Travel Thoughts 2019

Traveling back to Ivory Coast after 3 months in Norway, it always feels a bit strange to change environments and leave one home behind. Leaving Oslo feels bittersweet, bitter because of leaving people behind and the rest of the Wattero team. Sweet because it’s time, there is much to do and in Abidjan, as well there are people waiting.

The first thing that strikes me as I arrive in Abidjan is that is not as hot and humid as expected. The months from May to September are named rainy-season here and it certainly cools down the country. It is still 28-30 degrees, which feels comfortable.

Abidjan is a huge city with 5 million inhabitants, it’s noisier, dustier and in general very vibrant. It takes a couple of days to adjust from relatively quiet and calm Oslo. Neighbors and local vendors in my surroundings great me and welcome me back the first time I see them. It is nice to know that they noticed that you have been away. I thought it would be a bit difficult speaking French again after a couple of months almost not practicing the language, but realize that it is still there. 

Getting back into the scene of action gives a new drive and motivation to work with Wattero. Although Abidjan is well-developed and electrified, I still know that now I am in a country with a vast number of people lacking access to several basic needs, amongst them energy. Another boost for the entire Wattero team boost was the team days we had in our office space at the end of June. Two intensive days filled with planning, strategic decisions to be made and a lot of fun and bonding with each other. These meetings are important as we are a small entity meaning that everyone has to contribute with “anything”. We are dependent on supporting each other, working smart and offering our expertise in different areas. This is both what makes working in a startup extremely challenging and fun! 

Now summer 2019 has started and we will all take some vacation and charge our batteries. We have decided not to take it all at the same time, so there will always be someone working for the progress of Wattero. We wish you all a great summer and we thank you all for your support in our journey. If you have questions, advice or anything else that you would like to talk to us about please feel free to contact us, we would love to hear from you! 

Happy summer! 

Stava, on behalf of the Wattero team

Godjiboué March 2019

Posted 05/04

The first night in Godjiboué it was pouring down. In many ways washing away the old and the morning felt like a brand new start. I fell asleep to the sound of a generator powering a fridge in one of the neighbor’s houses. Although I understand the need for it, and am happy for the increased quality of life for that person, I cannot help to think of the future and that I believe we need to find other solutions rather than such energy sources. Refrigerators are one of the most commonly asked for a product that people in the village would like to have access to. Solar refrigerators exist, but there is still a need to develop the technology so that they can be offered in a larger scale for a reasonable price. It strikes me that bringing light is just the first small step of what is needed for the future. Since demand will not stop, rather increase, how can we develop the technologies within solar energy so that this can be a stable, reliable energy source that covers our needs? And not only our immediate need of light and charging our phones, but the need and wish for a comfortable life with refrigerator, TV, radio, and computers, that we can rely on even when the sun is not shining.

The most important objective for this field visit was to close the project that has now been running for a year as planned. We realize now how much we have learned. From the ability and willingness for people to pay to the daily challenges in the village stretching far beyond lighting. But also have giving access to light can be the first stepping stone in the development of a community.

We started the day by having a meeting with the people responsible for following-up on the project in the village. They gave us a record of their experiences and challenges in surveying the project so that we can learn from their hands-on experience in the project. Unfortunately, not everyone has been willing to pay for the solar panel, meaning that we had to confiscate some of them. Although this is harsh and a situation we did not want to end up in, we deem it important to honor the contract we set out and that it would not be just to let people that did not pay for the equipment keep it, for all the people who actually have paid in full and respected the repayment plan. We also conducted customer feedback surveys so that we can learn what they like and do not like about the project and what we can improve on for the future.

When we were about to start the work of visiting our clients, collecting some kits and getting feedback from others, the wind started picking up. We did not mind much until it really started getting bad and soon enough it was pouring down again. We had to wait for about an hour before we could go out. Life in the village can be slow and you always have to have a lot of patience with everything you do.

The following two days we spent, going around from customer to customer to get their feedback on the project and products. Many said that one of the things they like the most about the lamps is that they work and get charged even though it is raining. This is especially important in the raining season. Another important feedback was that it was easier to pay back for the product in larger parts when they actually had money, rather than the set monthly fee that we planned for (and did not work out).

It was with a bittersweet sentiment that I boarded the local bus, heading back to Lakota where the car was waiting for us (since the roads are in such a poor condition we decided to park it in a bigger city and not take the chance to drive on the off-piste road). Looking back as we left the village, I realized that most likely it is the last time I am visiting (at least for a very long time). Godjiboué and its people have thought me (and Wattero) so much and we are forever grateful for being invited to launch our first project here with all the ups and downs it has involved. We hope that providing light to some of the inhabitants can be the first step in further development and that it will enable and empower the ones owning it. Thank you to everyone in Godjiboué and the surrounding areas for your hospitality and opening your doors for us.

Banhiei , Douandro and Bloléquin – March 2019

Posted 20/03

The last two weeks the entire Wattero team have been gathered in Ivory Coast for the first time! The agenda for the visit was to get to know our market, experience the local reality and to get to know our customers. One of the most important things we have been doing is going on a field visit to three new villages in the Guiglo-area. This field visit was the first one for both Espen and Kjersti, so it was really exciting for everyone. Since neither Espen or Kjersti knows French, Elisabeth was a fantastic interpreter during the whole visit.

After an 8-hour drive to the very west in the country we arrived Guiglo and our partner, Donald met us and showed us the way to his house. At his home, we were welcomed with a great bush-meat dinner, the local palm wine Banji and some of his friends and colleagues. We had a great time, discussed the plan for the next days and the future and visions of Wattero. We also got to meet one of Donald’s friends who is working for another solar company working in the same area. We exchanged experiences and knowledge, and this gave us more insight into the local business and on the ground working conditions.

After a good night sleep and some rest, we started the first day with a meeting over breakfast to make the last plans for the visits to the villages. The plan was to visit three new villages to present Wattero, the project and to get to know our potential customers.

When we arrived at the first village, Banhiei, we were welcomed by the pastor and 30-40 people in the village’s church. There we attended the end of the ceremony, we greeted each other, Donald shared news and the plan for the following days and the people in the village sang songs and danced for us. Elisabeth and Kjersti also joined in on the dancing.

After the great welcome in Banhiei, where we were spending the night, we continued to village number two, Douandro. Since this was a village consisting of a lot of long-distance separate farms, we had a smaller meeting with the chiefs of the village. We talked about the villagers needs when it comes to applications of the solar kits, opportunities for future business together and distributed flyers for the chiefs to give out to the rest of the village.

The last village we visited was Bloléquin. Around 50 people were welcoming us when we arrived. There was a village meeting including all the elders of the village and the chief. In addition, two chiefs from villages close by attended the meeting to get information about the project. We greeted all 50 of the crowd and got seated in front of the meeting. The meeting started with the traditional welcome of being offered the local water and introducing the latest news from both parties. Then we presented Wattero and the project, got to know their needs, answered some questions and gave out information about our kits. There were a lot of good questions and interested people. After the meeting was finished we were invited to one of the men responsible for arranging the meeting to taste the local palm wine and see his house. We also got to meet his family.

Then it was time to get back to the first village, Banhiei, where we were spending the night. When we arrived we were served a nice dinner from the family which owned the house that we were going to sleep in. They were very hospitable and loaned us their entire house. The pastor and some people from the village joined us for dinner and we had a great evening with good food, stories from the village and fun.

The next day we woke up to the sounds from the chickens outside and a nice breakfast at the pastor’s house, ready for a new great day in the Banhiei. After breakfast, the pastor told us that there were happening some politics in the village, so our village meeting had to be postponed. This fitted good into our day since a man in the village had noticed that one wheel on the car was punctured. With good help from some guys in the village, Donald changed the wheel and we were ready.

After some waiting, where we played cards and were served the local palm wine, Banji, the village was ready for our meeting. All the 14 family representatives of the village in addition to the chief were attending the meeting. Even though they had been discussing local politics all day and were tired, we presented Wattero, the solar kits, and project, and they asked questions about the applications and the payment among other things. Before we left, we got one more meal from the family hosting us, ate late lunch with the pastor and exchanged gifts.

Back in Guiglo, we had a great dinner with Donald and his friends at a local restaurant, called maquis. We ate great food, had fun, exchanging experiences from the field visit, talked about the way forward for Wattero, made plans for the next steps and further cooperation.

After 3 great days on a field visit, we learned a lot about our potential new customers, got to really experience the local reality so that the whole team gets a better understanding of our customers, how they live, what impact our products have and also actually to get to know our customers. After coming back to Abidjan, we are left with a feeling of humility to get the opportunity to work with such amazing people. They are super hospitable, open, show initiative and engagement.

Kodrou – February 2019

Posted 20/03

Last week, Wattero was finally back on the road in Ivory Coast, going to visit the people that we are working to bring light to. This time we went to a completely new place, all the way to the very west of the country, close to the border of Liberia. We have a new partner, Donald, who is supporting us in finding villages and people, interested in adopting solar energy. After an 8-hour long trip by car, we arrived in Guiglo, Donald’s hometown. From there we spent the evening planning our visit to 2 different villages in the following days. A neighbor of Donald had prepared a rice and chicken meal and we got to discuss Wattero and future projects that we want to run. After a good rest, we were ready for a new day in the car, this time we continued to Man, about 1 hour north of Guiglo and then to the villages located about 1,5 hours on the dirt road. On our way, we picked up two of Donald’s associates that had said themselves willing to support us in presenting Wattero in the villages.

When we arrived in the village where we would be staying for the following 3 days, we were welcomed by 50 people sitting patiently and waiting for us to come since the early morning. After greeting everyone, we got a seat in front of the villagers and the chiefs of the village. The village we arrived at, Kodrou, is, in fact, a combination of 3 small villages. There are therefore 4 chiefs of the villages, one for each of the small villages and 1 chef responsible for the overall village named Kodrou.

After the traditional greeting was done with exchanges of gifts, we were offered water and palm wine that they produce in the village. We briefly explained why we were visiting and we got to settle in where we were staying. Later in the afternoon, we had another meeting, this time with only the chiefs and the elderly. It is important to first and foremost talk with the elderly as they are considered wise and have the decision-making power in a village. After acceptance from them, we were ready to present Wattero and our products to the rest of the village.

The following day, we had a general meeting with the villagers once more. This time, we took the time to showcase our products, present Wattero and what we do as well as receiving questions from the ones present. It was an important meeting where we learned a lot about our customers, what their needs are and the challenges they face. As we have encountered before, the main constraint for the people that we work with is the fact that they do not have a regular monthly salary that they can rely on. They were therefore very pleased to find out that we offer a flexible repayment plan and that they can pay more at the times when they are in the harvesting season. In the product package we showcased, we had a fan and many were amazed to see how the sun directly transforms into energy that supports the fan. We got a lot of interesting questions that will support us in developing our company further.

Later in the afternoon, we went to the second village we were planning to visit. Also here we went through the traditional greetings with the chief of the village and some selected villagers. In all meetings we had over the course of the three days, we had an interpreter from the village that could translate from French so that we were sure that everyone understood what we were saying. After the brief greeting where we got to know the village better, we decided to return the following day to present our products and Wattero to everyone in the same way as we had done earlier that day. The evening was spent with some of the villagers who had taken a special interest in the project and that would be our contact points in the village. It is important to have people that you can trust and rely on, to explain what we want to do and why we want to do it and that can follow-up on questions and uncertainties from both sides. We chose 3 people in the village for this specific purpose, Patricia, Boni, and Roche.

One of the nicest things about going out and visiting people is their hospitality when you arrive. We spent 4 days in the villages and not once were we asked to pay for or contribute to what we ate, where we slept and the time we spent with people asking questions and getting to know them. People are genuinely interested in getting to know you and they have an openness to what you come to offer. Before leaving, we went to the chiefs house in Kodrou to say goodbye, while we were sitting there and eating the final meal that the chief offered, an old lady came by with a gift. She gave us a 2 kg bag of rice (locally made) and said that she hopes that I will return with the solar kits so that she can live with light before she passes on. A deep reminder of why we do what we do is important and matters to others.

Godjiboué September 2018

Posted 20/03

Back in Godjiboué after six months or “it has been 2 days” as people say here. The first thing that was greeting us when arriving in the village was two bright light bulbs shining up a local shop. It was a great feeling to see the direct impact our project has had and the fact that the products we delivered are of high quality and being used in the village.

The first evening we went to a local bar to meet the villagers and it gave of course great pleasure to hear people being satisfied with the solar panels that we have provided. Rainy season is almost over in Côte d’Ivoire and what was especially appreciated was the fact that the solar kits that we have brought to the village are working although it rains all day. This is not the case with the other, low quality alternatives that already existed in the village.

We have realized during this project that a monthly, stable income in the village is rare. Hence, the monthly fixed payment has been challenge for several of the villagers. As most of our customers are farmers, we have learnt how dependent they are on the weather conditions. Rainy season came very late this year and much of the cocoa has therefore been destroyed (or at minimum) delayed. When arriving to the village several asked us if we were coming to take away the solar panels of the people who has not been able to keep up with their monthly payment. Although it is crucial for us to receive the repayment, we first and foremost came to Godjiboué to meet the people, listen to their experiences and to be able to share that with all the people who have contributed in making this project possible. We believe that if we want to make a positive change in the local communities here, we need to adjust ourselves to their local reality and not the opposite. By working together and having confidence in people, we believe that we can grow our projects in a sustainable way that truly benefits the people we are working for.

Much of the time spent in Godjiboué went into planning and preparing for our next project. Many of the villagers are eagerly expecting our next return with new products and more light. They sent their healthfully thank you, not only to us, but to all the people who have contributed in making the project a reality!

Godjiboué February 2018

Posted 20/03

You could assume that a travel you do several times will get easier for every time. Turns out that this was not the case this time around going to Godjiboué. Traveling with the solar kits turned out to bring some challenges along the way, from going through the police checkpoints to finding means of transport with enough space, not to mention that things take time in Ivory Coast. After spending a night in Lakota (a small city halfway to Godjiboué), we finally arrived to the village Monday afternoon after starting our trip Sunday morning from Abidjan.

All the solar kits made it safely and we were met by the chief of the village, happy to see that we finally arrived with what we promised, 75 kits giving light to over 375 people.

Tuesday morning we started installing the kits in the homes of the people signed up for the project. The solar kits themselves are small and simple to install and use. However, it is important to give thorough and correct information to all households to ensure that the solar kits will work properly as long as possible. The solar kits that we distributed include two light bulbs that can be unplugged from the cord and used as torches, they have 3 different light intensities and can be adjusted with a remote control, as well as a small charging system that can charge four phones at a time. The latter is very important as it gives people the chance to charge their phones at their homes and they do not have to rely on a charging service where they are obliged to leave their phone the whole day in order to be fully charged. This will help people to be connected and able to make calls when they need it. Although most people lack basic necessities such as clean water and a refrigerator, they all own one or more cell phones. This connects them when working in the countryside as the majority of people are farmers.

At first, people in the village were quite shocked to see the size of the solar panels. Most of them are already used to using solar panels, however, these are most of the time low quality products with large lead batteries that need to be changed every 3-6 months. Therefore, they were probably expecting a product that did not look so similar and that is much smaller than what they already have. However, as the evening dawned we started demonstrating the light intensity and people could see with their own eyes the quality of the products. This was for many the turning point that convinced them at this is not yet another scheme (as they have experienced many times before), but actually a quality product to a reasonable price. As often said, “when I see it, I will believe it”.

As word spread, many people came to the place where we arranged to hand-out the solar systems. People even travelled from far away villages to see our project and products. During the 5 days in Godjiboué we have realized that the need and demand for light and electricity is vast. There are already people that have signed up for being first in line when we return. We say when not if, because as we now have experienced first-hand, there is an enormous need for supporting villages such as Godjiboué to have access to simple basics such as light and if we can contribute with that, it is well worth the work.

Godjiboué December 2017

Posted 20/03

Yesterday we got to experience how unpredictable life in the village can be. We left our homes in Abidjan at 07.00 with hopes of arriving in Godjiboué in the early afternoon. Leaving Abidjan did not go as planned, it eventually took us 3 ½ hours before we could leave with the bus to our pit-stop, Lakota. We arrived in Lakota around 14.00 and from there we were going to take motorcycles to Godjiboué, a trip that takes approximately two hours. The only problem was that in Godjiboué, everyone had run out of gasoline. Which meant that the people there could not come to Lakota to pick us up. With several other attempts of taking bus or car, which did not lead through, we decided that the best thing to do was to sleep over in Lakota.

Early next morning at 06.00 we got up and at 08.00 we were finally ready to leave. The trip went very well and finally around 10.00 we could once more say hi again to all the people in Godjiboué.

Similar to the last visit, we started off by meeting with the chief in the village along with other interested people. We talked more about the project and our progress. Then we went through the contract, that each family in Godjiboué will sign to officialize that they are part of the project. Different representatives from the village were given these contracts and went out to collect signatures. At the end of our meeting, the chief was so happy with the project that he offered us a hen, a sign of gratitude and welcome. The women prepared it with a delicious, traditional tomato sauce and we ate it the same evening.

This time of the year there is an important event occurring for the villagers. The harvesting of cocoa. All around the village you can see big covered areas that are full of the dried cocoa. Men and women are working together to put all the cocoa into bags that will be transported to Abidjan and then exported out of Ivory Coast. This means that this is the perfect time to start electrifying the village, as many people here very soon will have more money at hand to start the downpayment of the solar systems.

It was quite inspiring being in Godjiboué this time, to talk more to the people there that are becoming friends. Hearing them expressing how happy they are for the project and the fact that very soon will have access to electricity. Word has spread around to neighbouring villages leading to visit from 3 representatives from different villages that wanted us to start the project in their villages as well. This of course gives a sense of purpose and acknowledgement of what we are doing, as well as a drive to move forward and continue working hard to ensure we can expand our work and projects. We hope that you are ready to support us in this. Next blog post from Godjiboué will be in January when we start installing solar panels, we cannot wait!

Godjiboué May 2017

Posted 20/03

The rainy season has started for full in the Ivory Coast, which we experienced first hand the day we were going to visit the village we have chosen for our first project. Godjiboué is a rather big village located in the south-west of the Ivory Coast. The plan was to take a bus and after that motorbike, approximately 5 hours on the road. We arrived in Godjiboué after 10 hours. While the rainy season is good for agriculture, it often has negative effects on the roads which can be impossible to drive on after hours and hours of heavy rain. But with good drivers and a couple of pauses on the way, we enjoyed the journey and arrived safely in Godjiboué in time for dinner.

Our first meeting was with the chief of the village. This meeting is important to explain the essence of the project and what we wish to do. We focused on asking most questions to understand the current reality and challenges in the village and also what exactly the inhabitants want and need in their everyday life.

For the rest of the morning we continued meeting the different people of the village to discuss and learn. They told us their stories of which sources of energy they currently use. The most popular solution is actually solar panels, however, the product being sold comes with a battery that only lasts for a maximum of 3 months. That means that every three months, they have to buy a new big battery and throw away the one that no longer functions. This is not only damaging the environment, but also is not a sustainable solution. Other solutions include torches and loading stations where you hand in your phone to be charged for a set amount of money.

I was told that the street lights that are everywhere in the village have actually never worked. They were set up and characterize the image of Godjiboué, but due to political indifferenc they have currently been in the city for xx years but never given light to the inhabitants.

Godjiboué is a village of agriculture. Most inhabitants here have their own small farming areas where they harvest cocoa, mango, avocado, papaya and more. They make enough for their living, but most cannot afford the one-time payment that solar energy requires. The children go to school but often cannot study at night due to the lack of reading light.

Seeing first hand the need and the desire of the people in Godjjboué we are confident that the project of enabling access to light will not only be appreciated but also develop the society and make an even better life for the people in Godjiboué.