Sing for Water Visit to Projects in Eastern Volta Region of Ghana: October 2005

Sing for Water is an inspired project that, via WaterAid, has been able to establish and directly fund some much needed water projects in Ghana, as the result of some amazing singing events across the U.K. Over £158,000 has been raised for projects in India, Burkino Fasa and Ghana since the start of the project in 2,002. This is the account of an extraordinary visit to some of the projects in Ghana. I feel hugely grateful to the WaterAid offices in both London and Accra for setting up this visit.

Because of my desire to support working towards sustainable change, and a notion that the need for access to uncontaminated water was fundamental, I was already committed to supporting WaterAid. That commitment has now been shaken thoroughly out of its comfort zone into a sense of urgency by the harsh reality of how many communities (in the Eastern Volta region of Ghana alone) desperately need this access to clean water—and the devastating effects of not having it.

Guinea Worm

The most widespread and gruesome problem is guinea worm infection which is a great tragedy in the region posing extensive health and economic hazards. Guinea worms breed in stagnant water so people are at risk of drinking the eggs. The worms (some over 12 inches long) hatch out and mate inside the body. When the female is ready to lay her eggs she makes a desperate bid to get out of the human body and will burrow her way out at any point causing dreadful infections and other complications. People are totally incapacitated—on average for a year—with high fevers and incredible pain.

Afram Plains Development Organisation

I was part of a team that travelled up to the Volta region for this visit, which included Helen Chadwick (Founder of Sing for Water), Susi Owusu (WaterAid London), Burhan our official photographer, Leah my 12-year-old daughter and Ibrahim, our Ghanaian driver. After a long and relentlessly bumpy 10-hour drive we arrived sticky and tired at Kete Krachi, the regional headquarters of APDO—the local NGO who are supported by WaterAid to go out into the communities in the bush and establish the projects.

Their Aims are…

  • Poverty reduction
  • Provision of safe water, hygiene and sanitation education
  • HIV/Aids prevention
  • Sustainable use of natural resources
  • Community development programmes.
  • …and through them Sing for Water money supports
  • Locating underground springs and digging bore holes
  • Training volunteers to manage and promote the clean water access sites
  • Training people to maintain and repair hand pumps
  • To construct latrines and educate villagers in their safe use
  • Promoting hygiene and sanitation education programmes in school clubs etc.
  • These projects are sustainable because the necessary awareness and skills are being passed on into the communities. APDO has a policy of working with one community at a time and staying long enough to witness the changes.

I was particularly impressed by the charismatic charm, clear intellect and emotional intelligence of Modoc, the head of APDO. He opened his heart to us within moments of our meeting, enthused us with his passion and commitment and demonstrated how he encourages his team to work as a loving family with trust and mutual respect.

We learnt about the impact of locating nearby underground springs, digging boreholes and installing pumps. Without this, women and children have to walk very long distances, several times a day, to muddy streams, dugouts and ponds to fetch water that isn’t even safe. In one region, women and children have to walk an incredible 28km round trip to fetch water. It’s too far for them to do the trip enough times a day to provide for their household, and even then the water is infested with guinea worm and other diarrhoea-causing diseases such as bilharzia.


Visit to Najole

Najole is a farming community of 445 people involved mainly in the production of yams, groundnut and millet. The language was kokomba but there was one man who spoke twi, the Akan dialect familiar to our hosts, and he acted as our interpreter. There were a few domestic animals: cattle, goats, pigs and sheep, with which the villagers competed for the scarce water that there was. They had 2 ponds that were 3km and 5km away from the village and in the dry season they had to slog 10km to Lake Volta. They knew the health risks associated with these infested water sources but there were no alternatives…and in the searing heat, women and children had to do these arduous treks several times a day to provide for their families.

After a traditional greeting, which included offering libations to the ancestors with water sprinkled on the ground, we visited one of the water sources. Hiking in that heat without carrying anything was challenging enough for me…the basins that the women and older children bore on their heads held 39 litres of water; the small children carried buckets holding 13 litres. We visited different households and learnt more. Because fetching and carrying water took up so much of the day, women are unable to help with farming activities and haven’t enough time to take produce to market. Children can’t attend school (even if there were money for books, equipment and uniforms). Also they don’t get any visitors because relatives with safe water won’t come, nor will trained teachers because of the infections. The absence of safe water clearly stigmatised their community. They felt neglected and disowned.

17 members were suffering from guinea worm disease and many more showed us the scars the worms had left behind. They also talked about the prevalence of ‘cholera,’ their term for any illness causing diarrhoea, and of malaria. They believe there would be less ‘cholera’ if they had latrines. Adults use the nearby bush (totally exposed in the dry season) and children defecate on refuse dumps.

Villagers helping to find solutions

Back together at the community meeting place, APDO set up an activity, dividing men and women and giving them the task of using natural objects to map out the village on the ground, showing the location of each household, cooking area, bathhouse, dump, crop fields, water source etc. (The men had a very different idea about distance from the dwellings of the water sources!) Volunteers then transferred the information on the ground onto large sheets of paper, making diagrams with jumbo felt tips. I got very excited by this activity because it was just like some of the drama action methods that I use in my Arts in Health training work and had the same effect of raising the energy, getting everybody involved, empowering them with a sense of responsibility and control, and giving APDO the information that they needed in order to plan the next stage of work.

Another action tool that they use in each village is to get everybody in groups to map out all the diseases in the village, what people think causes them and what people believe the cures to be. Answers tend to be wide-ranging and give APDO an insight into how many have an approach to illness rooted in superstition, traditional medicine or religion—and how many have a more contemporary, ‘rational’ approach. They then have a clearer idea as to how to start working with the situation.

The full afternoon ended with a drama being played out about the dangers of guinea worm.

A song on the same theme was sung with enormous energy by all the women and children, then a spontaneous song about our visit, begun by one man who was joined by a couple of others who turned it into a circle dance—whilst a tiny old woman did a very elemental dance around the outside. Apparently, there is a musician in each village whose role it is to create spontaneous songs to fit the occasion. Modoc then set up some rhythm and clapping games to mark the end of our visit and there followed a traditional goodbye that involved the exchange of heartfelt speeches summing up the time we had spent together. The chief tried to offer a huge gift of yams and there was some argument as APDO felt that this produce was too great for them to accept. Also, they knew that acceptance would raise expectations of them completing the work at once—and they didn’t want to make any promises that they couldn’t deliver. It was all eventually resolved with laughter and much shaking of hands.

I came away full and impressed by the skilful and respectful way APDO had worked with the villagers, managing to involve everybody of all ages and giving them a sense of ownership of the project with their fun and creative activities.


Visit to Kwame Akura

Work had been going on for just 10 months at Kwame Akura.  The changes were strikingly evident and far-reaching. I met the Queen Mother, the highest-ranking female in the tribe who is considered the wisest woman and is consulted on all matters of importance. She told us about some of the changes since the support had begun. She said that now there was no guinea worm infection, no bilharzia and less diarrhoea and malaria!

The new borehole, which is only a short walk from the village, means that women and children have time to go to the farm, do household chores and sometimes take produce to market. The money they earn means that they can buy books, etc. and send some children to school, now that they’re no longer needed to fetch water. They have time to bath their kids, provide them with clean clothes and get them ready. Everybody’s pride and dignity has benefited.  They also now have more time for cooking and even some time to play.

The men then began to speak. One said that they no longer had to rely on the women to fetch water for the farm because the borehole was close enough for them to get it themselves. They showed us how each household had created a hole with a soak away underneath for urinating in their bathhouse and then took us to see traditional communal latrines that they had built, one for women and one for men. APDO plan to work with them to develop these into safer, more hygienic ones.

I was struck by the energy with which people were reporting these changes. It was a rare privilege visiting each household, not only because of the way these people spoke with such openness but also because of their willingness for us to enter their modest little mud-walled, tin-roof dwellings. It was also one sensory delight after another as we came across chilly peppers, cassava, tomatoes, piles of grain etc spread out to dry in the sun, or watched women and children shelling peanuts ready to be roasted, ground into a paste and added to ground yam or cassava for the evening meal.

After visiting the households, we were introduced to the community’s Water, Sanitation and Hygiene committee, which included pump volunteers, guinea worm programme volunteers etc. They took us (with the help of most of the village children!) to the borehole, showed us how it worked with a simple hand pump and how they maintained and fixed it. Under a beautiful banyan tree, Modoc showed us the matrix mapping of diseases which APDO had done with the villagers and how the information had all been transferred onto graphs.

Joie de Vivre

All the children spontaneously began belting out some more songs. The men began to gather drums and next minute the whole community was dancing around the tree. What was fascinating was that children, younger women, older women and men each instinctively arranged themselves into their own line and each group did a different step. Wonderful!

We had a very moving community meeting (which started with the ritual clicking and clapping games) before we said our thank yous, exchanged our impressions of the visit, and said goodbye. There was an argument about gifts again, finally settled with smiles and handshakes. Modoc encouraged the men to support the women in making sure that the children went to school, saying that they were the new generation who could make a difference. He also told the villagers that future generations would look back and be so proud of what they had done.

I loved witnessing how this community had already been empowered to do this work for themselves. It wasn’t about someone coming in and doing it for them. That’s what I like about WaterAid. They support local people like APDO to go in and encourage the community to make the changes for themselves.

That evening, back at Kete Krachi in the canteen next door to the local prison (our daily eating place!), Modoc had arranged a social evening and invited other partners who supported the community development work in this region to come and meet us and share fufu and palm oil soup, fried plantain and yam, chicken, fish, rice and other local dishes. I was particularly interested to meet the director of a local credit union who told me that they were targeting and encouraging women to join the union in groups of 5 or 6. This enabled women to start their own small business in the market with the money borrowed and gave them the opportunity of being able to support each other with the repayments. I could see how beneficial this would be to the community we had met that day and how much it would support the changes set in motion by APDO.

Looking Back

What I’m left with is how lucky are we who are involved in Sing for Water, that we have been supporting an organization whose work in these communities is so full of love and respect, so full of fun and creativity whilst so skilled and empowering. All, in fact, that we advocate and strive for in our singing communities.

The work we saw was just the tip of the iceberg. The number of communities desperately in need, in this region of Ghana alone, is huge. The task is endless; so I’ve returned fired up to encourage Sing for Water supporters to keep the momentum going—to find new creative ways of raising money each year by dreaming up local singing events which capture people’s imagination or to get involved in the London concert next year.

Our experiences in Bangor so far have been very positive insofar as our Sing for Water events have resulted in much more direct contact with the local community, shops, and businesses who have sponsored us, and local media who love the stories, and others who get involved in some way because of a desire to support WaterAid.  I believe the events have raised the choir’s profile within the local community as well as raising over £5000.

Digital images of the Ghana visit are readily available to anyone who is fired up to do some fundraising.

NB The most recent North Wales Sing for Water event, organised by Sara Brown, raised another £3,800. Local choirs, including Coastal Voices (Abergele), The Humming Birds, Bangor Community Choir, Lleisiau’r Byd (Porthmadog) and The Bluebells, took part in a concert of world music followed by a Ceilidh in Theatr Elwy, St Asaph on Saturday 20th May.

If you want to know more about Sing for Water, my email address is, tel: 01248 712531.

Thank you for your interest,

Pauline Down