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Mapping water resources in Ghana
October 3, 2013

Jon Schafer, a student of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) at Portland State University, visited Ghana's Upper West Region to support our Vibrant Village team there to develop maps of boreholes and water access and distribution in the isolated area. He recently returned to Portland, and shared stories of his experience, beginning with this part one of a three-part series:

I have been in Ghana now for about two weeks. I am here to map water access and the distribution of boreholes in the Upper West Region (UWR) of Ghana, specifically in the remote Fielmon Fielmuo) region, which is comprised of roughly 32 villages.

Before coming here, I was told how the UWR of Ghana was a place few people ever get the chance to see; even the vast majority of Ghanaian residents have never traveled to this part of the country. Simply put, Fielmon is in the absolute middle of nowhere. The trip from Accra (Ghana’s capital city) to Fielmon was really a journey in itself, and took about five days. After spending a day in Accra purchasing some supplies, we hopped a regional flight to Tamale, the only real transit hub in the Northern Region, and the third largest city in Ghana. From Tamale we drove six to seven hours on a very, very rustic dirt “road” to Wa, the largest city in the UWR.

From Wa, we headed to Fielmon down an even more challenging road. Along the way, as our vehicle went over large bumps in the road and nearly went airborne with all four tires off the ground, Lenny Baer (who runs the program here) would immediately ask the fellow passengers in a half-joking manner, “Is everyone OK? Did anyone throw up?” Luckily, we all made it through the drive without any incident!

Jon (left) stands with Vibrant Village staff in front of the office in Fielmon

The sun had set by the time I arrived in Fielmon, my new home for the next five weeks, and I was anxious to see it in the daylight. The next day I was introduced to the fellow staff members of Vibrant Village in Fielmon, and went on a tour of the surrounding communities to gain perspective on the scope of the project. I was amazed at the cultural differences that exist in such a relatively close proximity to one another. Language, religion, and even the style in which homes are constructed all vary significantly from one community to the next. Although, for all the variation that exists there is one common theme: this is a harsh environment to live in. Water is scarce, food options are limited, electricity is a rare luxury, and the heat is unrelenting. Yet for all the challenges faced on a daily basis, the optimism shared by seemingly everyone in the local population is contagious. The people I have met have greeted me with such warmth, be it the chiefs of local villages, or residents fetching water from nearby boreholes. Without question, this is one of the most welcoming places I have ever visited.

Children in their school uniforms gather around a borehole while Jon takes a geographic location reading with his GPS device

While mapping the boreholes, wells and schools in the region we are always approached with curiosity, especially from the children who gather around and try to decipher what exactly we are up to. I am using a Trimble GPS unit to accurately map through satellite positioning the location of each borehole. Additionally, I am recording useful attributes about each one, such as what community it is located in, when it was constructed, the pump type, its current functionality and condition, images, and other relevant information that will help in creating a comprehensive map of water resources in the area. When finished, we will be able to highlight the areas where water accessibility is unevenly distributed, and the map will greatly aid in determining where to drill boreholes. 

I am excited to be here and there is a lot of work to be done. The local population is very grateful for this project and I truly understand now how important this work really is to the livelihood of so many people. I look forward to providing more updates as the mapping continues to evolve.

Jon used this Trimble GPS unit to measure and record the location of boreholes and other water resources


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