Impact Analysis

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About two weeks ago, Alison and I (with the help of Jeremiah, Pete, and Pascal) began surveying local community members about the impact of the hydro sites on their lives and on Banda as a whole. Surveying has had its up and downs, but in general, it’s been the best part of the trip for me so far.

 

Many of our results have been quite uplifting. Our most widespread impact seems to be increased cell phone usage. We’ve found that before 2008, when the sites were initially implemented, few people in Banda owned cellphones, and those who did would hike 6 hours (one way!) to charge them at the nearest electricity source accessible by foot. Now, most of the people we surveyed have at least one phone in their household, sometimes two, sometimes five… This increase in cellphone ownership is not just among battery owners; most non-battery owners have cellphones as well, and charge them at one of the many charging shops in the town center, which use our sites for electricity. One man said that our sites had actually “motivated people to buy cell phones.” People use cellphones for a number of things – communication with family members and friends, solving problems related to money, business, and even to access the Internet in some cases. Thus, we have found that it is not only battery owners benefitting from our sites.

 

Same goes for barbershops. When we ask about how people think the site has impacted Banda towards the end of the survey, battery owners and non-battery owners alike frequently mention the newfound barber shops in town, which use electric razors that are powered by batteries charged at our sites. Though it’s hard for me to imagine, people also used to walk 6 hours to get their hair cut with an electric razor.

 

Another positive impact, which I mentioned in a previous post, is the use of batteries by churches to power instruments, microphones, and sound mixers. Since pretty much everyone in Banda attends church and six of the seven churches own batteries, this is another way in which the sites affect both consumers and non-consumers. All the choir leaders we interviewed have said that people are much happier at church now, and sing and dance with enthusiasm. One said that church has become somewhere where “People can be happy and forget their burdens.” Another choir leader (/pianist/DJ) said that hydropower sites have made people’s voices better because they now can actually hear themselves sing through the microphone, instead of just blending in to a group. Talk about unintended impacts…

 

Radios are another common device powered by batteries charged at our sites. Though most non-battery owners use disposable batteries to power their radios (if they have them), most battery owners charge directly from their batteries. Almost everyone listens to the news on their radios – mostly national news, some international – and some listen to music or theater. My favorite finding on this topic came from one consumer who told us he uses his radio to listen to a BBC program about STD prevention. When I heard this, my infectious disease obsessed self freaked out and nearly started yelping with excitement – to Alison’s great surprise. I’d added the question “What types of radio programs do you listen to?” to the survey with the hope of linking radio usage to increased health knowledge, so as you can imagine, I was ecstatic.

 

Our final commonplace impact seems to be in lighting homes and businesses. Many battery owners have mentioned that their children use electric lights to “revise their notes” (the Kinyarwanda translation of study/do homework) at night. Others have said that they can now use electric lights instead of petroleum powered ones or firewood. Customers have proudly told us that changing to electric lights gives them better light quality and eliminates dangerous fumes that might harm their health or the health of their children.

 

During one survey, our interviewee told us he uses his battery so that he can use his typewriter. Being an (apparently naïve) child of the 90’s, I simply assumed typewriters must use electricity, and that I had been incorrect for ever thinking otherwise. However, the man ended up elaborating that he uses his electric light to see in the dark, so that he can type wedding invitations on his typewriter all night, rather than having his schedule dictated by the sun. Again, this wasn’t something I anticipated hearing during surveying, but it was wonderful to see how happy he was about the new opportunity.

 

While cell phones, radios, electric razors and lights seem to be the most common devices charged off our batteries, we’ve also had a few surprises. One schoolteacher casually mentioned that she used her battery to watch movies with her family. Confused, we asked her how she watched them. She proceeded to unveil a small TV, previously covered by a towel, sitting on the table across from us. Another person mentioned that his church uses their battery to do movie showings for members of the congregation. One man said he used his battery to charge his camera, as he is a photographer in addition to his normal work. Our host, Jeremiah, uses his battery to charge his laptop so that he can use it to keep up on medical research and to complete his coursework for his Masters in Public Health.

 

Thus, surveying has been wonderful because we actually get to witness and hear about the direct impact the DHE hydro sites have had on people’s lives. However, in addition to the aforementioned roses, we have also encountered a number of thorns during our surveys.

 

One of the most disheartening aspects of surveying is that it sometimes feels more like need finding than impact analysis. Particularly with regards to home-lighting, most non-battery owners seem scarcely better off than they were five years ago, but still show how much they want electricity.

 

When asked what she used to light her home, one non-battery owner we surveyed picked up a wooden box from the small table in her one room home. Upon inspection, the box turned out to be a makeshift battery box containing 3 disposable batteries wired to a single LED light bulb about the size of a tic-tac. It couldn’t have lit a radius of more than a few inches. It was clear that the woman really needed electric light and went to great lengths to get it, but she said she could neither afford a battery that could be charged at our sites, nor afford to charge it regularly if she had one. It is in moments like these that I sometimes feel our project has failed – or at least left out much of the population in its success.

 

Another non-battery owner, when asked about home lighting, responded that used wood from her cooking fire. At this, two of her friends who had crowded into her home for the survey started to laugh. In response, she sheepishly claimed, “I know… But I just can’t lie.” Again, it’s hard to consider ourselves successful when people continue to use fuels as dangerous (and inefficient) as firewood to light their homes. If we were doing need-finding interviews, we would be delighted to note that everyone who doesn’t have power truly feels that they need it. Unfortunately, five years post-implementation, it’s disheartening to realize that many people’s needs are left unfulfilled.

 

The other main cause of distress that we’ve come across while surveying is battery owners complaining about the poor customer service at the sites. Many have reported that site operators are sometimes not at the site when they go to drop off batteries, which greatly inconveniences the customers. Even more problematic, most of the battery owners we’ve surveyed have been returned uncharged or partially charged batteries from the sites at least once, making them feel both inconvenienced (because they have to go back sooner) and cheated. Finally, when people wish to voice these or other complaints to the site manager, they find that he is dismissive, and they are unable to fix the problems they’re facing. For some, these problems are so frustrating that they wish to stop charging their batteries at our sites. However, all still do, as they have no other option. Customers’ reluctance to use the sites indicates how serious the problems are. Moreover, one person said that the bad customer care has made people unmotivated to buy new batteries. This is even more worrisome, as it means bad customer care and site management are directly limiting our impact on the community.

 

We’re working on addressing both of the aforementioned problems. With regards to the former, we’re exploring options for sourcing small, affordable batteries and setting up a sustainable way of selling them, thus increasing the likelihood of poorer families (who can neither buy big batteries nor pay to get to Kigali to buy smaller ones) having access to our site. As for the latter, we recently held a battery owner meeting in which customers could voice complaints about the sites, as well as make suggestions about ways we can fix them. In addition, we’ve been tal

Bibles and Batteries

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Today, I attended church for the fourth time in my life.

 

Last night, Alison and I wrote notices that we would be holding a meeting for battery owners this Wednesday to talk about impact and suggestions for how our sites could be improved. These notices were distributed to church leaders in Banda to be read at church services today, thereby spreading the message to the community. Jeremiah thought it would be beneficial for Alison and I to attend church with him so that people would see us and spread the word that we were there – giving the announcement more authenticity (aka – we were trying to get facetime with the locals…). Though not quite sure what to expect, Alison and I agreed, so at 9:15 this morning, we headed out – borrowed Bibles in hand – to the Free Methodist church down the road.

 

Upon arrival, we were seated in the “visitors” section next to the pastor and one of the choirs, with many curious head turns and whispers of “mzungus!” following us to our seats. The two and a half hour service consisted of about four-fifths singing and one-fifth praying and reading from the Bible. Despite never really knowing what was being sung or said, it was definitely the best church service I’ve been to.

 

The church had four microphones, an electronic keyboard, an electric guitar, a DJ-esque sound mixer, and two wonderful choirs, which made all the music enjoyable and upbeat. During some songs, members of the congregation – men, women, and children alike – would enter the empty middle space of the church and dance joyously together. The best part? All the electronics were being run off a single 70 Amp-hour battery – a battery that gets charged every week at Kigogo, one of our hydro sites. Alison and I, having done impact analysis surveying for a number of weeks now, and were thrilled to see first-hand such a display of the impact of our sites on the community. As we have found out during our impact analysis surveying, church services weren’t always this fun and upbeat. Many of the choir leaders we surveyed attributed the dancing and loud singing to the presence of the electronic equipment, all of which is run on power from our hydro sites.

Note the battery (charged at Kigogo, one of our hydropower sites) under the table!
Note the battery (charged at Kigogo, one of our hydropower sites) under the table!

 

At one point in between songs, one of the church leaders stood up and started talking in Kinyarwanda. I didn’t think much of it until someone started yanking my arm… “Stand up! Stand up!” ordered Jeremiah. I looked around… other than the man at the microphone, not a single person in the church standing. “Jeremiah, why?? Are you sure?!” “He’s welcoming you to the church, stand up and introduce yourself in Kinyarwanda!” A microphone was handed to me. With 250 people staring at my now undoubtedly bright red face, I took it hesitantly. “Uhhh…. Nitwa Sophia? Di abwenyeshuli muri kaminuza Dartmouth, America.” (My name is Sophia [my Kinyarwandan name]. I am a student in Dartmouth University, America.) Relieved, I handed the microphone to Alison, who said almost the same thing. We sat back down, glad that our embarrassment was over. The church leader once again took over the microphone and continued talking. He then led the congregation in a short song accompanied by hand movements. Alison and I started copying them – our futile attempt to fit in – but were stopped by Jeremiah. “They’re welcoming you into the church. He is saying that you are no longer visitors. He says you are Rwandans now and should always feel at home here.”

 

At the end of the service, all the itangazos (announcements/notices) were read. Ours came second to last. At the end, it read “Murakoze. Sophia” (Thank you. Sophia.) Immediately, there was some murmuring in the church and many eyes were on me. “She speaks good Kinyarwanda?!” they seemed to say. In fact, I had written an English version of the itangazo, Jeremiah had translated it, and I had merely copied the Kinyarwanda and signed it. Now, it seemed that the whole town thought that I spoke fluent Kinyarwanda. At the market tonight, I couldn’t help but notice the words “Sophia” and “Kinyarwanda” being whispered as I passed by, imbedded in sentences that I unfortunately could not understand.

 

Singing, battery usage, and awkward introductions aside, perhaps what I found most interesting about the church service was the Bible passages read. Only two were read. One was from Phillipians, but I’m not sure which verse.

The other was from Mark, starting at 10:17. It reads:

 

“Now as He was going out on the road, one came running, knelt before Him, and asked Him, ‘Good Teacher, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?’ So Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God. You know the commandments: “Do not commit adultery,” “Do not murder,” “Do not steal,” “Do not bear false witness,” “Do not defraud,” “Honor your father and your mother.”’ And he answered and said to Him, ‘Teacher, all these things, I have kept from my youth.’ Then Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, ‘One thing you lack: Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me.’ But he was sad at this word, and went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. Then Jesus looked around and said to His disciples, ‘How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God!’”

 

Despite having been to church only three other times, I had heard this passage read once before. It was at Dartmouth, a sermon written by my professor, Richard Crocker.  In the context of the his (wonderful) sermon, the passage read as a warning – a reminder of the dangers of economic ambition (he specifically referenced financial consulting) – that likely inspired guilt in the majority of attendees, including myself, despite the fact that I neither believe in heaven nor intend to work on Wall Street. But when read in Banda, a community where many live on less than $2 a day, it did not seem that the majority of the congregation felt guilty. The passage read, to me at least, as a source of hope for a better future.

 

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Beginnings in Banda

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We arrived in Banda on Wednesday, tired by our five and a half hour journey from Kigali in a crowded car, but excited to finally reach our home for the summer. As our car descended the final few kilometers into Banda on a road that managed to consist primarily of potholes, we finally gleaned our first glimpse of the T-shaped town of Banda that has become familiar to us only in pictures. (Note: our driver referred to the violently jostling descent in Banda as an “African massage,” perhaps using “massage” a bit too loosely.) At the end of the hill, we finally arrived in the main town square with at least a dozen children happily chasing our car.

We immediately drove to our new home, the house of Jeremiah, the medical professional in charge of the Kageno health clinic in Banda, who has housed and worked with DHE students in the past. Jeremiah is wonderful and his home is lovely. The beautiful landscapes resting just outside our windows continue to amaze us, along with the brilliant star gazing we are able to partake in after dark.

Our days in Banda have been varied. On the day we arrived, we went down to Kageno to play soccer, which attracted quite a crowd of spectators who spent most of the time laughing at our (many) whiffs. That said, our onlookers were quite smiley and friendly, and made us feel welcome in town despite our incompetence on the soccer field.

Our next day was spent visiting Nyargasigo and Kigogo, and it was great to finally see the sites in real life. While the pictures Joey had been sending had been extremely helpful, actually being at the sites allowed us to better understand what we will be doing to improve the sites and why it is necessary. We have decided to work on Kigogo first because the repairs/changes are less complex, making it an easier site to begin with. Since our first visit, we have returned to Kigogo to take more measurements and talk to site operators, as well as working on putting together the electrical system and preparing the civil upgrades from home. We’re planning to test the electrical system tomorrow and begin creating a spillway along the channel on Monday. Progress has been great so far, and we hope things continue to go smoothly.

We spent this morning carrying bags of sand up a steep hill to a construction site for a few hours, taking part in umuganda, or community work that is mandatory across Rwanda. Of course, we were shown up by people from Banda carrying massive amounts of sand, but the community was appreciative of our efforts and gave us tips on how to carry the sand most easily. After umuganda, we announced our intentions for site upgrades and surveying to the community with the help of the leader of Banda, Pascal. Pascal has been quite friendly so far, going so far as to invite us over to his house tonight when we met with him yesterday.

Perhaps what has been most memorable from our time in Banda so far is getting to know Jeremiah (our host) Pete (our contractor), and Pascal (a KIST student who is working with us this summer). Our conversations go on late into the night as we talk about everything from the culture around relationships and marriage in Rwanda, Japan, China, and the US to the Big Bang to light refraction. We’ve also been teaching each other our languages, with Pascal, Jeremiah, and Pete teaching us Kinyarwanda (Maramutse!), Shinri teaching Japanese, June teaching Chinese, and all of us travelers helping our Rwandan co-workers with their English. Yesterday, Pete returned from a trip to buy biscuits with Shinri reciting numbers in Japanese.

All of us travelers are doing well. We’ve been working hard on electricals and civils for Kigogo and planning our days to minimize the need to shut off the system or wait on parts. In addition, we’ve been practicing our Kinyarwanda and learning the art of cooking on an open fire. Other than June’s perpetual concern for one of Jeremiah’s chickens (which likes to absent itself from the yard for extended periods of time), Joey’s frustration about the lack of sushi available in Rwanda, I’d say all is well with us.