Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Village Visit Three - Back to New Longoro

The dust has finally settled on our third and final village visit, so I thought I would fill you in on what we got up to, before following up this evening with some overdue updates on the projects.

This visit differed in many ways from the previous two, not least because we actually had something physical to show to the villagers. These prototypes are the result of five weeks of collaboration with welders and workshop managers in Suame Magazine, and indeed the villagers themselves. The aim of the visit was not simply to showcase a bunch of cool technologies, however. The teams were desperate to hear the villagers input on the usability and efficiency of the prototypes, with a view to incorporating these suggestions into the prototypes displayed at the final presentations this Monday.

Rather than focusing on one village, participants instead each visited a cluster of three/four villagers, to make sure that the villagers got to see as many of the prototypes as possible, given that we had talked so much about them on the previous two visits. Each village thus got to see four different teams present, and thus you can imagine we caused quite a stir as we loaded off the bus on arrival! I personally had the opportunity to travel back to the cluster including New Longoro, the site of my first village visit over four weeks ago, and it was inspiring to see the sense of ownership the villagers placed in projects that they had helped to transform from problems to prototypes.

Loading the goods into the van was an experience in itself. We had with us the Groundnut Threshing, Chlorine Production, Kid Friendly Latrine and Shea Oil Extraction teams and as such had quite a few bulky prototypes to try and squeeze around the twenty or so bodies also making the trip! However, looking around us to the other buses loading up (including the gargantuan rice thresher and playground carousel) quickly put our troubles in perspective!

The electro carousel generator, while irrevocably cool, was a nightmare to transport!

We set off in the early morning and thus arrived into New Longoro just in time for lunch at Pastor George’s house. After a healthy serving of Palava Suace and Yam (courtesy of the hospitable Comfort) we made our way across to the Mango Tree, to begin setting up for what would turn out to be a pretty momentous meeting. Quite a few of the teams were actually quite nervous about presenting their prototypes, given how much was riding on the villagers reaction to them. They would not have been assuaged by the huge numbers of children and adults beginning to assemble for the event!

An expectant grouping of elders awaits...

We are lucky enough to have a direct link to the village committee in New Longoro, due to the fact that the chief of the village, Daniel Kanter, is a participant at this year’s summit! The relationship that has been built up with this community due to D-lab’s continued involvement in it seems an apt example to highlight the importance of strong partnerships in development. Another example of how these ties are constantly being strengthened came with a quick presentation made before the teams introduced their own individual projects.

Amy presented the primary school with some supplies which had been fundraised by a school in her home town of Lexington, Boston. The villagers were absolutely delighted with the supplies, and we were just about to get underway when Daniel presented Amy with something much more valuable. He told us of how their village had been without a Queen Mother for some time now, and that they had finally decided on who that should be. He duly brought out an elegantly crafted stool that he gave to Amy, making her the Queen Mother of New Longoro. This was not in any way a token gesture. In the chiefdom setup, the Queen Mother is the only one with the power to rebuke the chief in public, as well as choosing the next chief of the village!

Amy was absolutely delighted with this warm gesture from the village

Amy tries out her new seat, and her new position

Once the formalities were over and done with, it was time for the much anticipated project presentations. The crowd were in raptures as the first the Shea Oil team presented, quickly followed by Chlorine Production and Kid Friendly Latrine. It was the final presentation of the Groundnut Threshers that really provoke the most vociferous reaction from the villagers. The team has developed a number of handheld and mechanized prototypes for threshing groundnuts, a time intensive process. Every member of the team got to demonstrate a particular prototype and each time, they held aloft the threshed plant to raucous cheers from the crowd!

Daniel introduces the Shea Oil project to the group with his teammates

Timo, also native to New Longoro, translates for his Grounnut Threshing team

The real interaction between the villagers and the teams came outside of the formal presentations, however. Each team set up their prototype and encouraged the villagers to come forward any attempt to use it, and the children present at the meeting certainly didn’t need to be asked twice! A scramble ensued to see who could grab the threshed groundnuts, before the kids made their way over to the Kid Friendly latrine team, to try out their prototype. The adults present were also not slow at providing feedback for the teams, and all seemed genuinely in understanding not only how the project worked, but also how it was made, which was a crucial point.

This was hugely useful to the participants in two ways. The feedback they received and the testing questions they were asked served to provide much food for though as regards their final designs, and they are excited to see how these changes could be implemented. More importantly though, it also served to excite the participants about their own projects, when they saw the unbridled enthusiasm that potential end users had for the early stage prototypes. Stephen Gerrard, from the Chlorine Production team, highlighted this mid way through the visit when he spoke to the group about how unsure his team had been about the potential usability of their product among the people who would need it most. “There is a huge difference between discussing concepts and actually talking to the people who will be using the product”, he said. “Actually having fifteen or so young men come up to me and ask how they could go about making some Chlorine Production prototypes of their own has had a big impact on how I view the project”.

Stephen's Project was a hit with the villagers

Radikha finds quite a lot of interest in the sketches of her teams Kid Friendly Latrine design

Casserdy attempts to control the unruly mob of kids eager to try out his teams hand washing facility!

Gago shows the village women their adjustable seat flap, a central part of their design

Gago shares a joke with some of the kids, eager to teach him how to click his fingers!

After an intense couple of hours, we eventually managed to leave the mango tree meeting, not without half of the children following us back to George’s house though! We were up early the next morning for the next leg of our journey, a trip to the smaller village of Gomboi, about a thirty minute drive from New Longoro. The presentations here also went off without a hitch, albeit to a much smaller audience given the size of the village. A short walk later found us in Dwere, where the teams would present for the last time. This time we had a fifth presenter, Amy Smith! Having seen on an earlier visit the problems the villagers had in transporting clay, she had come up with a solution, and then worked on creating it in Suame. Needless to say the village women loved it!We also brought with us the tools necessary to make a corn sheller, to teach any of the villagers who had shown an interest when we demonstrated the technology a couple weeks back.

The village elders in Dwere

Eric and one of the Dwere men see the funny side of things

A kid tries out the seat during the Kid Friendly Latrine presentation in Dwere

Amy shows off the clay carrier to the villagers

The village women showed great interest in Amy's prototype

IDDS, making it's presence felt on the world map

The only tools and materials one requires to make a corn sheller

A variation on the corn sheller developed by Jessica Huang, an organizer at this year's IDDS

At this point in our journey, our paths diverged, with some of the teams staying in Gomboi and the others back in New Longoro. The Groundnut Threshing team still had some work to do and as such remained behind in Gomboi with Amy. The rest of us made our way back to the pastor’s house, before deciding on gifts for the villagers who had been so hospitable to us over our three visits. A group of us even managed to get up at 6am for a 22 man game of soccer with some of the kids we got talking to the evening before. After teaching us a couple of lessons in fitness and finishing we decided to give our ball to the kids, who will probably make better use of it than we will!

Throughout these village visits there has been a huge amount of scope for teams to break away from the itinerary of the trip in order to accomplish their own specific goals. The ICT Enabled Baby Monitoring team took full advantage of this on this village visit, completely changing their plans for the weekend. A day into their visit, they realized that they were not yet a stage to present their project to people in the villages, and made their way back to the hostel to keep working on their project. An intense 48 hours later, they made their way to another nearby village, conveniently on baby weighing day, and got some great feedback on their prototype there.

Evan and Mensah playing around with their prototype on the way into the village

Paulina and one of the health workers test out their prototype

Miguel Chaves, also of the ICT team, with some of the village kids

Everyone I spoke to on my return from the villages had a positive experience on this final visit, and the vast majority had also got some great information for their project too. Sometimes incredibly simple things can often be overlooked by teams as they get caught up in the intricacies of their design. The Rice Threshing team ran onto this on their visit, with the standout comment being, “how can you make it bigger, and thresh more out of it?”. The rice team had been understandably worried about the size of their rather large machine but when looking at it from a rice farmers perspective, one can easily understand how quantity could be the major issue!

One of the village chiefs tries out the Rice Thresher, as Hazwan watches on

Ben presents the village chief in Adumkrom with a football - always a hit in Ghana!

The presentations provided a huge amount of entertainment for the kids!

Patricia Tarwaile with one of the village kids


Bopreneur said...

Wonderful blog, Niall. What a great process the teams are working through with the villages!

Unknown said...

I usually go with my family to a some village specially because we like to know the people and the places. I believe the people are more helpful and kind than people of the city.
I love to go with my couple, he usually buy viagra and we enjoy too much our privacy.

Unknown said...

I love the village where there aren´t a lot delincuence, I prefer the quiet place and with too much vegetation. That is why i was interested in this blog, is really interesting and helpful. Actually i was looking houses because i am really interested, and i found costa rica homes for sale i think is wonderful.