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.