Alumna Partners With Water Treatment Non-Profit In Ghana
Published: Monday, March 18, 2013
Updated: Monday, March 18, 2013 22:03
Last June, Brianan Kiernan, BC ’12, joined the non-profit organization Community Water Solutions (CWS) as the Ghana country director.
CWS partners with rural communities in developing countries to establish sustainable water treatment businesses. The organization is currently working in 49 communities in the Northern Region of Ghana.
Kiernan graduated from Boston College with a degree in international studies and was interested in pursuing a career in development.
“I was interested in development and microfinance and wanted to work at an NGO after graduation,” Kiernan said. “But it’s very hard to get into the NGO world right after school.”
Kiernan had gained experience with CWS during Winter Break of her senior year when she traveled to Tamale, Ghana.
She participated in the organization’s fellowship program, which teaches students about the global water crisis and inspires them to become leaders in the field of international development.
“Right before graduation I didn’t have a job lined up,” Kiernan said. “I had enjoyed my experience with the fellowship program so much that when CWS posted a job for the Ghana country director it seemed like the perfect opportunity.”
As the country director, Kiernan rotates through the 49 villages where CWS has implemented water treatment centers, spending four to five days in each village.
The organization uses a hands-on approach to engaging communities as owners, operators, and customers of the local water businesses.
“The businesses have to be owned and run by the communities because the villagers are the ones drinking the water,” Kiernan said. “People wouldn’t take us seriously if we were there every single day running the whole operation.”
CWS trains two women in the village how to use locally available technologies to treat enough water for their entire community. These two women ultimately run every aspect of the water treatment business.
The technologies used to purify the water are simple and inexpensive. Kiernan said that water purification techniques used in high-income nations, such as filters, are neither economically nor technically feasible in developing countries.
“Kate [the co-founder] was working with another NGO in Ghana before CWS that worked with ceramic water filters,” Kiernan said. “She found that the filters were breaking and that it took days to get only a few cups of water which ended up being really, really muddy anyways.”
Instead, CWS treats the water with two products: alum, which removes the muddiness and turbidity from the water, and chlorine, which disinfects the water. Both of these products are sold in local markets throughout the Northern Region of Ghana.
In addition, the water businesses do not use containers that have any mechanical parts or pumps that have to potential to break and would take months to repair.
“CWS distributes safe water storage containers to every household in the community,” Kiernan said. “The women transport the water from the dugout [the water source] to the business by hand, treat it by hand, and then it is carried by the consumer back to their home.”
Every one of the water businesses that CWS has launched are still in operation today.
“We have a strong commitment to monitoring and evaluating every business in every village that we set up,” Kiernan said. “For the first six months of the business, we go to the village once a week to supervise the progress of the business.”
CWS will not work in a new community unless it has the funding to follow-up and monitor the business for a minimum of five years.
Every water treatment business is a for-profit business. Community members pay a small fee to fill their containers with water from the treatment center, which allows the women working at the center to generate enough capital to sustain the business while making a small profit.
“CWS trains the women running the businesses how to manage the revenues from the water sales,” Kiernan said. “This ensures that the businesses will be sustainable in the long run.”
Right now, CWS only works in sustainable water treatment. But in the next few years, Kiernan says that the non-profit may expand its horizons.
“We just invited all of the fellows to submit their own ideas for a project based on the same model as the water treatment center,” Kiernan said. “The winners had this great idea for a solar panel project.”
The winners of the fellowship contest will come to Ghana in the fall to launch a pilot of their project.
“If the project is successful, who knows, CWS may be working in both water and electricity in the future,” Kiernan said.