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.