2019 Parents Fund Internship Grant Reflections: Grace Pulliam

Grace Pulliam
Grace Pulliam

Internship Location: Saha Global

Journal Entry #1:

This summer, I am working with Saha Global, a NGO which works to bring healthy drinking water to rural villages in northern Ghana. There are 20 field representatives, including myself, tasked with creating 5 water treatment centers in teams of 4. We are a diverse group, residing anywhere from California to Japan. Since 2010, Saha has been recruiting field reps to work with over 170 villages in Ghana to implement locally managed water treatment businesses to over 8,000 families and 85,000 people. I am typing this entry from Tamale, and my team will be building a water treatment center in Kpeugnaya. 

This past week has been a lot of orientation. We learned all about Ghana’s culture, along with the common waterborne illnesses it harbors. A Ghanaian translator gave us a quick lesson on Dagbani, which is the language spoken in most of our assigned villages. We even created our own alum balls, which are used in the water purification process. Additionally, we visited villages with running Saha businesses and took samples of their purified versus dugout water. The difference was astounding. We finally get to visit the village we will be working in for the remainder of the project tomorrow, and I am thrilled! 

I have several goals as we break ground on our water purification business. First and foremost, I want to make a visible impact, which is to bring clean water to these poverty-stricken villagers. Additionally, I seek to form relationships with the inhabitants of our village, regardless of the language barrier. We will be aided by a translator for the entirety of our project, but it goes without question that smiling is a universal language! The people we have met so far have been amazing and I cannot wait to meet more. Finally, I want to embrace the Ghanaian culture. This trip has been very out of my comfort zone, as I knew no one going in and have never traveled abroad alone. However, I hope that I can continue to push my boundaries and embrace what is to come, both the good and the bad.  

Journal Entry #2:

Now that I am halfway through my time with Saha Global, I have a substantial amount of work to look back on. The bulk of our work has taken place these past few days. As I mentioned in my first post, a team of 3 other field reps, a Ghanaian translator, and myself are working together to create a sustainable water treatment center in an impoverished community. We have brought in all the necessary equipment and tested our water: it’s clean! After applying alum and chlorine tablets (first to three blue drums and then to a larger Polytank), Kpeugnaya’s water no longer contains E. Coli or any other harmful bacteria. This is huge for the community, as diarrhea is the number one cause of death for children under age five in Ghana. Hopefully, our treatment center will improve the community’s health and eliminate preventable deaths!

Opening day for our business is this Wednesday. Two days! We have been busy distributing safe storage containers (SSCs) to every household, further ensuring that the water will not become recontaminated after leaving the Polytank. Our community has been extremely welcoming and receptive to our ideas. The project itself has been awesome, but I have definitely run into some unforeseen challenges. For one, it has been more difficult than I expected to correspond to the villagers’ schedules. If it rains, work gets pushed back. If someone is out picking Shea nuts, try again tomorrow. If a baby is getting named, the rest of the day’s plans are cancelled. As a “let’s do it all in one day” type of person, I have had to teach myself to be patient and respect the Ghanaian people’s culture over speedy implementation. Plus, cleaning the water is a very fragile concept. If you add too little alum, the dirt particles won’t settle. If you add too much, the water will taste awful. So, when we wake up at 4:45 am and drive an hour only to find out the dirt in the drums hasn’t settled, it takes a lot for me to just add more and wait another 24 hours. 

That being said, my expectations regarding Saha and public service, in general, have significantly changed. Saha is a very unique NGO in that it does not take the “white savior” route in their water treatment centers. Instead, we are taught to delve into the Ghanaian culture and do as the villagers want. I have become amazed at how resilient the women of Kpeugnaya are. Once you give them one quick example of how to do something, they remember it forever. If you pose any question about their culture, they’ll answer it with pride. Plus, they love when we attempt to speak in Dagbani—their native tongue! In my last stretch here in Tamale, I hope first and foremost that opening day runs smoothly and everyone enjoys the water. Additionally, I want to learn more about Kpeugnaya and its people. Even with the language barrier, they have been nothing but hospitable to us, and I feel I owe it to them to learn more! 

Journal Entry #3: 

Looking back on these three incredible weeks in Ghana, I cannot help but reflect. This opportunity with Saha Global has been one of tremendous growth for me, as I have gotten to delve deeply into the Ghanaian culture while also learning how to purify water! I am forever indebted to the Parents Fund Internship Grant for allowing me to fundraise for this trip on such short notice. For context, I had less than 4 weeks to raise $3500! Thanks to this funding from this grant, the water purification center I helped implement will stay in business and continually be monitored by the Saha team for the next ten years.

In my last post, I left off two days out from Opening Day. Long story short, it went seamlessly! We distributed 30 SSCs throughout the 9-household village in the days leading up to Opening Day, and we were nervous that people would not understand when or where to come to receive their clean water. Thankfully, every SSC owner who was not out picking Shea nuts showed up to the water center that morning! The four female entrepreneurs tasked with running the water business tracked every filled bucket and correctly charged each person 30 pesewas (about $0.06 USD). Although Saha views clean water as a necessity, there has to be some sort of fee associated with each filled SSC in order to pay for the purification materials. One thing that continually amazed me about this experience was how quickly the villagers would pick up on our methods. Everything we showed them how to do, they would immediately understand and proceed to do better than we ever could. Although most of the villagers are illiterate, it is amazing how much they can achieve when given the proper resources.

Once Opening Day came to a close, we spent our remaining time in the village checking up on the households. In each household, we would sample their water and answer any additional questions they had regarding the new water business or Saha in general. It was such a relief to hear that everyone liked the taste of the water, and one family had already drank two SSCs worth of water in less than a day! For context, one SSC holds about 20 liters of water, so we were thrilled.

Going into my next year at UVA, I am especially thankful for the amenities I have. I never thought of clean water as a luxury until going to Ghana. One of the other groups worked with a village that had a dugout covered in lily pads and was full of leeches. To think that people regularly used a resource as filthy as that for water makes me sick to my stomach (and I am sure I would get sick if I drank it!). I anticipate I will apply to the Global Public Health program at the end of my second year, for I learned how passionate I am about topics concerning health, access, and quality of life. Saha Global and the Parents Fund Internship Grant made the summer following my first year at UVA better than I could have ever asked for, and I cannot wait to spread awareness about both organizations upon my return to grounds.