Miranda Poklar- Reflection Step

 

Thanks to STEP, I was able to travel to Ghana Africa during winter break for two weeks, where a team of fellow Buckeye Engineers and I implemented a water filtration system for a village of 500 people. The autumn semester beforehand was spent designing a prototype, and planning out the implementation of the project in country. In- country I was exposed to the authentic Ghanian culture, and was able to make a lot of close connections with the locals.

I feel like after completing this project, I am more confident in my abilities as an engineer, and more importantly, a humanitarian engineer. I had always had an interest in humanitarian engineering, but there didn’t seem to be the right opportunity for me to pursue this interest. I found that I could successfully complete a project even when obstacles come up along the way. I also feel like I was exposed to a culture and way of life that a lot of people aren’t able to see. I had never been abroad before, and it was eye-opening to see how differently people could live, but how alike we still all are.

In Africa, everyone was so nice and friendly, and even though they did not have a lot of material things, everyone worked hard for what they had, and never once did I hear someone complain. We were foreigners trying to change the way that they perform certain tasks, and I know if someone came to America and tried to do the same to me I would be mad, but everyone was so appreciative of the work that we were doing. I feel like I have a much more complete view of the world, especially going from a developed country to a developing country. It makes me very grateful for the education that I have been abel to receive, and all of the advantages I take for granted. This trip has helped me realize that their are more people out there in  the world besides me, or America, and that I need to continue experiencing new cultures in order to expand my world view.

Speaking on events that helped transform me, I think the main one that helped change me for the better was the actual implementation of the water filter that we designed. Before we entered the country, we had no idea what we were facing. We were not aware of the location in which it would be placed, or what materials we would have, or the environmental challenges we would be facing. I live on a farm, so I know hard work, and this was up there physical labor wise. We worked from 7 to 6 everyday, with no large breaks except for lunch (if we had time to grab it). No one complained about the extent of the work because we were so invested in the project, and everyone was 100% dedicated to making sure that it would succeed. I have become so close with the team that I worked with, and it was such a rewarding feeling celebrating with your friends a successful completed project.

I am so glad that I was able to experience an area of the world that not many get to truly experience. I know that in the two weeks we were there I only got a taste of what life there is really like, but even that little bit of exposure has made me a better person. I didn’t want to embark on a trip for the sake of “voluntourism”, where you dedicate a little bit of your time to make yourself feel good and validated. I was so grateful that this trip allowed me to make a meaningful impact using the skills I have developed at Ohio State during my past three years.

This trip has also expanded my views on what it is to be a humanitarian engineer. Before the project, I believed that the role of a humanitarian engineer was to implement technology that they believed would help the people they were serving. It sank in about halfway through the project that as an engineer, I have to keep what the people want in the forefront of my mind, not just what I think would be best for them. This trip has fueled my desire to become more involved in humanitarian engineering at Ohio State, and my future career. I wish it was a requirement that every engineer at Ohio State has to be involved in a humanitarian engineering project, whether it be domestic or abroad, because it strengthens your skills as an engineer and your ethics and morals that guide all of your decisions, which I think is a valuable thing to have.

Long term from this project, I am appreciative of the skills that I have gained, and the experience that I have been through. I am also thankful for the incredible friendships that I have made during the trip. I have felt every emotion under the sun with my group, and I was lucky to have the group that I did. I have every confidence that I will still stay in touch with the others in the class, and especially my group, because they helped make the trip the success it was. This was a once in a lifetime experience that I will never forget, and I am so glad that I went outside of my comfort zone to have this incredible experience.

IESL in Ghana

 

Holly King

Ghana International Engineering Service Learning Experience

My step project involved a semester long course of preparation for an international trip to Ghana. In Ghana, the class was to implement the engineering projects that we had spent time creating during the semester. The other aspect of my STEP project and this trip was to experience and engage with a new culture that I had never experienced before.

 

I believe my view of African culture that is represented by Ghana changed completely. Instead of pitying Africans in general when approached by an add or world agency advocating for Africa, as I seemed to prior to this trip, I realized how similar Ghanaians are to any other person. Their culture may look different, but it seemed that ultimately all humans struggle and deal with similar difficulties and life circumstances when they are struck at the core. From a first world, American perspective, Ghanaians seem to live a poor life. Some Ghanaians’ day-to-day life includes going to a cistern to draw water and walking several miles to do so, or walking the streets to sell goods to stopped cars at a traffic light in order to provide for their needs. Other Ghanaians might own a smart phone, drive a car, they may have completed college, and work steady, reliable jobs. However, both of these life styles my still appear to be impoverished, compartively, to a middle-class American citizen. At the least, the upper class Ghanaian life would seem very different from an upper-class American life-style.

What I gathered from my two weeks spent in Ghana after having the opportunity to interact with the local people was that when placed “back-to-back,” economic rankings looks radically different from the equivalent status in the U.S. However, after considering the two life-styles – Ghanaian and American – separately, they seem to be more alike than I thought. In both countries, there are still wealthy people and there are still poor people. There are people who are born into upper class families and receive a good education and have a steady job, and there are people born into families that require them to work every day of their life in order to provide for themselves and their family. Their upper class doesn’t give in overwhelming abundance to the poor in Ghana, as neither does the upper class in America give out of their abundance to the poor of America. All socio-economic classes still exist in both countries, although America’s middle class may be more expansive. What I realized was that the only real difference was that these people were born in Ghana so they live life that is culturally Ghanaian, but that doesn’t mean that it is bad. Bad is relative term. Actually, to me, it seemed that most people in Ghana were just as happy or happier than the average American. People who live in America were born in America, or they moved to America at some point, so they live a life that naturally will fall into a tier of the socio-economic ladder or culture of America – but, that doesn’t necessary make it good. I learned that people fundamentally live similar lives, it just may happen to be in different environments. I realized that my tendency to view American life as better than life lived in a developing country, such as Ghana, was incredibly relative and unfair, considering I had never experienced the country on my own. It is different, yes. But, better, I am not sure.

 

While in Ghana, our local contacts were the officials, assembly members, and employees of the Offinso North District Assembly, or the ONDA, which is the lcoal government located in Okumadan, Ghana. The ONDA explained to Professor Roger Dzwonczyk the needs of the community which provided our class with projects to create and implement when we arrived in Ghana. We worked closely with the government officials and national service members. Each project group, of which there were four, was partnered with an official who would guide the group throughout the duration of their project. This partnership helped with overcoming cultural and language barriers in the villages and markets where the groups had to purchase goods for their projects. The dependence that we, the students, had on these government officials and national service people lead to stronger relationships with them. They cared for us and welcomed us into their country and their personal lives. We became a family of sorts to them while we were there.

This unique relationship and our active participation in the Ghanaian culture allowed me to observe the socio-economic ranking that I described in the previous question. Rhamat, a female government official of the ONDA was partnered with my group throughout the duration of our project. She was also assigned a National Service person to her for a year. A National Service member is usually a recently graduated university student who is required by the Ghanaian National government to serve in that role for one year. They were somewhat of an intern to the government official. Rhamat’s National Service person is named Kobby, who also worked closely with my group during the construction and implementation of our project. Rhamat and Kobby are both upper class citizens, which is a conclusion met from my personal observations. Rhamat has a very good job with the government and is married to a high-ranking government official from another district. Kobby was born into a wealthy family so he received a good education and lives a very westernized life. Our group would spend days with them and that allowed us to learn about their lives and their backgrounds. They would teach about their culture, their language, and we had the opportunity to observe their way of life.

Throughout the implementation of our project, our group also travelled around the surrounding villages to markets and venders to buy supplies that we needed. By driving and walking through the villages, I witnessed a variety of life-styles. There were beggars and business people as well as young children and elderly. Seeing and interacting with these people exposed a large contrast between their lives and the lives of Rhamat and Kobby. The village people wore different kinds of clothing relative to Rhmat and Kobby, they knew little English if at all, and their jobs required much of their time and energy. There were also situations where I had the opportunity to interact with both peoples in the same environment. This usually happened in the market area. People were quick to serve the government officials because they knew we all had money to spend. On the streets, Kobby, Rhamat or other government officials didn’t treat the street beggars any different than most people would treat the homeless person on the street with a sign.

I do not know for sure, but I could make the assumption that a Ghanaian government official makes much less money than an American official does. However, the Ghanaian officials are still considered middle to upper class citizens in their country. The socio-economic rankings remain the same in Ghana as they are in the United States as do the roles that they play in society. Considering this led me to the realization that life in the developing country of Ghana may appear different on a visual, exterior level; however, at the core, it is fairly similar to life in America. Their low and high may seem to be lower, overall, compared to America’s, but the overarching theme was that a person, no matter what country they live in, may experience poverty or riches. Not all American’s experience a life of wealth and not all Ghanaians live a life of poverty. I think this realization refuted a subconscious assumption about the two countries that I had before traveling to Ghana. We all adapt to the environment and circumstance as we must and in our own ways according to our surroundings.

 

This transformation humbled me in the way that I consider life. I think it helped me realize that my way of life is no better or worse than anyone else’s. I have running water that I can drink and bathe in at the turn of a faucet, available food in a functional fridge, medical visits when I need them and when I don’t, and many more luxuries that I probably don’t even think about! However, while in Ghana I didn’t have most of these things. It is incredibly sad and unfortunate that many Ghanaians do not have access to drinking water that doesn’t make them ill, and that some do not have the medical services that they need to remain in good health. But, the Ghanaian people do not pity themselves. They live life just as any other human would. They do what they need to do in order to live and provide. In America, it seems that some people live life in order to out-do their neighbor. In Ghana, they were living with so much less than the average American – at least it seemed that way to me. But, their attitudes, their love and their hospitality displayed that they were living with so much more. I could not say this for every single Ghanaian, but that was my overall take away. My trip to Ghana helped reinforce my belief that more “things” in this world is not always more. It at times can lead to less – maybe not materialistically, but emotionally, spiritually, or mentally. My transformation gave me an outlook of contentment and joy in what is before me and behind me. It became clear to me that whatever may exist in the past, present, or future, it does not – rather, should not – always correlate to my measure of joy in this life. Rather, I pray that this transformation would lead me to be grateful for and content with what I do have and provide an outlook that is independent from how I may receive and achieve more. I have seen what less can look like in materialistic terms, but the Ghanaians whom I met had attitudes that left no room for gloom.

 

Engineering Service-Learning in Ghana

 

Allison Larger

 

Type of Project: Service-Learning and Community Service

 

For my STEP signature project, I participated in a service-learning abroad trip to Ghana, Africa. We partnered with the Offinso North District Assembly (ONDA) to do projects that would help address their need for alternative energy and clean water. For this project, I worked in a team designing and prototyping a biogas digester during the entire fall semester, and then spent two weeks implementing it in Ghana over winter break. This was done at a school in Akumadan, Ghana so that it can be used for cooking fuel as an alternative to cooking over a wood fire. It was also done at the school so that it could be educational for the children, so that they can be taught that waste can be converted into energy and the technology could hopefully spread.

 

One thing that really struck me when I was in Ghana is how lucky I was to be born and raised in the United States. I knew there was poverty and hardships, but actually seeing it in person puts things into perspective. For example, I knew that clean drinking water was not readily available to many in Africa, but it was not something I really thought about until I was outside in the heat trying to make my warm water bottle last, and it got me thinking. I saw women and children carrying heavy containers of contaminated water on their heads back to their families, where it would just make them sick. These families can not even afford clean bottled water, but in America if I was thirsty I could just turn a faucet and instantly get clean, cold water.

 

Another thing that made me grateful of my country is the amount of discrimination that occurs in Ghana. Something that I take for granted is how well women are treated in the US compared to other parts of the world. There were many times when I and other women on this trip were ignored, or our ideas were seen as inferior to the men’s. The women on the trip were also frequently proposed to, and some were offered land to stay in Ghana as though they were an item to be bought. Also, in Ghana, men can take multiple wives but women can only have one husband. This sexism was present with kids too. There was a time when we were playing catch with some of the children, and they tried to tell us that the little girl couldn’t play because she was a girl and would not be able to catch the ball. It was sad to see, considering how far America has gotten in terms of women’s rights.

 

One thing that I never thought about before traveling abroad is LGBT rights. The United States still has a long way to go in terms of how the LGBT community is treated, but it is still leaps and bounds ahead of Ghana. In Ghana, homosexuality is still illegal. Even at the hotels we stayed in, there were signs saying people of the same gender were not allowed to sleep in the same room together. This is something that struck me as odd, because in America I wouldn’t think twice about sharing a hotel room with a friend, but in Ghana it is not allowed because of the possible implications. Even one Ghanaian that I spoke to that saw himself as progressive and not very religious still thought of homosexuality as unnatural and wrong. These experiences brought to light the amount of discrimination and hate so many people face in other parts of the world.

 

Despite these issues, America still has some things they can learn from Ghana. For example, Ghanaians are incredibly happy and welcoming. The people there were constantly smiling, despite all that they lacked. Kids happily played with things like sticks and old balls, instead of the nice toys that Americans children are accustomed to. As soon as they spotted you, they would run up to you shouting “Hi!” or “Obruni!” (white person), and they would give you a huge smile and a handshake. Adults were always kind, and very proud of they have. This was a sharp contrast from the American way of never being content with what you have. It helped me realize how I should be happier with what I have.

 

Ghanaians were also more accepting of others ideas, and acted more civil around people whose views differed from their own. For example, they just finished and election, and the new president was sworn into office while we were there. During the entire trip people talked about the new president, and I met people that voted for and against him, but nobody spoke angrily about either candidate. This was very different than the recent hate-filled election in America, and it was good to see that people can still engage in politics peacefully.

 

Another way Ghanaians were more accepting of others was in religion. The population of Ghana is about 70% Christian and 20% Muslim, and neither group seemed to harbor any hatred or resentment towards the other. In fact, people liked to talk about religion openly. Many people enjoyed telling you about their beliefs and asking what yours are, and they would listen to what you had to say about faith without interrupting or telling you why you are wrong. This is very different from the United States, where religion is not discussed openly, and where a lot of hatred exists between religious groups, largely due to misunderstanding and an inability to listen to other people’s views.

 

This trip showed me the basic things I took for granted that people in Africa do not have, as well as showing me how I can do better to bring some of that Ghanaian happiness and peace back to America. I did not know what to expect because I had never been outside of the United States before, but traveling to Ghana was completely eye opening to me. It changed me worldview by showing me the great need that still exists, as well as allowing myself to see how I myself can change to be more happy and accepting of differing opinions. After this trip, I hope to continue to travel abroad and do humanitarian engineering work throughout my life. Not only has it allowed me to help a community in need, but it has also changed me as a person, and I would like to continue that experience in new areas of the world.

God’s Love We Deliver

Marcy Haynam.

Buck-i-Serv Trip: God’s Love We Deliver.

  1. Over my winter break, I spent one week in New York, New York on a Buck-i-Serv trip where I was a volunteer for an organization titled, God’s Love We Deliver. This organization provides nutritious meals to people in and nearby New York City that are dealing with debilitating conditions such as cancer and HIV/AIDS. Throughout the entire week, my group and I had the pleasure of delivering these meals to the qualified individuals and families, as well as, helping the cooks in the kitchen with preparing and packaging the meals.
  2. I have participated in service trips such as this one before, but I had a very unique, and more rewarding experience while on this one. I knew coming into it, that we were going to deliver and prepare the meals but I did not realize until I was there doing it, how dedicated the workers were and how poor the conditions were that the people lived in. From the experiences I had on this trip, I was reminded of how privileged I am to live in a warm, clean house and not have to even think about how I will get my next meal. I am also blessed to have a family that always cares and provides for me so that I am not alone in this world like some of the clients seemed to be.

I am lucky to be in good health and not have any conditions that could compromise that. I believe that a lot of the time, people forget how blessed and privileged they are to have the simple things in life such as food, water, and warm clothes. It is sad that we all forget that, but it is always good to be reminded of it. This service trip has changed the way I view the simple things and helped me realize that I should not take anything for granted.

  1. For my STEP Signature Project, I helped serve the underprivileged in and around New York City. While working with the organization, we all encountered many enjoyable situations. From working in the kitchen to actually delivering the meals to the people’s doors, everyone on my trip experienced similar emotions. There were many specific parts of the service that I enjoyed that definitely changed how I perceive life and other people.

On the days that we were to work in the kitchen, we were gratefully greeted by one of the organization’s employees who cooked all the meals. These cooks were so thankful for our help and they always had such high spirits. They were so passionate about the organization and what they were doing for it on a daily basis. They were sure to be fun at appropriate times but also serious about their work and ensuring that enough meals were made, and made correctly. Aside from the workers of the organization, there were other volunteers in the kitchen whom we worked alongside. Some of them were from companies nearby and they have been volunteering with God’s Love for years. The fact that companies in New York City spend at least one day a year with this organization, really proves to show how much of an impact this organization has on the community it serves. Seeing how happy these volunteers and workers were, helped me realize that we are all able to assist the needy and underprivileged at least once a year, even though it should be as often as we can.

When we were not working in the kitchen, we assisted the delivery drivers with taking the meals to all of the clients in specific parts of New York City. I traveled to Staten Island on one day and then to Harlem and Upper Manhattan another day. Between both days, I experienced many humbling moments. No matter where I went, every person was more than grateful to receive their meals since I could have been the only person-to-person interaction they have all day. The living conditions that some of them had to live in were astonishing. Even though I only spent a brief amount of time in the project buildings, it was sometimes unbearable to breathe through my nose because of the scent. And to think that the people spend their whole lives in there. In addition to the smell, the clutter that some of the clients lived in was excessive. There was one instance where I delivered meals to an elderly woman in an apartment building and she struggled coming to the door because she said her legs were not working. She eventually came to the door but I was not prepared to hear that. Most of the time, the clients could come to their door to get their meals but sometimes they would say to come in and place the food inside the door on a table or on the floor, while they were confined to their bed. It was heartbreaking to see that people have to live in these kinds of situations.

Participating in a service project in New York City was a very rewarding experience. A lot of the time, people in America do not realize that people are in desperate need of help in most cities. People always associate New York City with the famous sites and monuments, and never go outside of the sightseeing and experience the everyday lives of the people who live in the area. It was humbling to serve those in New York City amidst all of the tourism in the main part of town. Every day I learned something new about myself from serving those who needed it, and I hope that I made an impact on those I came in contact with through this wonderful organization.

  1. Being a volunteer with God’s Love We Deliver helped me realize how thankful we all should be for the lives that we live. It is important to realize how blessed you are because then you can live your life by being grateful for what you have. By being humble, you are less likely to take things for granted and take every opportunity to serve and help others. You can help better the lives of those who cannot do so by themselves. It is sad that some people cannot achieve what they want in life just because they do not have the proper resources to do so. Knowing that I am a more humble person than I was before, encourages me to be the most helpful and welcoming person that I can be to everyone I work or come in contact with.

After college, I aspire to be a Physical Therapist and attending this service trip will improve the work that I will do with my patients. Since I can only offer certain services, I will ensure that I perform the best I can with them since they cannot accomplish the work by themselves. Being humble will drive me to feel blessed with every opportunity that comes my way. Another thing that is now different is that I will appreciate all of the simple things in life and be excited for every experience I have since other people in the world may do anything to have that same experience.

 

Habitat for Humanity: Birmingham Reflection

A portion of Group 3 takes a break to get a quick squad photo

 

Name: Kapil Shankaran

Type of Project: Service-Learning and Community Service

For my STEP Signature Project, I traveled to Birmingham, Alabama with nearly 50 other Ohio State students as part of a Buck-i-Serv trip coordinated with Habitat for Humanity. While there, we completed construction and renovation of several homes in order to provide affordable housing to citizens of the area.

A primary reason that I chose this trip for my Signature Project was because of the environment the trip would provide. I have done community service and volunteer work in the past. However, none of that work was quite as immersive as this experience; I never had to travel or perform any hard labor. I had never been exposed to the environments which many charitable causes and groups typically support. In a way, I didn’t see “the entire picture”. Working firsthand on a service project challenged my views of the meaning of service and the lifestyle that those we serve live. In our Buck-i-Serv Welcome Back Bash, one of the Trip Leaders recalled a quote from their site leader that I feel describes my change in mentality. The site leader encouraged them to not get in the mindset of thinking, “we are here to save these people”, but rather to just be devoted to service. One of the biggest things I realized is that these people don’t NEED to be saved. They are not helpless; they are humans just like me, and live normal lives as well. Just because they don’t have the privileges I do doesn’t mean that they are doomed. This change in my perspective is where I feel I made the biggest growth during my trip.

The shift in my mindset began in our first full day in Birmingham. During our free day, the group was allowed to explore the city, visiting several sites. For example, we accidentally stumbled upon a large church concert, and we were welcomed with open arms. The performers were incredibly talented, and the passion from the Gospel Choir made for a memorable experience. Afterwards, we visited the Birmingham Museum of Art, where we viewed works from regional artists, as well as other pieces. We also stopped for meals in several cultured parts of the city–there were options like Mexican, Indian, American Barbecue, and Thai. Experiencing the culture of Birmingham and how its people live challenged my previous notions of the city. I had a preconceived notion of what life in Birmingham was like; I did not imagine the city being so vibrant and pleasant. Getting a chance to explore Birmingham gave me a chance to settle into a new environment. Being a part of this trip was allowing me to view the world in a different light; I was starting to see the full picture.

As part of the trip, we were assigned to three housing sites: two renovations, and one new house. Renovations included new coats of paint, interior and exterior cleaning, yardwork, and some minor drywall work. Tasks at the new home included painting, tiling, installation of cabinets, and laying sod. When we began building and renovating houses, we got a chance to view the neighborhoods in Birmingham. When I first learned about what I’d be doing as part of the trip, I pictured the group repairing dirty, rundown neighborhoods. Instead, I was surprised with what looked like a typical neighborhood. Holiday decorations were up. People were walking their pets. We even saw the occasional child or two playing outside. While the area certainly did have some issues, the location was not nearly as “rundown” as I thought it would be. This further confirmed in my mind the previous quote from one of the site leaders; we weren’t here to save these people. We were here to serve the community and have fun!

I had never worked in a service group so large until this trip. I will say that working with all these people was by far my favorite part of the trip. I met so many new and amazing people during the bus ride down, while exploring Birmingham, from working and communicating with them at the service sites, and from hanging out in the housing site and playing games at night. The camaraderie developed and the friendships we formed made me forget that this was a service trip at times! I still get to see these people occasionally on campus, and I believe we all are happy and have no regrets about taking this trip. I believe having met all these people has enlightened me to one fact: service doesn’t have to feel like service. It doesn’t have to feel like hard work all day and night. Service is about giving back to a community, and it can be fun as heck at the same time. For the first time, I felt I had seen the full picture.

Having gone through this experience, I feel I have become more empathetic and a better person, both socially and morally. Getting a chance to experience a new culture and being enlightened on what service is truly about have given me a new perspective to share. I am currently an RA on campus, and I am planning to continue to be one going forward. Having gone on this trip will allow me to draw on these experiences in order to better connect with my residents in the hall. Having a larger base of experiences will allow me to better and more closely empathize with others. In addition, having a newfound outlook on service, I will be able to encourage others to get involved, do well for communities, and have just as much fun as I did on this trip.

Engineering Service Abroad Trip to Ghana

Name: Matthew James Regan

Type of project: Service Learning and Community Service

For my step project I went on an engineering service abroad trip to Ghana to create a biogas digester for a school. The project was split into two parts, one being the preparation for the trip which took the form of a class in the fall semester of 2016, and the other being the in country portion of the trip. The project was concluded when a manure based biogas digester was produced in country.

Through the course of the step project my perspective of the world, myself and my abilities transformed. The trip expanded my global perspective. I learned how to quickly adapt to a great many changing variable. I increased in my ability to plan out a long term project. I gained confidence in my ability as an engineer.

My global perspective was greatly expanded over the course of the project.  While planning the trip I partook in a cultural event lead by the nana of a village/or the chief of a village, whom discussed how to properly greet other chiefs, how to perform a Ghanaian handshake, and presented us with Ghanaian style food. While in Ghana I had several conversations with many of the locals about differences and similarities between our two culture and was surprised how similar out two cultures were. Ghana felt different due to a greater feeling of brotherhood Ghanaians had for all people, shown by their constant greeting between all people they saw. This is shown in the very nature of their honking while driving which mean hello I am here, rather than the often obscene meaning it holds in the states. It was also strange to see how happy and proud the Ghanaians were when the transition of power occurred with no bloodshed, which is something I always took for granted in America.  It was also interesting to see how Ghanaians were often very straight forward and confident in what they said, shown by how the men would as women who they do not know to marry them. The most interesting thing however was how 50% of Ghanaians practiced Islam while the other 50% practiced Christianity but these two group of people behaved as if this difference didn’t matter despite the current turmoil in areas around the world. The culture was however very similar, as they seemed to value the democracy as many people in Ghana spoke very highly of the democratic system of government they were under, similar to how many in the U.S. idealize democracy.   The importance of the community was important throughout any local government interactions I’ve seen similar to those I have seen in the U.S. Additionally there was I very large pride for anything made in country, similar to the desire for locally made items in the U.S. It was also interesting to see how many people I met both Ghanaians and other non U.S. residents enjoyed watching various movies made in the U.S. like the gladiator. It was also very interesting to see a KFC in Ghana despite the fact I always viewed this chain as a primarily U.S. restaurant. Overall, noticing the similarities and differences in our cultures provided me to see that even though people may do some things differently we are all deep down the same.

I learned how become more flexible and adaptive while working. Upon arriving in Ghana quickly I realized that our original planned project would not work as the latrine which I was told included little excess liquid was contained more water than It would be practical to work with in a biogas digester. Therefore, our team redesigned our project to work with a different pit latrine in the school, only to be informed that this latrine would not work. We were then told to rework a design that was produced by a group the year before that utilized cow manure rather than human feces. This was then decided to be placed in a local’s house and not a school. This forced our group to discuss with several Ghanaian representatives that the biogas digester should be built in the school as planned. They agreed and we presented them with a final design which was accepted.  This interaction provided me with experience at redesigning a project multiple times quickly and how to remain calm while doing this. Additionally, Ghanaians vary rarely arrive when they say they will, therefore I increased my patience.

I increased my aptitude at designing a long term project. During the pre-departure section of the project my group communicated with representatives from Ghana to determine what they desired us to accomplish, researched about biogas and biogas generators, designed and tested a prototype, and created an in-country design. By performing these typical activities in long term projects, I have acquired experience in these activities, and therefore long term projects. Additionally, having a long term engineering project that I was heavily involved in at every step of the project and encountered several difficulties’ that seemed to have worked has greatly increased my confidence as an engineer.

How I have been transformed by this trip will greatly aid me in my future career as an engineer. By developing a global perspective, I can now more easily relate to those whom were not born in the U.S.  with whom I might be working with in my career. The ability to plan out a long term project will greatly help my future career as I will likely be assigned to oversee large plants or possibly design large plants.  Acquiring confidence in my abilities will greatly improve my performance both in my career and school due to me loosing less time second guessing myself due to my general lack of self-confidence. Overall this trip has allowed be to develop into a more capable engineer, while providing me the chance to provide aid to a community in need.

 

Ghana, Africa Service-Learning Trip

Name: Armani Hrobowski

Type of Project: Service-Learning and Community Service

For my STEP Signature Project, I chose to go on an international engineering service-learning trip to Ghana, Africa. Our goal was to develop and implement projects for various communities near Techiman, Ghana with the help of our Ghanaian partners at the Offinso North District Association (ONDA). My group was responsible for creating a solar powered cell phone charging kiosk to provide electricity for a village that is not connected to the electrical grid. We started our project in the Autumn semester where we went through the entire design process to create the solar system and kiosk. My group worked diligently in the 14 weeks we had to turn our initial ideas into designs and turn our best design into a prototype that we could test before traveling to Ghana. After arriving to Ghana, my group worked with our Ghanaian partners to create the kiosk that would be implemented in Bosom Poso and at the end of our second to last work day our kiosk was completed. The next day we trained the community and its leaders on how to use the kiosk and how to troubleshoot any issues that could arise.

While in Ghana I had many eye-opening realizations that have made me think differently about the world around me. One of my most important discoveries was that I take a lot for granted and that I am truly blessed to have the life that I do. I have never had to worry about getting sick from the water that I drink each day or live exposed to the elements because my house did not have a roof. I have always had fresh, hot food served by my mother cooked on a nice stovetop, and I did not have to worry about an open flame hurting my lungs. I had to do chores when I was little, but I never had to fetch water and carry 10 gallon jugs on top of my head at 8 years old to provide for my family. After attending this trip I realized the need to stop and be grateful for everything that I have in life. From now on, I will be thankful for every single meal I have, every opportunity that has been put before me and every day that I wake up under shelter. I acknowledge the privilege that I was born with and I want to utilize my privilege by providing assistance to those in developing nations that could use my support and engineering expertise to improve their quality of life.

Before going on this trip, my perception of Africa was completely different. I thought that there would be a lot of suffering and unhappy people because of how Africa is portrayed in the media but this was far from the truth. We see commercials with orphaned children and hear about the unclean water and food scarcity and see nothing but sadness portrayed, but after going to Ghana I realized this isn’t the case. Despite their struggles, Ghanaians are some of the happiest people I have ever met. Everyone carried a smile on their face and they greeted one another so warmly. I loved hearing them call each other brother and sister and embrace each other with a Ghanaian handshake. Children played outside happily with limited toys such as sticks, tires and soccer balls, making the most out of what they had. This reiterated a lesson that has been instilled in me since a young child, money does not buy you happiness. If people could find a way be happy through horrible water situations, shortage of food and lack of material goods then there is no excuse why the world cannot be a happier place.

The perception of women in America has not been something that I have particularly paid close attention to but Ghana enlightened me to the sexist and unfair treatment women are subjected to all around the world.  In Ghana, the women in my group were subjected to the sexist attitudes of the men in Ghana and as a result treated as lesser. The men were quick to snatch any hands-on work away from women and one of my group members was constantly asked by men to let them do any intensive labor. One girl was asked if she was sure she should be climbing the tree that several of the guys had already climbed without struggle and that same girl was also told women aren’t able to lift heavy things they should leave that to men. Something also very interesting about Ghanaian culture was that the men are also allowed to take multiple wives but women are not allowed to seek additional husbands, giving men superiority even in their relationships. Upon returning home, I spoke with my girlfriend about this treatment of women within Ghana and talked about how appalled I was. I was proud of the way our country treats females because I had never noticed such outward unequal treatment of women but her response was that Americas treatment of women is far from equal and that we still have a long way to go. Inequality is heavily present in the workplace as women are still paid less than men and are limited by the glass ceiling. Women are constantly told what to do with their bodies and these decisions are made by a majority of men, with female congress involvement at only 20%. After doing some more research, I became more aware that in America our unequal treatment of women is more covert than in Ghana but present nonetheless. Through recognizing the struggle of women everywhere, I realized that I need to become more of an ally to women everywhere and help them stand up to receive equal treatment.

This transformative experience will prove to be valuable for me in both my personal and professional goals. After having such a humbling experience observing the Ghanaians and their appreciation for what they have I am going to be more grateful for what I have and be thankful for every opportunity I get. I will take advantage of the opportunity that I have to be an engineer and after I graduate I will work to improve communities with my engineering skillset. Since this was my first time traveling overseas I did not know what to expect and was extremely nervous because of how Africa was depicted. As one Ghanaian put it, people view Africa as one big country instead of multiple countries but we pre-judge it as dangerous and full of suffering. I now understand that Ghana contains some of the most hospitable and happy people I have ever met and that my preconceived notions were wrong. As a result, I want to travel and explore more cultures. I also want to make sure I pursue a life abundant with happiness because it can be found everywhere even in times of struggle and pain. As I move forward in pursuing my professional career, I will be sure to advocate for women in the workplace and make sure that they are heard. Women deserve to be viewed as equals to men and if more men stand up for women we can fight for equal treatment all over the world. Overall, this trip has taught me so much and I am extremely grateful for STEP and The Ohio State University for the opportunity that has transformed my life.