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These women bring light and clean water to their community in Ghana

(Credit: Tom Murphy)

TAMALE, Ghana – A water dugout the size of a few football fields stands just outside the village of Kuruguvuhuyayili, in northern Ghana. People use the muddy water for cooking, cleaning, bathing and drinking. As do, the livestock. The combination of standing water and a place where animals defecate is a health nightmare.

But it’s not for the village located about 10 kilometers outside the northern city of Tamale. Plastic containers and chlorine tablets ensure safe drinking water for all.

For 10 pesewas ($0.02), a 20 liter bucket of water is filled from a black tank located near the dugout. A fee people interviewed thought to be fair. It is operated by Fushena, a woman entrepreneur trained by the Ghanian-American NGO Saha Global. Fushena fetches and cleans the water using chlorine tablets. She is proud of her business and the service it provides to the village.

(Credit: Tom Murphy)

(Credit: Tom Murphy)

“I am happy to be producing clean water for my community,” she said. “The benefit is too huge to measure.”

Each home in the village has a light purple water container. Each has a spigot at the bottom to dispense water and prevent contamination. The bucket is even a fixture in some homes. A newly constructed building in one compound had a raised step for the bucket, to make it easier to dispense the water.

“The clean water is healthy. I don’t mind paying,” said Abiba, one of the village residents.

(Credit: Tom Murphy)

(Credit: Tom Murphy)

“And I like that slight smell of the chlorine,” she added. “Then I know the water is clean.”

Each bucket was provided to every household by Saha. Its staff make weekly follow ups in every village. And water is tested in the homes and in the main cleaning container every month for E. coli and total coliform. The staff provide additional information on keeping buckets clean and the importance of clean water, but it is not new information to the residents.

“I can see now how bad the dugout water really was,” said Ayi, another resident. “I always knew it was bad, but there was no other option for water.”

The community dugout. (Credit: Tom Murphy)

The community dugout. (Credit: Tom Murphy)

Access to improved water sources in Ghana is high for sub-Saharan Africa. The World Bank says 87 percent of Ghanians have access to improved water. In nearby Nigeria, only 64 percent of people do. The rate of access for electricity sits at 60 percent; again on the higher side compared to other countries in the region. But there are still many people in Ghana who rely on resources like the dugout seen above and live without electricity.

Like Fushena, Avi runs a business that got off the ground thanks to support from Saha. In the middle of the village stands a singular building and a solar panel. The energy captured by the cells is stored in a generator located in the building. On the floor, a network of plugs charge cell phones and batteries for lights. Like the water buckets, Saha distributed one light per household. They are so popular that many households bought additional lights.

School studies and cooking at night were popular uses for the lights. Extremely bright, a single light illuminates an entire room. And there is a safety benefit to the lights too.

“The light helps so we can see snakes and scorpions at night,” said Ayi.

One night they found a snake in the middle of their home explained her husband. Seeing it helped avoid a bite. With poisonous snakes in the area, the light can literally be a lifesaver. And it prevents the excruciating pain caused by scorpion stings.

(Credit: Tom Murphy)

(Credit: Tom Murphy)

To charge the batteries for the light costs 60 pesewas ($0.15) and 20 pesewas ($0.05) for cell phones. Just like the water, people interviewed said they do not mind the cost. And just like the water provides additional income for Fushena, the charging station brings in money for Avi. The money helps pay for school fees and other emergencies, said both women.

“It was hard to support my children going to school, now I can pay for all of their fees,” Fushena said.

Reporting for this story was supported by the International Reporting Project.


About Author

Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]