(IAP ’14) John Maher,G

John was awarded funding over IAP 2014 to continue building upon the work he completed over Summer 2013.  John traveled to rural Ghana to build toilets for Gbalahi Village, which currently has no sanitation facilities.  John worked with the villagers in a participatory fashion to design a small building of toilets that is appropriate to the climate and culture.

First Post  2/07/14

This time in Tamale is already much easier.  I know the city, the people and a very small part of the language.  Tamale is currently the fastest growing city in West Africa so a lot here has changed in the last 6 months.  There is new construction everywhere, there is more traffic, and it’s becoming more expensive as people come.  They’ve begun to extend the paved part of the road out towards the village.  It’s still about 5 miles away, but maybe one day it will get there.

It’s the dry season now, and last time I was here it was the beginning of the rainy season, so the landscape is very different, every thing is burned out and incredibly dusty.  Riding on the road out to the village everyday is like driving through a red cloud.

I’m two and a half weeks into this new project in Gbalahi, which is about a mile past Taha on the same road.  It’s moving fast.  I’m building a different type of toilet this time around.  Gbalahi has a water problem, their pipes run dry often so they can not sustain a pour flush toilet at this point.  The community decided that a water-less KVIP toilet was the best option at this time.  I’m building it so that in the future if water is not as scarce it can be renovated into a pour flush toilet.  The Beginning

I’m working with one of the mason whom I worked with last summer, which makes this project a little easier and faster.  I know how to communicate with him and he already knows how I want to build the toilet block.  I’m also working with two other masons from Gbalahi.  One of the masons is the assembly man for the village, and he speaks English well.  I don’t have as many communication issues as I had last summer.  This community is different, it’s less dense than Taha and the toilet block has not become the center of attention in the town.  The people are still very excited about it.

So far we have finished building the holding tank and poured the slab to start building the rooms above the tank.  Next we’ll build a small foundation for the rooms and privacy wall.  After Pouring Concrete Slab

Yesterday I got to see how the men in Gbalahi build their traditional mud huts.  The building takes about one week to complete and involves everyone in the area around the house working together.  The mix the earth with water so it’s a thick mud, then they roll it into balls and a traditional mason forms them into a wall.  Traditional Construction


Gbalahi is one of 3 villages in Tamale that still makes traditional clay pots.  One of the reasons for this is the village sits on a large clay deposit.  This pots are gigantic and the women carry them on their heads.  The mold them and then build a large fire on the ground of the village to fire them.  I have asked one of the women if she would make me a small pot to bring back to the US.

Traditional Gbalahi Pots




John  traveled to rural Ghana to build toilets for Taha Village, which had no sanitation facilities.  John worked with the villagers in a participatory fashion to design a small building of toilets that is appropriate to the climate and culture

Final Post and Some Pictures

The toilet is completed and it opens on Friday, August 30th.  We’ve made instructional poster with pictures of proper use of the pour flush toilet.

On my last day in Taha Susan and I were invited to the chief’s compound where we were given thanks and some parting gifts by the chief and the elders.  The chief  presented me with a traditional Dagomba shirt made of thick Kente cloth.  The men that were helping with the toilet block wrote the date on each of the concrete man hole caps for the toilets holding tank and “Constructed by Mr. John” in the slab while I was away.

I attended the Friday prayer at the mosque, that was a great experience.  I was honored when the Assembly Man had the entire Mosque pray for my safe journey back to America and that I would one day return to Ghana.



Meeting with the Taha Elders asking questions about the type of toilet they would like and where they would like to build it.





Call to work in the village, digging the hole for the holding tank.



Making the concrete blocks.



Building the holding tank.





Reinforced slab over the holding tank.



Our first users.



The beginning of the rooms.



Isahaka, one of the masons, and the plumbing from the rooms to the tank.









Pouring the footings.



Awal’s children






Finished Toilet





Post 3 — June 23rd, 2013

It’s the beginning of my last full week in Tamale and the latrine block is going great.  The holding tank is finished and we’ve begun the construction of the water closet rooms.  The first two courses of block have been laid for the veranda and the first three courses of the rooms have been laid.  We set the pipes and the traps for the squat plates today, so tomorrow we will tamp the backfill, pour the floor slabs, and place the squat plates in the concrete.
The project, so far, has been a huge success, it’s become a gathering place for the community everyday to help with the work and check on the progress.  Yesterday we were honored by the presence of the chief, who from what I understand rarely leaves his compound.  This project is the closest I could get to being immersed in the community without actually living in it.  The communication has gotten so much better, and I’m learning more and more Dagbani everyday.  The elders come and try to teach me words, but mostly we just laugh.  All of the children have learned my name, and some of them speak some english.
One of the things I really enjoy is the communal lunch I provide everyday.  One of the woman cooks a large pot of rice and sauce and we have eight spoons and we sit on the ground and take a break with some cold sachet water.  After we all have our water the men blow up the bags and pop them loudly, which they think is hilarious.
I’ve been introduced by the guys working to a new drink called Puha, it’s made locally and you drink it from a plastic bag.  The drink is made from water, puha fruit, ginger, sugar, and pepper.  It’s delicious.
Our friend LaKisha (DUSP) arrived yesterday to check out Tamale, Pure Home Water, and the toilet block.  Tonight were going to Mike’s, a restaurant that has local food and great pizza.


Post 2 — June 9th, 2013

The last few days have been full of surprises and productivity.  My first day in Tamale I toured a few different schools looking at local examples of toilets, both good and bad.  After the tours I went to Taha, the local village to talk to the school principal only to find out that another NGO had started building a latrine block for the school two weeks earlier.  So I went a little further down the street to a school that is Pre-K to 2nd grade and their principal has welcomed a toilet block for the school.

Susan, Michael (operations manager of Pure Home Water), Awal (factory manager of Pure Home Water/Dagbani Translator/Taha Villager) and I met with the Taha Village Assembly Man, he is in charge of the village development.  We decided with him where the latrine block would be constructed next to the school, and we arranged a meeting with the elders of the village and the village chief.

The next day Michael and I went around the town sourcing materials to begin budgeting the project.  Since construction can not commence until after the meeting I went around with Michael on Pure Home Water business.  I saw most of the city, went to the market, the slaughterhouse, the welder, the mechanic, and tried every type of food and drink that Michael suggested.

The meeting with the elders was very interesting.  It started with us walking around and shaking hands with the seated elders, and a prayer.  We explained to them what we wanted to do and they immediately agreed that it was a good idea.  We talked about the size and the type of toilet.  The project became larger than anticipated at this meeting.  The latrine is going to be a WC with a pour flush system, and it will be a public toilet, so the men and women will have to pay a small amount to use it so it can be pumped out and maintained.  The meeting closed with a prayer and the assembly man, Awal, and a few others decided since the toilet was public it should be moved slightly.  We remeasured the site for the hole and the villagers began digging.

I went to the site today since no work was done on Saturday to find the hole halfway dug but there is a problem with half of the hole.  3 feet from the surface the men have hit bedrock and can’t dig through it.  We shifted half of the hole and hopefully tomorrow the digging will be finished.

At the end of the day Awal and his wife invited me for dinner where we ate fufu, groundnut soup and some part of a cow.  The local children now know me as John rather than suleminga, and they laugh and make fun of my failed Dagbani greetings.


Post 1 — June 8th, 2013

My flight arrived to a busy airport in Accra, the capital city of Ghana, at around 8:30pm.  I made it through customs where the officer stamped my passport with the wrong year and I had to tell him it was no longer 2012.  I made my way to baggage claim where it took  two hours to retrieve my bags from baggage claim and made my way to an MIT Alums apartment in the ex-pat part of town with Susan Murcott and her friend Jane.

While in Accra I went around town to buy food, phones, and bus tickets for our group with Jasper, Susan’s friends driver.  In Ghana most transactions happen in the markets or on the side of the road.  Everyone here is very nice and very helpful, you haggle for everything and never except any price more than two thirds of the original.  Later on LaKisha (DUSP) arrived and we went to meet her friends and ate some delicious food.  Red-Red is black eyed peas in a tomato sauce with fish onions and peppers and fried plantains on the side.

The next day we met with two Gates Foundation projects Waste Enterprisers and WiMi.  WiMi is trying to turn human waste into a pellet fertilizer for farmers in Ghana and Waste Enterprisers is drying human waste and selling it as fuel for cement kilns.  Both projects are still in a very early stage and are trying to get them implemented.

The next morning I took the 7am bus to Tamale 13 hours away.  The bus stops in small towns for food and bathroom breaks, and in Kumasi, the second largest city, on the way.  I bought some chicken and jollof rice that I ate on the bus.  The drive was really long but it was nice to see different towns and how the buildings change from place to place.  From Accra to Tamale the landscape goes from sub-tropical to more of a dry plain, passing by mountains and forest.

I’ve settled into Tamale, Ghana, where I’ll be living for the next month.  I’ve only been here for four days but it seems like much longer.


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