Sunday, September 26, 2010

Edward's Reflections

I just want to take the time now to look back on our experience in this class and Patriensa.

We all came into the class about a year ago with varying degrees of expectations. There were people from different kinds of cultural backgrounds and engineering disciplines. Little did we know, this pilot class allowed our group to go beyond what we expected. Thrown together in a group with random students, we managed to turn the professor's ideas into a concrete reality with hard work and dedication. None of this was easy - everybody had to contribute and devote a large amount of time to the project. There were times when we had our doubts. Our project managers were able to give the group a direction and confidence in the project. Through their leadership, we remained disciplined and continued along.

Once we were able to get funding and made the necessary preparations, it was time to go to the village. Unfortunately, only four students (Carrie, Stephen, Caleb, myself) were able to actually go to the village and bring the water project to completion. To be able to help a village in need of a helping hand was incredible. The people of Patriensa were incredibly heartwarming and hospitable. They did everything they could to help and we needed every single bit of it. Without them, the project would not have happened - plain and simple. From the children to the village elders to our little group, everybody pulled their own weight. The children especially were a joy to work with - they were always happy to be with us and weren't shy about it. The people of Ghana, the culture (customs, language, food), and the environment were very new to me but at the same time very familiar. For me, a lot of the food and lifestyle was reminiscent to that of Taiwan's culture. For example, the markets in the city of Accra looked (and smelled) identical to Taipei's nightmarket. But everything else about the culture was new to me - including SOME of the food (very large snails).

Once I heard the news that the water system was working, I was ecstatic. Our primary objective had been completed and the children and village have another access point to water. Our hand sanitation education was somewhat successful and hopefully the teachers can reiterate the importance of washing hands. The village of Patriensa are a very strong and smart people. Hopefully in the future projects for this class, there will be ways to bolster the village economy and allow the young villagers to stay in the village and give back to this community in addition to the water projects or construction projects.

I want to give my thanks to our whole Ghana group, the Peru group, the professors, Afren, and the entire village of Patriensa. To experience a brand new culture and people in a small village environment and be able to help such a large community is something indescribable and life-changing in many ways; I encourage everybody to find some way to give back to the community if you can.

I wish the best of luck to this class and its future endeavors and expect great things ahead.

Monday, September 13, 2010

June 17th Project Completion Ceremony

Our journey throughout the past year has been amazing. The culmination of all of the time, effort and hard work from the Ghana team members and our in-country support in Patriensa came to fruition on our last day in the village. With the well system constructed and in full operation, we as students who were provided a chance to participate in the project were overwhelmed. What the community did for us next was beyond everything we expected.

The last day of our stay in Patriensa Pastor Kofi and other prominent members of the community organized a ceremony officially handing over the well to the community. It was a Saturday but at least 100 children showed up in their school uniforms. Members of the church came out in their Sunday best. Officials from all over the region came to witness and participate in this joyous ceremony.

Give the chance to say a few words to the community, I wanted to express how grateful we are for all of the support and love we received during our stay. It was common for community members to thank us for all we have given up to travel and dedicate our time to providing their children and town with a clean water source. While speaking to the attendees I told them, “We are grateful for all you have done for us and anything that we have lost or given up has been returned to us 100 fold in the joy, love, experience and friendship we have gained.”

June 9th, 2010

The well system is completely functioning! There are 2 60 foot deep wells and an elevated storage tank in place behind the elementary school. This work was completed before our arrival by Nana Yaw Kwakye’s team. These wells have been hand dug. The men climb down the ladder-less hole using nothing but hand and foot holds dug into the well walls. They then lower a pick axe and a light and begin digging away. Other workers stand on the edges of the well (precariously, I might add!) hauling up the ropes attached to buckets which contain the water and sediment in the bottom of the well. The wells are deep but Mr. Kwakye would prefer a few more feet of depth prior to completion.

We have gone to Konongo to purchase additional supplies to complete the distribution system that will be our addition to the construction project. We will dig 400 feet of trench in which to lay the PVC pipes to 2 different distribution points. We are working with a plumber and mason on Mr. Kwakye’s team. They do not speak much English so we have been using the translating services of our helper Francis.
Once we lay out piping system there will be two spigots located on school grounds for students to access clean water with the turn of a knob.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

A Day in the Life, Patriensa June 2010

Notes from Edward Wang-

Every day we would walk to the village after breakfast of tea/coffee/ biscuits (took about 30 minutes) and on the way there we would get looks and attention especially from the village children.

In the village, we would get to work whether it was educating the school children on hand sanitation, talking to specific contacts, procuring materials for the water system, helping build the water system, watching the world cup, etc. After getting our tasks done, we would head back to the guest house.

The guest house was incredible and the contacts Pastor Kofi and Dr. Darkwa provided were so much help. Francis (local translator and guide) and the drivers Yaw and Augustine were great as well. Can’t forget the cook either because she was amazing.

But the greatest support came from the local villagers. However, they would not trust us with a tool. But they saw what we were doing and wanted to help as much as they could and we could not have done it without them.

Arrival In Patriensa, Ghana

After all of our team's hard work and preparation we finally made it to Patriensa, Ghana. We arrived on June 6th, 2010. Though our initial team consisted of 9 students, our travel team included only 4 team members: Caleb, Edward, Stephen and Carrie. Along with the students, technical advisers Jim and David participated in the project.

We were met at the airport by Pastor Kofi, our local Patriensa contact. Pastor Kofi is originally from Kumasi, Ghana and has been working in the village of Patriensa at the Presbyterian Church for many years. He is very interested in furthering the development of the community to ensure that young people have the opportunity to remain in the village and start their own families as opposed to traveling to the larger cities and irking out a living selling goods on the street. An important component of his plan is education. With proper education and skills, young children will develop into adults that have the brain power to create initiatives and ideas for business development within their own community. By providing the school with clean drinking water, our cooperation with the village will encourage more children to attend and remain in school throughout the school day.

On our first night in Ghana we heard a talk from Dr. Osei Darkwa. Dr. Darkwa is a university professor who has taught both in the US and Ghana. He currently runs a technical university that he established in Accra. Dr. Darkwa is originally from Patriensa and still has ties to the village. During his lecture, Dr. Darkwa emphasized the role of community participation in development work. Through his past development efforts he has concluded that the incorporation of community support and volunteers is critical to a projects long-term success. When a community has put forth its own funds, support and time a sense of pride and ownership is instilled. Without this, many projects stumble once the initial construction is completed and the international volunteers depart.

Throughout the development of the PUC Ghana project we have tried to be very aware of this potential road block to success. We have strategized to generate a sense of community ownership through an initial fund drive in the community. Church members took up a collection in support of this project and raised approximately $500, no small sum for a subsistence farming community in Western Africa. Volunteers have been arranged by Pastor Kofi and Dr. Darkwa to support the students and the project in anyway they can: housing, security, cars, drivers, translators, cooks, manual labor, etc.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The Ball is Finally Rolling!

The Ghana team has progressed immensely over the past few weeks. Our beginning days were full of uncertainty about Patriensa and what to expect when we got there. Prior to the reconnaissance trip, the team was more focused on diligently examining our project and allocating the means of getting to the project site. However, all of the progression we had made now seems minuscule, as compared to what was learned over the course of a week in Ghana. While we had a good idea about what was expected of us, nothing had been solidified until the Reconnaissance trip.

Our project and communications managers, accompanied by Patriensa's Queen Mother of Development, Dr. Dorie Gilbert, went to the village during spring break and came back with our solidified project scope.

Our project manager was lucky enough to get in touch with a local man, Mr. Nana Yaw Kwakye, who has been an educator in different countries and specializes in well construction and maintenance. He has successfully implemented 35 mechanized water systems in various Ghanaian communities, so we decided that his design will be what we finally choose to stick to. This is because Mr. Kwakye's system establishes a design that satisfies some of our most important design standards of being cost and time efficient, sustainable and feasible to complete by the traveling team members. Mr. Kwakye's team will have completed the dug well and 10ft. cement tower by the time the team arrives this summer, but there is still plenty of work to be done digging trenches for the distribution system, laying PVC pipe, installing a 3,500L tank and providing education for the community about sanitation and the benefits of us having more accessible water. A long-term goal was also set to create an avenue for the school to sell sachet bags of water, using the water from our system, to gain money to buy necessities like books and paper.

This is an example of what our finished system will look like, Photo from a site that Mr. Kwakye helped oversee.

The School

In addition to finalizing our design, the team has also recently identified the 4 students who will be traveling this summer. Their duties will include digging the trenches, constructing the PVC pipe system and establishing a good reputation within the community, so that future PUC projects will be welcomed by everyone in the village. It is imperative, at least at this stage, that these traveling team members respect and honor the customs within their community. In order to prepare for any cultural disparities, our team has taken the initiative in talking with students and local Ghanaians who are familiar with the area, and we have developed an understanding of the level of respect that each student should maintain throughout the duration of their stay. Ghanaian culture is very different from that of the U.S. and for a traveler to go culturally unprepared, could result in problems that would otherwise have been prevented had they taken into account that Western civilization is much more industrialized, whereas Ghanaians work very hard for everything they own.

The most exciting recent news is that Afren, an oil and gas company based in Côte d’Ivoire, has opted to invest $14,880 towards our project! These means that the only costs left will be plane tickets and food, but hopefully the grant letters will help cover some of the cost.
We also had our final SLAB presentation today, and it was evident that this team is sufficiently prepared for the project that we proposed 7 months ago. So, even from our small beginnings as pioneers of PUC, the Ghana team has successfully proposed, designed and raised the funds for an international engineering project that will be implemented this June. It was truly an exciting day to see that Projects for Under-served Communities has the ability to deliver what all of us hoped it would, which is the ability to provide international philanthropic experience, while allowing us to be taking an engineering class that is actually fun! Lots of students at UT get to take Art or Theater as a elective, but as an engineer we don't get that kind of flexibility. Where can we explore our talents or come up with enterprising ideas? I feel that Projects for Underserved Communities offers these choices, and that it should be an established class in the Cockrell School.
The year is just about over and now is the time for refining everything. Updates will be posted as new information gets to us!

For more pictures visit:

To see our SLAB Presentation:

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Preparing to Finalize Our Design

As we approach our spring reconnaissance trip, Dr. Burgin has had us hard at work on leaning the essentials of water testing, tank sizing, constructing pvc pipe and determining the prices of our project materials.

We visited Dr. Shannon Stokes' lab to learn what kind of contaminants to look for, how to test for them and what containers to use to store our samples in. The commonly looked over aspects of water testing, such as using amber jars rather than clear plastic ones to store our samples that are sensitive to light, were addressed, in order to ensure that we are able to provide potable water.

Then we had to develop a programs in excel, to determine what our tank capacity and water demand would be for our school. These programs can be used as a resource if any tweaks in the design have to be made and we need to reevaluate aspects of our water system like the pump capacity or the amount of water that should be in our storage tank at any point during the day.

This past Wednesday, we went to a lab under the Ernest Cockrell Jr. Hall to learn how to connect PVC pipe.
We all got a shot at connecting two pvc pipes and learned what safety measures need to be taken when we get to lay our pipe distribution system in Patriensa.

This coming week we are to report local prices of pvc pipe in Ghana. We have also gotten price estimates for our water testing materials, and have been refining our budget. These assignments and other independent inquiries have enabled us to reduce our summer budget from $61,000 to $49,000.

Also in the process of refining our budget, we discovered a complication in how Delta airline miles can be donated. Any donation of miles will be taken as a pledge, in order to avoid transfer service fees. So, the way donated miles will work is by the donor calling the airline and reserving a ticket under one of our names with the amount of donated miles applied towards the cost. Only a donation of 180,000 miles can be used to cover the whole 2-way ticket, but donations up to 30,000 miles can be applied to our tickets to minimize the price. If each team member traveling this summer can get 30,000 miles donated towards their ticket, we will be able to save $3,000!

Also, we have recently learned that the Projects in Under-served Communities class has been nominated for a national award associated with the American Council of Higher Education. We are 1 of 4 nominees vying for the 2010 International Award for Innovative Practices in Higher Education. The winner will be announced in early March and we'll be sure to keep you updated!