STEP Project Reflect – Allen Drown: IESL Ghana Family Water Filtration Project

  1. Please provide a brief description of your STEP Signature Project. Write two or three sentences describing the main activities your STEP Signature Project entailed.

I traveled to the rural village a Akumadan in Ghana, Africa during the 2016-17 Winter break with the International Engineering Service Learning group at The Ohio State University for my STEP project. For my project, I worked with three other engineering students to create a device that would be able to make water filters for the village as the water that is obtained in the streams is heavily contaminated with E. Coli. The group also took part in cultural activities such as going to a Ghanaian farm, eating with local Ghanaians, and exploring sites with that were along the slave trade route.


  1. What about your understanding of yourself, your assumptions, or your view of the world changed/transformed while completing your STEP Signature Project? Write one or two paragraphs to describe the change or transformation that took place.


As this was the first time I have been out of the US, Cancun, and Canada, I was never really exposed to the true poverty experienced by the much of the people around the world. As we would be driving down the streets, I could not help but notice that stores selling expensive electronics and cars while there were starving people all around it. Slums and disease would surround gated communities, fat government workers would be driving through a crowd of starving children, and there were many universities across the country, but so few families could afford to send their kids to school past the 8th grade.


However, what I noticed the most was how happy people were with their lives. Consumerism and material possession means nothing to them. Families stick together for better and for worst. People put their trust in the leaders and in god.  Neighbors would help neighbors in their time of need. People were happy that they were in good health and that they had a source of income.


This is so much different from what we experience in America, neighbors fighting neighbors over pointless stuff, no trust in our nation’s leaders, hatred of diversity in race, creed, or lifestyle, and the materialism that we believe will lead us to happiness. We, as Americans, take so much stuff for granted, like the availability of electricity, running water, and water that is safe to drink.  We do not value the quality of the time we spend with the people we love; we instead do what makes us as individuals happy while not caring what others need.


This project reminded me how lucky that I have a family who can afford to send me to college so I can have experiences like these. I definitely have a new outlook on what my priorities should be. I should be more focused on people, not technology (which can be hard as an engineering student), and how to make them more happy.



  1. What events, interactions, relationships, or activities during your STEP Signature Project led to the change/transformation that you discussed in #2, and how did those affect you? Write three or four paragraphs describing the key aspects of your experiences completing your STEP Signature Project that led to this change/transformation.

As we were working in the community, we had countless interactions with natives in order to complete our project. When we first learned what we were going to be doing for the project, we were given a list of contacts to message over WhatsApp, a popular messaging app around the world. The contacts were members of the Offinso North District Assembly (ONDA), which can be analogous to county executive and legislative branches in the United States. Even though English is the official language of Ghana, many people are not fluent, nor have a good understanding of English, as the native language in the Ashanti Region is Twi. Obtaining answers to our questions were hard, as many of the contacts would not respond to repetitive question. These problems did not disappear when we met the people of the ONDA in person.


The assembly member that we had to work with the project probably had the most limited understanding of English than the rest. Just trying to get 2 buckets of gravel from a nearby quarry was a struggle, as he could not understand what and why we were asking the questions. He continuously jumped to conclusions about the project, even before we could try to communicate with him, through him or a translator, about why we needed these certain materials. He would go ahead and purposely buy us a different item because he through that it would be better for our project, even though we had conferred the importance of the object that was needed.  Even though it was very hard to work with him, we truly understood why he was doing this. He wanted to take ownership of the project, as we would be leaving shortly thereafter. He knew that he had to maintain and replicate the project, as he wanted to help the villager obtain clean water. He was a kindhearted person that just wanted to help.


As I mentioned earlier, we also had the chance to learn about the Ghanaian way of life, and the cultural history around it. We travel to another village, about 5 hours away from Akumadan. At the village, the village chief, a person whose cousin working at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, showed us how Ghanaians farmed and provided us with a celebration and a traditional Ghanaian feast. We also traveled to a nearby monkey sanctuary where we learned about ancient indigenous religions and cultures, as well as we got to play with monkeys.


The day before we left back to America, we took a trip to the slave trade sites, the slave bath and auction house, and Elmina Castle, where the slaves would be shipped to Europe and the Americas. Both places were solemn places as it represents a tragedy compared to none that our nation has faced. Tens of millions of slaves traveled through Ghana over a 200-year period. Most slaves died on the route to the Americas (1/5 of all captured slaves survived to their final destination). We saw how the slaves were treated and the hypocrisy of the traders when we were in the castle. We travel to the door of no return, where the slaves would enter just before they boarded the ship, which meant they would never return to Africa. It was a powerful experience, as there is a possibility that one of my ancestors could have been a part of this institution.


  1. Why is this change/transformation significant or valuable for your life?  Write one or two paragraphs discussing why this change or development matters and/or relates to your academic, personal, and/or professional goals and future plans.

This project really exposed me to what is happening around the world. In the states, we think we have the biggest problems in the world, but our problems are nothing compared to the little access to clean drinking water and electricity that many people have to deal with every day. I would like to focus more of my education and life now towards international service. This is something that is very hard to do. Yesterday, I was talking to a person whose daughter currently in a refugee camp about 8 hours north of the village we stayed. She did a trip like this in college, which led to her going to the peace core to help house and feed people from Mai and Burkina Faso.


This made me think of all the non-traditional options I can do for a career. The woman at the refugee camp was able to use her public health degree to make money and do some good for the world. I do not know if I would want to commit to a 2 year long project like that, as I am home person and I love Ohio, but what she does to does to make money has opened up a new world of possibilities for me.


I hope the college of engineering keeps funding both the Ghana program and the Honduras program (a program that goes to Honduras during spring break).  I would be completely n board to help the groups of students that will be going to these places if they need any incite on purchasing materials, dealing with natives, or creating Biosand Filters., or any thing else.


I would like to thank Roger Dzwoncyck, Chris Ratcliff and Kevin Buttner for being awesome instructors. I would like to thank Leslie Callahan and OIA for setting up this project. I would like to also that my groupmates that helped me complete the project, Talia Zaverdinos, Ryan Bruno, and Aaronn Seargent.  Lastly, I would like to thank Dr. Darcy for being a truly inspirational STEP advisor, who allowed me to do this profoundly life-changing experience.



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