As we walk through Babianeha, Kojo (Emmanuel’s brother and a teacher) tells us of how the village was in his childhood. In those days, the dry and rainy seasons were about the same length, and Babianeha was a typical cocoa farming community. But the dry season started getting longer as desertification advanced into Ghana, and eventually most of the cocoa failed. The people of the village had not been ready for this, Kojo explains; they had not considered education particularly important, and their children, like them, knew only cocoa farming. Education, he says, is perhaps the ultimate solution, the one factor that can solve many problems, including sanitation and water management.
Sanitation especially is a problem, because pit latrines are beyond the means of many families. There is a man who will dig, entirely by hand, a fifteen meter deep hole suitable for a latrine or a well and then reinforce the sides with concrete, but his fee for this service is 100 Ghana Cedis. As a consequence of this price, many people either use the increasingly dilapidated public latrines, or simply relieve themselves wherever. The public latrines are a very simple design; a large pit is dug, and wooden boards are spaced across the top, leaving gaps for people to urinate and defecate through. But the same change in the weather that made cocoa farming unfeasible is also responsible for driving up the price of wood as fewer places are suitable for lumber trees. Thus, money for repairs and maintenance simply isn’t available.
This is also true of the pumps that supply most of the village with its water. There were originally two pumps, both built by the government of Ghana in the 1970s, but these were shoddily made and continuously broke down. Eventually they were deemed irreparable, and two more pumps were built in the 1980s. These pumps have been more reliable, but they still break down every so often and remain broken until the money to fix them is available. The village attempted to pay for the upkeep of the pumps by charging money for their use, but this has been unsuccessful—when locks were put on the small fence surrounding one of the pumps, it wasn’t long before the locks were broken and people were obtaining their water for free.
People just about everywhere prefer getting something for nothing over having to pay for it, but so many attempts to improve Bebianeha have failed because there is no one willing to pay. The school house needs basic maintenance and structural repairs to its walls, in addition to new windows and doors. Indeed, one of the village elders, David Kwame Chibi Chibi, told us that the school needs these repairs before it needs computers—there is simply no way to secure them in the school from theft.
But the village has been doing what it can. While the economy of Babianeha is still dependent on farming, they have switched mostly to vegetable farming, and the tomatoes that they grow are sold in Accra. The current village chief is a fairly young man, and he is stressing the importance of education for children. There are some needs the village has that are beyond the scope of the Pavlis Institute, such as their need for a public health clinic. There is a private clinic in the neighboring village of Kofi-Badukrom, but the nearest free clinic is seven miles away in Dormaa, and the roads are often all but impassable after a heavy rainfall. Still, there are definitely plenty of projects for the village that the next cohort should be able to bring to fruition, and our research should help.
This blog is a record of the experiences of eight students from Michigan Technological University while working on projects in Ghana as part of the Pavlis Institute for Global Technological Leadership. The students are divided into three project groups (the laptop group, the library group, and the sanitation group), and may not always be in the same place at the same time. A brief summary of the projects can be found by clicking on the names of the groups.