communities to end open-defecation by subsidizing the materials to build household latrines for anyone who wants one in the community. However, there is long and sometimes complicated process to this. First, we introduce the project to the chief and elders of the community. Next, we create a water and sanitation profile of the community. Then we “convince” the community that they need to defecation in latrines, not out in the open (this step deserves a whole blog post on its own). After people agree that they need to build latrines, they must produce some of the materials (such as sand, stones, etc.) themselves, while local artisans trained by us produce the rest (bricks, roofing sheets, etc). Finally after the latrines are built, we ensure that they are properly operated and maintained.
The main goal of software portion is to ensure that community water and sanitation facilities have continued use and function. We plan to accomplish this by working with the Water and Sanitation (WATSAN) committee in each community.
In the past few weeks I’ve worked in both in the hardware and software portions in about a dozen different communities. My Local NGO is in charge of over 30 communities and each community is in a different stage of the process—so we always have something going on. I’ve had a lot of practice speaking Ewe and people are often surprised that “the white man can hear Ewe”, however I still need a lot more time until I’m conversational. Here is a photo of my co-worker and I monitoring latrine materials for each household of the community.
The most challenging part of the Peace Corps isn’t the physical aspect of living in “harsh” conditions (although I have running water and electricity most of the time) or the mental aspect of learning a new language. The most challenging part is the psychological aspect. Living in a village where you are the only foreigner can get tiresome at times. There is definitely a fishbowl effect where it feels like everyone is always watching you and there is nowhere to hide. Luckily everyone in my community is extremely friendly and always willingly to help the Yevu (foreigner). For example, the other day someone I just met gave me 5 huge avocados (or pears as they are called here). Sometimes it seems as if everyone under the age of eighteen is scared of me or nervous to interact with me. However, I’ve already noticed people have started to get more comfortable being around me, especially when I try to speak Ewe.
So far I have no big complaints with my community or work and I feel blessed to have this opportunity. Here is a photo overlooking part of my community. I will get some better shots once I climb the steep hill that overlooks my community.