Engineers break borders: students establish school in Ghana


Submitted photo

Ghanian children studying in the inaugural year of the NAVA Primary School that was funded by Engineers Without Borders.

In August 2016, the University of Wisconsin-Platteville chapter of Engineers Without Borders completed a multiyear project. The members chose to design, construct and fund the building of an elementary school in Ghana that opened this fall. Ghana is a nation in West Africa, and this project will provide free education to 250 local Ghanaian children this school year. Throughout winter and summer breaks, students from this organization spent time in Ghana to help with the process of constructing this school. Responsibilities varied for those who attended these trips.

“I traveled in August of 2016 as project lead. My trip was responsible for constructing soffits, ceilings and plastering the exterior of the school. As students we work with Dr. Sam, Bob Steckel, and Mark Rapant onsite to install sustainable engineering solutions and project management. This could be anything from a simple mix design or a revising a construction detail,” senior civil engineering major and chapter vice president Nick Costello said.

Engineers Without Borders-USA is an organization that was first implemented in a university in Boulder, CO, in 2002. Universities across the United States have created their own chapters, including UW-Platteville in 2007. Jerome Flogel and Joe Elsinger were the two students that started the club with assistance from adviser Samuel Owusu-Ababio, professor of civil and environmental engineering. Since 2007, the UW-Platteville chapter has completed 3 different projects in Ghana including a culvert, a footbridge and now the NAVA Primary School. The NAVA Primary School project began with assessing the site back in 2011. The construction of the project, however, would not be completed today if students of the organization didn’t spend time in Ghana to help out.

“We sent six members along with a professional engineering mentor up to twice a year, in January and August, to assist in the construction of the school. Each trip was 3-4 weeks in length, with our members spending the majority of the daylight hours on the job site,” senior electrical engineering major and chapter president Dalton Howell said.

Senior civil engineering major and former chapter president Sam Crawford went on two different trips to Ghana during August to help out with the construction of the school. Crawford was able to see similarities and differences between the countries.

“During the August trips, the weather was very pleasant. August in Ghana is the equivalent of spring in Wisconsin, temperatures are in the mid 70’s too low 80’s, and it typically rains four to five times a week. Working with the community members was a very rewarding experience as we got the opportunity to learn about their means of communication, their building techniques, and how their social structure is set up,” Crawford said.

The chapter used different committees to help organize their efforts here in the United States so that things would run smoothly whenever students were sent to work on the project’s construction. Some of the different committees consisted of groups that focused on smaller projects within the larger picture, located grant funding and marketed events for students here at UW-Platteville to try to raise money. Several heavily involved members spent a significant amount of time to help this project come together.

“An average involved member probably spends five-six hours a week attending meeting, planning meetings and writing documentation and grants,” Costello said.

With the numerous trip, between Ghana and the United States over the last decade, the UW-Platteville Education Abroad office has played a pivotal role in making this opportunity possible for student in this organization. Students that have traveled to Ghana haven’t always received full coverage funding for the trip, but the Education Abroad office does their best to help all students in the organization have an opportunity to go.

“The Education Abroad office assists our organization in the purchasing of travel insurance, getting our trips approved through the university, and any additional logistical support as needed.  They have also assisted our members in locating scholarships to help alleviate the costs of travel. Any remaining travel costs that are not covered through scholarships or other forms of financial aid our members pay out of pocket,” Howell said.

This project to help create the NAVA primary school took over six years to complete. Members feel that this project is a huge accomplishment, and that they are proud with how it ranks with other projects that have been completed by other chapters. The chapter chose to complete this project because the community in Ghana was concerned with how students had to walk several miles away to the nearest elementary school. The school that students traveled to was also unaffordable to many of the families because it was a private education.

“This to date has been one of the largest if not the largest project any EWB student chapter has completed. That is pretty amazing considering that we are a smaller school and we self-funded the project through an excellent grant writing and fundraising team,” Crawford said.

The UW-Platteville chapter does not plan to ease up on their project in Ghana. Members are seeing the impact they made on the lives of others and are looking into the next way to help out.

“Our organization is currently looking to partner with the community of Krachi in the Volta Region of Ghana. In Ghana, there is a heavy rainy season from April-June followed by a lighter amount of rain through October, so this can be a common occurrence.  We hope to send a group of members this January to meet with community leaders to better understand the situation, try and identify potential solutions to these issues, and begin forming partnerships in the region, similar to the process we went through in 2011,” Howell said.

Engineers Without Borders meets every other Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. in Ottensman Hall 124. The next meeting is scheduled for November 7. The club does not have any requirements to be admitted, but they simply ask that people who seek membership are individuals who seek to be engaged in our organization and help make a difference.

“My favorite part of this organization is the people it has allowed me to meet. Whether it be members our own chapter, individuals working through EWB-USA, or working with our partners abroad, Engineers Without Borders has allowed me to interact with a group of people who are passionate about the work they do and strive to make their communities a better place,” Howell said.