Many thanks to Lila Holzman, one of our 2015 Summer Fellows, for submitting the following post, her second and final entry about her work in Ghana over the last month. We’re so grateful to her and wish her all the best with her future endeavors! (Don’t forget to read Lila’s previous entry if you haven’t already.)
Maachi! Good morning! This is Lila here again, back for my second and last blog entry for Potential Energy in Ghana. The four weeks have flown by, and I now find myself saying goodbye to friends made and to places now familiar. It will be strange to no longer hear Twi spoken all around me and even weirder to blend in walking down the street.
No matter how I try, blending in as a tall obruni (white person) is pretty impossible
Over the last four weeks, this project has progressed piece by piece, with each step presenting new challenges and decisions. What types of bags should we package the fuel in? Can we test the stove in such a way that it reduces fuel consumption further? Can we get electricity and an internet connection so we can work on the tracking documents? Where can we source kerosene? Which families should we target? Which families are currently fasting for Ramadan? Have we arranged the warehouse space for when the fuel arrives? The list goes on.
Cooking tests with different amounts of biomass briquette fuel
This typical dish of boiled plantains (left) that are used to scoop up the vegetable and fish stew (right, watch out for fish bones!) is considered one of the more simple dishes to cook in Ghana. It took over an hour and a half and burned through a kilogram of biomass fuel.
Power outage during a cooking test. We know the light works!
As someone committed to the idea of sustainable development, the concept of sustainability is always on my mind. For any idea or project like this one, I am always questioning: “Yeah, this sounds good now, but is it sustainable in the long term?” It is often a complicated question to answer, and it is affected by many factors.
Biomass (new) vs. Charcoal (normal)
One such factor that I find particularly important is the way in which an initiative is executed. It has been proven that bringing a foreign concept to a group of people and saying, “You should do this,” is far from the best way to implement an idea. People need to feel empowered to take something on and need to feel that they are in charge. Development projects that forget this often fail as soon as the foreign partner returns to their own country, leaving locals to run something they never felt invested in.
Many prospective clients asked, “Did the white girl bring the stove?” I might help get attention, but Man and Man staff take the lead as sales experts. I kept quiet while they did their thing.
Conscious of all this, I have worked hard to provide support to Man and Man staff, while intentionally taking a back seat along the way. Sometimes, this was very frustrating for me. At heart, I am a type-A personality and prefer to control things. I like to stick to schedules and to make sure tasks I know must get done are in fact accomplished. But I also understand that many such tasks are not in my control here, and that they must happen at their own pace. I cannot force steps to be completed faster and if I were to try, the outcome would not be sustainable. Ultimately, Man and Man staff will be responsible going forward for handling the logistics of the stove trial. They understand the local culture because they are part of it. If they can successfully execute the trial, I believe this stove initiative will be much more sustainable than if I were to attempt to work around them and force the project to rush forward. At the end of the day, if Man and Man does not feel empowered to run with this, it will not happen.
Man and Man guys mastering their sales pitch. Explaining the idea of a lease is a tough one. People like owning things, but in this case the stove is just too expensive for them to buy outright.
Overall the last weeks have felt like a bit of roller coaster – overcoming obstacles only to be met with others, but that’s all part of the fun of development work. I have faith that Man and Man is up for the challenge of moving forward from the foundation we’ve been able to establish in this first month together.
One of the multiple cooking tests organized by Man and Man. This one came with a dance party.
While confusing to me, cooking food in a plastic bag is a common practice as is cooking food long beyond what is truly necessary. While Man and Man staff acknowledge that overcooking results in food losing some of its nutrients, they know that this is one cultural norm they cannot influence at this point.
As I look back on my short month here, I reflect that I have really enjoyed getting to know Kumasi, Ghana and seeing the cookstove world from Potential Energy’s lens. While I have not been able to accomplish every task in my original work plan, I believe I have helped to get the process started and have begun identifying and evaluating critical problem areas to address. I truly hope this trial brings to light necessary information and enables Potential Energy to effectively determine the direction of their future cookstove work in Ghana. I wish all involved the best of luck!
I’m very thankful to this family for helping with our cooking tests and for teaching me to speak some Twi
I miss him already!