Going to Ghana: summer community development placement

International internships and placements are becoming more commonplace these days, and offer Canadian students the opportunity to visit parts of the world they might not otherwise see. But while most placements are geared towards what the travelers can offer in terms of aid to their host country, often people forget that those that go on these trips get back just as much as they give.

That’s what two engineering students from The University of Western Ontario are counting on when they travel to Ghana between May 11 and August 10, 2008, to work on water management and other environmentally-oriented projects as part of the Civil and International Development program.

Tyler Rosen has just finished his third year of study in the Faculty of Engineering, and will be traveling with fellow student Taryn Meyers, also between third and fourth year. Tyler says that he expects many learning opportunities will present themselves while on his trip.

“I hope to learn about Ghana, the people, the culture, and how they accomplish tasks. I also hope to discover more about common tendencies we all share and those that are perhaps unique,” he says. “I realize that I will be learning far more than they will learn from me, and for that I am grateful.”

Taryn adds that she expects similar opportunities.

“My main goals for my time in Ghana are to be as open minded and receptive to the people, culture, traditions and land as possible. I want to share my knowledge and skills gained from my education in a meaningful and creative way. It might be surprising that my goals are not specific to the tasks that we are heading over for. Three months and three projects don’t leave much time for large impact, but I hope that through each project we work on and with all the people that we meet there can be equal exchange of learning and teaching.”

The overall goal of the placement is for Tyler and Taryn to use their skills and knowledge in civil engineering to help with several development programs and initiatives that are ongoing in Ghana. While there, Tyler and Taryn will participate in a variety of projects.

They will work with Friends of the Earth on the Lake Bosumtwe project. The goal of the project is to conserve the globally significant flora (plants) and fauna (animals) of the lake’s basin in an integrated manner through support for traditional conservation practices and a community-based conservation program.

They will spend time in the small town of Gomoa Dago in the Central Region of Ghana, where they will participate in water and sanitation projects, help teach children English, mathematics and how to use computers, and work with two other students from the Department of Civil Engineering at the University in Kumasi to design a library. The students will also participate in a workshop on hygiene and sanitation for the community.

Taryn and Tyler will also travel to Accra, the capital of Ghana, where they will work with staff of SNC-Lavalin (a Canadian consulting company) and the Ghana Water Resources Commission on the Hydrogeological Assessment Project. The goal of the project is to improve groundwater resource management and development in the north of Ghana.

Tyler says he anticipates challenges, but is up for the task.

“I hope to contribute to the best of my abilities on the tasks that are assigned to me. I realize that I don’t understand the culture and methods that are used, therefore, I must attempt to use what I know in adaptive ways; of this I must be diligent,” he says, adding “I am very excited to go to Ghana. I’m not scared about the experience because I’ve come to realize that uncertainty is all part of the process and I must become used to it.”

Taryn hopes to bring home a new appreciation of issues of particularly Ghana and broadly, developing countries.

“By working in both urban and rural settings I hope that I can gain a better understanding of the differences between needs and types of solutions specifically for each group. I hope for personal growth and to create lasting partnerships in Ghana so that future International Development students have the opportunity to have their own experience,” she says.

Tyler and Taryn are the first Western Engineering students to go on a summer placement through the Civil Engineering and International Development option. The program itself is quite new, having been conceived of and developed by Ernest Yanful, Chair of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, with the support of his colleagues, in particular, Tim Newson.

The program and the opportunity for international internship and placement were developed in response to what Dr. Yanful sees as a growing need.

“The underpinning rationale is that over the next 20 years the population of the world is going to increase by two billion people and 95 per cent of these people will be living in developing countries,” he says. “We are trying to respond to a future trend by training a different type of civil engineer with the skill set, exposure to and understanding of development issues so they can deal with the kind of issues we see coming down the road.”

Taryn is looking forward to the opportunity to make a difference in someone’s life.

“I decided to enter the international development option because I feel that as a Canadian trained engineer I can offer my skills to the rapidly changing world. I am passionate about the environment and about making sustainable decisions. As humans we have put ourselves in a precarious position on this earth and as economies and countries begin to grow decisions regarding sustainability and the environment are made every day. I want to be a part of those decisions and help push the world towards a healthier, less polluted and hopeful future.”

While all of their activities aim to improve local conditions in various ways, Tyler can see the potential enormous benefits to himself as well.

“I am excited to have the opportunity to experience international work before I graduate. I will use my experiences this summer to determine if this is something I want to pursue. There are many opportunities for engineers who are willing to work abroad; I think it could be a fantastic way to gain experience.”

Adds Taryn: “I am extremely excited about going on this internship and of course a little bit nervous. I am excited to be learning and to be sharing and to have new adventures. And I think that being a tad bit nervous about heading into the unknown is part of what makes the opportunity even more exciting.”



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.: Allison Stevenson
Spencer Engineering Building, Room 2074
T: 519-850-2917
F: 519-661-3808