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Water for Life Ghana: Refurbishing Wells, Restoring Lives


By Atyya Chaudhry

In December of 2010, as winter descended upon the East Coast, an enthused and passionate Shahid Malik packed his bags in preparation of his second trip to Ghana. A year after his initial trip, Shahid returned to Ghana to continue his work on Water For Life, a collaborative effort between Humanity First USA and Humanity First Ghana in refurbishing water wells (pumps) in the northern areas of Ghana. Collectively, they have set a goal of restoring 100 water wells; these wells serve villages, clinics, and schools. “We are taking smalls steps to get there, but our hope is to even exceed 100 water wells,” says Shahid. On account of the strenuous efforts and physically demanding work of Shahid and local volunteers from Humanity First Ghana, significant strides have been made in reaching their goal of 100 refurbished wells. In his second trip alone, Shahid and his team were successfully able to restore 20 water pumps in just about a week’s time. For this trip, Shahid’s aim was to maximize efficiency through preplanning. “This year, I made all the prearrangements,” he remarks, “the pumps, the team and the trucks were all ready. It saved us a lot of valuable time.” In December, the team worked together in refurbishing pumps in Bolgatonga and other surrounding villages within a 60-mile radius; many of them were completely isolated. These villages included Baga, Daku, Doba, and Walewale, among several others.

In a country where millions of people do not have direct access to water- a basic necessity of survival, Humanity First’s impact is in the thousands. In the northern areas of Ghana, there can be 3 to 4 villages, schools and/or medical clinics that depend on one single pump for water. And if that one pump, or borehole as it is locally known, is broken then the families in all 3 to 4 villages are left with no option- they are forced to walk to and from the next available water source, which could be many miles away. “So much of their time gets wasted getting water, it could take a few hours to half a day just to get water,” comments Shahid, “once the water pump is restored, the villagers have the opportunity to focus on other important things like school and working in the fields.” The impact of 1 water pump is remarkable, but the impact of 20 water pumps is beyond astonishing. One village may have approximately 400 individuals, and if there are 4 villages depending on one pump, that is 1,200 people per pump who now have direct access to clean water for their basic needs.

Beyond access to water, Water For Life fosters an environment of learning and capacity building. The water well refurbishment project is truly a collaborative effort that is rooted in community engagement. This project bridges together the volunteers from Humanity First USA and Humanity First Ghana and also turns to the local villagers and chiefs for support. “When we go to a location, we normally ask the locals to come over, we ask the chief to come over, we ask them to lend us able body men who can work with us, side by side,” says Shahid. The local villagers work alongside the Humanity First volunteers in repairing the pumps; they have an opportunity to learn the entire process from start to finish. The locals gain hands on experience in cleaning out the sediment of the pump, restoring the pumps and utilizing the appropriate tools. By empowering the local villagers through education and engagement, Humanity First is employing tactics that ensure sustainability. Not only are the villagers outfitted with the knowledge of restoration, but also they are equipped with the necessary tools to fix the pumps- should the need arise in the future.

When talking about the future, Shahid feels that there is still a great need in Ghana for water pump refurbishment. There are hundreds of water pumps in place, but they are broken and completely nonfunctional. Shahid’s broader vision is one of building community capacity; he hopes to see Humanity First Ghana working side by side with local villagers year round in restoring pumps. “In just a short amount of time, we restored 20 pumps. Those who are there have the opportunity to restore a 100 a month, the scope of what they can do is in the thousands,” comments Shahid. Such an impact would be monumental and far-reaching for the local villages. But for now, in the short run, Shahid is planning his next trip to Ghana. He hopes to return as soon as the end of this summer and this time, he hopes to refurbish 50 pumps.

First Hand Account- Journal Entries from Shahid Malik:

Friday December 17, 2010
I left Washington D.C from Dulles Airport on United airlines flight # UA990 at 11:00PM, the flight duration was approximately 9 hours. Faiq Malik was supposed to fly with me to assist, he could not get a ticket on the same flight as it was over booked, so he ended up purchasing a flight with Delta from IAD to JFK and from JFK to LHR on British Air. Due to heavy snow in London his flight got cancelled which was supposed to leave at 10:00PM; he had to wait until 3:00AM at JFK. Furthermore, his flight went to Ireland instead of London and he was delayed longer than expected.

Saturday December 18, 2010
I arrived in Accra, Ghana at 1:50PM local time. Ibrahim Sahib, Protocol Officer, received me along with a young Khadim Mohammad Ismail from Tema and Abdul Wahab Issa Sahib, Project Manager of Humanity First. We went to the Accra mission house and met Yusuf Sahib. Afterwards we left for Tema which is about 15 miles from Accra. Our arrangements to stay over night were made in the Tema mission house as there was a shortage of water in Accra mission house.
Abdul Wahab Issa Sahib went to change our tickets leaving Accra for Tamale, as the flight was leaving too early. The arrival time of Faiq’s flight was later than our departure time and he would have not made this connection.
I went with Ismail to get a SIM card for my phone (cost for the card Ghc 5.00 + Service Ghc 55.00 Total Ghc 55.00), after which we went for lunch at a restaurant called “Frankies”. After lunch we headed for Tema mission house to shower. Following that, we went for dinner in a local restaurant at a walking distance which was called “Golden Chop Sticks”. Abdul Wahab Issa Sahib joined us at the restaurant and gave me our new air tickets (Accra/Tamale) and handed me a plastic bag full of money (GHC 14, 400.00). We came back home from the restaurant, had a cup of tea and went to sleep.

Sunday December 19, 2010
We found out that Faiq’s flight was cancelled yet again, the driver who was supposed to pick him up from the airport in the night of December 18th waited from 3:00PM until 7:00AM the next morning. All the flights out of London were cancelled for the next 24 hours due to the snow storm.
The driver came back to Tema mission house to pick me and Ismail up and take us to the airport for my flight to Tamale which left around 9:00AM. We arrived at Tamale airport at 10:15AM. My ride, which would have taken me from Tamale to Bolgatonga, was not there. I waited for half an hour or so until Tariq Sahib arrived and took me to Tamale Mission house as he was needed to deliver a fax from the HQ (Tamale mission house fax was broken). In the mission house I met Faheem Sahib, who offered us cold drinks. We left Tamale mission house around 11:30AM and arrived in Bolgatonga at 1:30PM, we had our lunch after which I left to check in at a nearby hotel.
Around 2:15 PM I left with my team to a broken borehole to start our work. This location was approximately 15 miles from Bolga. This pump (Afridev), was broken in a community of approximately 800 people and a middle school with student population of approximately 400, so this pump was catering for the need of around 1200 people. The problem with this pump was that it had too much sediment in the water and the water level had dropped. We worked very hard until night fall to refurbish this pump but due to darkness the work was postponed till next day. Our plan for the next day was to pump out as much sediment as we could with the help of a compressor and go as deep as possible to get better quality water.
We sat down with the team and planned for the next day and discussed other locations and timings. I decided it would be best to leave early in the morning to start our work. We had our dinner; I walked to my hotel room, finished my paper work and went to sleep- lights off.

Monday December 20, 2010
I Left my hotel room at 7:00AM and started with pump 1 which had problems the day before. It turns out, the problem was more complex than we thought, I decided it would be best to move to pump 2 and revisit pump 1 at the end of the day.
Our work went well on pump 2, pump 3, and pump 4. Before starting on pump 5, which was far away for a very large community, we decided to go back to pump 1 and we successfully fixed it. At around 4pm, we headed down the dirt road, into the wilderness to work on pump 5. The old pump was removed promptly, but when we started installation of the new pump we encountered hardware issues. Due to these issues, we continued our work in the darkness with our truck head lights on. We completed our work on pump 5 by 7:30PM
(Note: While traveling on the rough, stony, and treacherous road, our compressor which was tied to our truck in the back got loose and broke off, along with the truck’s Mattel bar with which it was tied to. Fortunately enough, there was no damage to the compressor. In the mean time a team went back to pick up some more pumps with the intention to do one more pump (before starting # 5) since pump 5 took too long and it was already dark, we decided to call it a day. We left the compressor in the school of the village and went back to the mission house in Bolga, as we intended to head deeper in to the wild area the next day.)
I had my dinner along with the team, I walked back to the hotel and went to sleep.
Today in the morning I purchased some tools (saw blades, file, and brushes to apply glue etc, also hydraulic oil for compressor), biscuits & fruit (water melons) for the workers.
Tomorrow we plan to complete another 6 pumps.
(Note: got email from Faiq that he is still stuck in Ireland, waiting for his confirmation of next flight to Accra.)

Tuesday December 21, 2010
After breakfast, we left for the deeper areas. We were able to complete 4 pumps today – we could have finished 2 more, but due to the following reasons we were not able to finish 6 pumps as planned.

When ever we have to replace Nira pump, we Install Afridev pumps – the problem is that the bolts on the base pad of Nira pumps are of different size and location then Afridev base holes. In this case we had to find someone in the village with some motor cycle or bicycle to take the base to the nearest town and find some one to drill holes in the base, based on NIRA dimensions, to make it fit on the base pad. It is very challenging to find some one who can ride his motor cycle with the base holding in the front and riding at the same time on a bumpy road. Distance consumes lot of time, and some times we had to wait 3 hours for one pump. There were two Nira pumps today and approximately 5 hours were lost waiting for the base to be re-drilled with new holes.

Recommendation: we should invest in a tool kit, which should contain some power tools, either they are battery operated or can be used with the compressor pressure, and also which can be carried on the truck. Some of them are power drill to make holes with drill bits, power gun to open bolts (some times it takes hour just to open old rusted bolts from the old pump), also need power saw to cut metal rods .
(Note: we received four goats and four chickens, bag full of eggs and bowl full of peanuts.)
Expense: Truck driver GHC 60.00 for three days of service. (based on GHC20.00 per day)
Tomorrow we plan to go back in the same area, it has some broken pumps, it is a very poor country side, and again the target is for 6 pumps.

Wednesday December 22, 2010
We went towards Northern areas – unfortunately today again we were not able to achieve our target of 6 pumps; rather we were very disappointed that we could finish only two pumps- pump 10 & pump 11. We went to a number of locations, but due to one reason or another we were not able to fix them (certain restrictions from the government, like the bore hole is paid by another NGO and they wanted to complete it, or water level is so low that going that deep is not possible with our equipment and pump – it would be difficult to pump water out). Another big reason being was the very rough and stony terrain; there was no dirt road, not even a path. And secondly, the locations were far apart (consumed more time driving around from one location to another, rather than doing some work). It was very dark, so I decided to call it a day.
We are not equipped with flood lights, which could have helped us working in the dark and perhaps we could have completed our task sooner. Even though we continued our work in the darkness using our truck head lights, it was time consuming because the visibility was poor and you could not see clearly.
We returned to the base in Bolga very late. We had our dinner, and I walked to the hotel and went to sleep.
The plan for tomorrow is to go to the south of our base to Walewale, which is approximately one hour drive, half way to Tamale. Ismail was suppose to arrive at Tamale airport at 10:00am from Accra – I requested Murabi Sahib to pick him up and bring him straight to the work site. Ismail wished to be part of this project and wanted to learn what it entails, he lives in Accra, Ghana and is the son of a local missionary. Ismail has completed a degree in engineering from college and is working for some company in Accra, while he resides in Tema mission house. I requested him to join my team so that we can have an extra local hand in the future. He could be very instrumental in getting some of our pre-project arrangements done. I decided to go with the team on the truck straight to work site.
(Note: I paid all five workers, each worker GHC200.00 (total GHC 1,000.00)

Thursday December 23, 2010
Today Faiq’s flight got cancelled again, I advised him to return to Washington, his ticket for Accra/ Tamale will be refunded back to HF.
In the early morning Bashir Yaqubo Sahib came to my hotel room to discuss few issues we were facing:

  1. Board Cost and installation process.
  2. Painting Boards and its cost.
  3. Disposing off old Junk Pumps.
  4. Distribution of gifts in the form of Goats, Chicken, eggs etc.
  5. Compressor problems.

Bashir Sahib asked the metal board maker to come and see me to discuss the cost of each board as well the time line for its delivery. His name is Rashid, he owns a shop which makes metal products like fences, gates etc. Price for each board was negotiated down and the amount of GHC 372.00 was paid to Rashid, with clear promise to have them delivered within two days (14 plain metal boards with legs Ghc 18 each = Ghc 252.00 and 20 boards with extra plate an additional of GHC 6.00 = 120).
I left the mission house around 9:00AM went to the gas station and filled the truck as well as the compressor with gas, I also purchased hydraulic oil & motor oil for the compressor, and started heading towards Walewale. Murabi Sahib dropped me at the Keperga Mosque which was closer to Walewale and waited for the truck to arrive so that I can accompany my team to the work site. Murabi Sahib went to Tamale to pickup Ismail coming from Accra.
There were three pumps within 1 mile radius which catered the needs of few villages and a high school. We met the principal of the high school, after greetings and introductions; we went to the work site. The first pump did not have any old pipes that needed to be taken out since someone had stolen it (these were Mark II, Indian made pumps , these pumps are good for areas where water level is deeper, but they are most difficult to refurbish). The second and third pumps were the most difficult pumps that we encountered on this trip; they had metal pipes and they were all welded together. These pumps had to sawed out and with all the water in the pipes it was extremely difficult to bring the pipe out of the main outer pipe and to cut it with a hand saw while four people were holding it from the bottom so that it does not fall into the well. These three pumps were Mark II which took us long time to completely finish. We finished by 4:30PM and we left for the fourth pump where we had Ahmadiyya Community members, we finished within two hours. Unfortunately this is dust storm season, therefore, a lot of dust was in the air and it was very difficult to see. It becomes dark before even before the night falls and on top of that, there were some fires in the mountains with heavy smoke. Therefore we decided to finish and head back to our base (visibility issue was the main reason).

Friday December 24, 2010
This day started with a good note, we left early morning and started our work by 8:00AM on the first pump, which was an hour drive from our base. Faiq arrived in Accra the night before and left Accra for Tamale in the morning at 9:00AM. Once again, Murabi Sahib took his SUV to pick him up, while I went with my team of workers to the work site. Alhamdolilah we were able to complete our first two pumps within 3 hours as they were not far apart (shorter travel time) and also they were with out any problems (straight shot).
We had our first snag of the day, when our compressor broke down, we had to call the technician, who arrived in two hours and fixed it so that we can proceed with the third pump. The third borehole was not fixable, while we were trying to find the problem we lost a couple of our fishing hooks and some vinyl strings, so we left this location after securing the borehole to revisit this hole if time permits. We found another two boreholes not far from each other, after getting tips from the locals informing us that a few miles up the mountains there are couple of broken boreholes. I divided the team in to two groups so that we can start work simultaneously on both pumps, we were able to complete both pumps within four hours, it took little longer than anticipated as there were issues with base bolts and base holes not matching, which we have to get re-drilled and re-cut according to bolt spaces from a shop in the city, which took too long. One of the pumps served a medical clinic which would help tremendously for the sick and needy. While we were working Faiq arrived at the location and started physical help along with other team members, he was having fun doing this work, so he had the opportunity to work on two pumps.
We were able to finish our last pump by 6:00PM. The pump was in the village where the Chief King of the area resides. He also benefited from it. We were not able to complete our 21st pump as it was too dark again.
After Dinner around 10:00PM we went to see the boards; they were ready to be painted. When we arrived there we found out that it was closed and the boards are locked in one of the rooms for which the security guard did not have the key, so we decided to come back first thing in the morning.

Saturday December 25, 2010
In the morning, I went to see the boards and I gave them to the painter to paint logos, names etc. I renegotiated the price once again with the painter; he was asking for GHC 35 per board as contracted by Bashir Sahib, I set the price to GHC 15 per board. We were not able to get boards fixed on each location; therefore money was handed over to Bashir Yaqubo Sahib (HF point person) in Bolgatonga to get it installed after they are completed. Alhamdolilah I received a report with pictures, that all 20 Boards were installed on the newly refurbished bore holes.
We left for Tamle Airport in the afternoon around 3:00PM. Our flight left around 5:00PM and we arrived in Accra the same night.

Sunday December 26, 2010
We packed our bags in the morning and got ready to go to Accra to pick up few things from there. While in Accra, we also went to see this years Jalsa Site, and then we went straight to the air port. We met Haji Farooq Sahib at the Airport when we were about to enter the terminal, I appraised Haji Sahib of the work which was done and exchanged greetings and left. They do not allow any one else other than passengers to go in to the terminal, so we said goodbye to our host and went inside. Bye.

Local Team Members who worked very hard to refurbish these pumps:

  1. Bashirud din Yaqubu (Bolga)
  2. Umar Yago (Bolga)
  3. Sally Akolbila (Bolga)
  4. Saeed AtakuAbugbire (Bolga)
  5. Ali Abaane (Bolga)
  6. Yaqubo Agurime (Bolga)


  1. Mohammad Ismail (Volunteer Tema/Accra)
  2. Faiq Malik (Volunteer USA)


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