Eda Reed ’16 and Morganne Hodsdon ’16 are on the team at Saha Global, a nonprofit dedicated to helping residents of the northern region of Ghana get access to clean water.
Saha Global makes clean water available by turning it into a business opportunity for women in rural villages. Since 2008 the organization has launched more than 100 clean-water businesses, serving nearly 50,000 people.
Eda, who majored in environmental science, and Morganne, who majored in economics and French, tell the story.
Eda: I don’t have to tell Hawa there’s poop in her water. She knows, but until Saha arrived she didn’t have another choice. I’m standing inside Hawa’s house during one of our weekly household visits talking to her about the water treatment business my NGO, Saha Global, set up in her community of Jukuku. Saha works in rural villages in the northern region of Ghana, where Morganne and I now live, to empower women with the skills and tools necessary to give their entire community clean water for life at just over $12 a person. Sounds crazy? The complete opposite actually. We use simple materials and simple procedures. It takes just two days to train the entrepreneurs how it works, and just two locally available products (alum and chlorine) to treat the water from start to finish. Alum helps remove sediment from the water, and chlorine disinfects it. That’s it!
Morganne: It’s really quite simple. Water is a fundamental human right. Everyone, no matter where you live or what you do, needs water to survive. Not just water though, you need clean, safe water to keep yourself healthy. In developed countries, when you’re thirsty you just turn on a tap and immediately you have safe water. But for people like Fati in Namdu, getting water required a half-hour walk to a dugout to fetch water. Dugouts are manmade lakes that rural communities in Ghana and other developing nations use to collect water to drink, cook, and clean with. However, even when Fati made it all the way to the dugout with her large, heavy bucket to fill, she passed a herd of goats that just went to the bathroom in the same water she gives to her kids. Just like Hawa, Fati knew how contaminated her water source was but had no other option. She had to provide her family with dirty water and risk getting sick. That all changed when Saha showed up.
Eda: Let’s start with the Saha basics. Saha means opportunity. That’s not just our tagline, it’s the actual translation of the word ‘saha’ in Dagbani (the predominant language where we work). We’re not in the business of crazy expensive and technical water-producing machines, we produce opportunities. Specifically, opportunities for women to become entrepreneurs, providing a life changing service to their community whilst improving her livelihood. And that’s why Colby was the perfect training ground to work at Saha; I didn’t need an engineering degree to teach Mary in Vogyili our simple treatment process. I needed strong critical thinking skills, a diverse background of academic knowledge, and a willingness to jump into the fray that was always encouraged at Colby. If Saha was just drilling boreholes, then this would be the job for someone else.
Morganne: Many of my economics courses at Colby discussed differences in short- and long-term effects of a change on the market. It’s incredible if a community is able to receive access to public health solutions like clean water in the short term, but what makes the solution have a positive impact on the community is an organization’s long-term dedication to each project. Instead of just dropping off a clean water center in a community and rarely going back to check on its progress, Saha’s monitoring staff visits all of our 100 communities multiple times a month to make sure each business is running smoothly. Once we speak with the entrepreneurs of each business, we then go to households to ensure that community members are in fact drinking clean water and improving their health. Realizing the organization’s commitment to establishing real relationships with each of its entrepreneurs and communities proved to me that Saha is in a league of its own when it comes to providing clean drinking water.
Eda: Saha focuses on impact, not access. Our mission is to reduce waterborne disease so that children do not die before they turn five. The Millennial Development Goals incentivized solutions that focused on increasing water access, but access is only the first step to impacting health. People need to get clean water, but then they need to safely store that water and drink it exclusively. These behaviors are particularly difficult to achieve in rural villages where open defecation combined with poor hygiene practices make it easy for clean water to get re-contaminated and where convenient, yet fecally contaminated, surface water sources are free and easy water options for busy farmers.
Morganne: This World Water Day we’re celebrating clean, safe drinking water with all of our entrepreneurs, but that’s not enough. Saha has impacted almost 50,000 lives through our water businesses, but Eda and I know there are 800,000 deserving people still in need of Saha’s help in the northern region of Ghana alone. What drives us nuts is seeing millions of dollars thrown towards ineffective, bound-to-break water schemes (like boreholes in our region) when all we need is $12 a person.
Eda: It might seem overwhelming when you consider that for 783 million people worldwide, safe water isn’t an option. But when you’re talking to Hawa or Fati the solution is clear. There are viable, community-driven solutions like Saha’s businesses we can implement right here, right now. It’s as clear as the water Hawa and Fati now drink.
Want to help more women like Hawa and Fati provide clean water for their communities? Go to http://sahaglobal.org.
Editor’s Note: This post was updated to correct Eda and Morganne’s graduation year. They are Class of 2016.