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2010 July

News and Updates from our Chapter

28 Jul

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This Week on the Farm – Video Blog

July 28, 2010 | By |

Video Updates From The Field (Literally) In Ghana

From EWB Grand River Chapter member Ben, posted July 18th ~

After a long hiatus I’m excited to announce a series of videos about life on the farm in Seripe. I’ll be filming a few short clips each week and uploading them to youtube (yes it’s possible, it just takes about a day).

You’ll have to bear with me – the first episode was completely impromptu and my video editing skills are poor, but I hope you enjoy it!  Check it out on Youtube.

Also, if you have any questions or suggestions of things to film for an episode, I’m taking requests!  This episode doesn’t do a very good job of introducing Dery, the farmer I’m staying with, so I’ll work on a quick intro piece so you get to know him and a bit about where he’s at.

I also took off to Tamale for a week of team meetings and left the camera with Dery, so expect an episode about ploughing as soon as I can get the editing done.

Thanks for reading/watching!

26 Jul

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September Chapter Meeting – this Thursday !

July 26, 2010 | By |

Next Grand River Chapter Meeting:  September 16

The first meet-and-greet and planning meeting for Grand River Chapter’s exciting new fall season is scheduled for September 16th at 7 PM.    Anyone considering becoming more involved in the Grand River Professional chapter, or wanting to learn more about Engineers Without Borders in general, is invited to attend.  See you there !

Location:  Rum Runner Pub  @ 1 King St W, Kitchener, Ontario N2G 1A1.

16 Jul

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Engineering Ghana

July 16, 2010 | By |

Update From The Field

One of EWB’s African program staff, Grand River chapter’s own Erin Antcliffe, has posted a fascinating new entry in her blog (July 16, 2010) .  You can read it here, or on Erin’s own site “What am I doing here?  Reflections on my role in Ghanaian development.”

Dear Readers:

I haven’t posted for a long time. I know. I didn’t mean to leave you all in the dark. But as time continues to pass, I find myself digging deeper and deeper into Ghanaian life, farming, MoFA, etc. and getting farther and farther away from life in Canada. I was always frustrated as an EWB chapter member in Canada when volunteers in Africa would say they “couldn’t relate” to us in Canada anymore. But now I see what they mean. Have I forgotten what it’s like to live in Canada? To work tirelessly on the other side of the ocean to raise public awareness about development and lobby our government to improve aid? To go to the grocery store and buy food from all over the world? Well honestly… yeah, I kind of have. I mean, if I think hard about it, I can remember what it was like. But the problem is that I have to think hard – it doesn’t just come naturally anymore. I have to actually TRY to relate my experience to what it’s like in Canada. And that mental effort has prevented me several times from writing on my blog.

But no more. I don’t think it’s an adequate excuse. My job isn’t to get lost in Ghana, it’s to experience Ghana and bring those realities to you in Canada and the rest of the world. It’s to see good development, and bad, and be able to share the difference. It’s to evaluate the impact of our work on Ghanaians and to see where we can make improvements.

So I’m back on the blog train. I am aiming to go back to posting at minimum every 2 weeks. I will also try harder to make short snappy posts on things I’m thinking, seeing or reading about – they don’t all have to be epic. I will remember that just because I’m used to seeing women carry 5-ft. tall things on their heads and discussing agric. development projects with district directors doesn’t mean it’s not new to you! And so I’m making an effort to share more of those things with you again.

As always, if you have any questions, comments, feedback or requests, please PLEASE let me know! You can comment on a post or contact me directly through email or the Contact form on this blog. I’m always happy to hear from you and would love to be given more direction on what you want me to write about!

Thanks for reading,   Erin
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Though I’m working with Engineers Without Borders, I don’t do much “traditional” engineering. I hope most of you reading this know that already, but if you’re wondering why, check here. However, I have found the opportunity to flex my engineering muscles in a few cases, which I wanted to share with you below.

     My untrusty moto 

This is my moto. It’s a piece of junk. It’s 3 years old and it’s been ridden into the ground by the previous 3 owners. I have had so many problems with it – spark plugs not sparking, horn not honking, tires going flat, brakes squealing, lights breaking. I’ve had to replace the engine block, connector rod, chain & sprocket, rear tire, clutch handle and headlight. It’s a pain in the ass. But on the bright side, I’ve developed an intimate knowledge of this rudimentary two-stroke machine. Ghanaians (especially men) are always surprised when they see me sigh after a failed attempt to start the moto and pull out my tools. They still rush to help, and I’m always grateful, but I’ve learned a lot about fixing my own moto and regularly do it myself. Just give me some coveralls and call me a mechanic!

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As I mentioned previously on this blog, I live in a village called Zuo which is about 5 km outside of Tamale. While we’re lucky enough to have lights (electricity), we’re too far away from the city to have flowing water. It’s amazing how much you take this for granted in Canada, where you don’t have to walk far and carry water back every day. As I also previously mentioned, the women here carry amazing amounts of water from the dam every day, neglecting the broken borehole in the middle of the village. Though I try to fetch my own water, I am not nearly as strong as a Ghanaian woman and I am constantly being assisted, which makes me constantly feel guilty.

    Bucket engineering 

Luckily, the rainy season has provided a way to assuage my guilt in the form of – you guessed it – rain! Pure water, falling from the sky – it’s an amazing thing for which I have a new appreciation. I am also lucky enough to live in a place with a Polytank, the huge black plastic water storage tanks which are ubiquitous in Ghana (and you would have seen Kingson, the goaltender for the Black Stars, promoting these monstrosities on TV during the World Cup if you were watching in Ghana!). A rainwater collection system is set up so that the water streams from the roof to the eavestrough and falls into the Polytank. Ingenious! Except it doesn’t work. The Polytank is placed just a bit too close to the house and against a cement something so that it can’t be moved further away (I haven’t identified the purpose of this weird cement structure yet, it’s a mystery). When there is a light rain, it falls gently into the open mouth of the Polytank. But when there is a windy downpour (ie. a LOT of water to fill my tank), the water races off the end of the eavestrough, overshooting the Polytank. It took a few rains and a pitifully low water level in the tank for me to figure this out.

Sooooo last time we had a huge downpour, instead of running inside away from the rain, I ran outside! I was moving buckets here and there to catch the rain, and even standing up on the cement-mystery to catch the water pouring past the Polytank in my bucket and dump it in. Finally, after standing there for a while, wearing only a Ghanaian cloth wrapped around me, soaked to the skin and freezing cold (yum!), I used my engineering skills: I found some rocks and propped my bucket up so it would be stable, but on an angle, where it would catch the water and overflow into the Polytank. Ta-da! In this way I FILLED the tank – I’m set for life! (Or at least until I move out.)

Bonus: I also washed my hair outside in the rain that day, which made me very happy.

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    The view from the road 

This last one is not so much about using my engineering skills as it is about pointing out someone else’s lack thereof. After a particularly bad storm last week, I went for a run and noticed something odd flashing at me from the roadside. It looked like a giant sheet of metal was caught in a tree. What??

Upon closer inspection, I realized that it was the roof of the local primary school, folded and bent and leaning up against a tree. It had blown off in the storm like a big aluminum parachute. Whoever built this school did not account for the pressure that builds up from the incredible winds that come in the rainy season. It made me wonder: who had built this school? A donor that didn’t know the weather conditions? A local NGO without enough budget to securely fasten the roof? Or a government employee that didn’t have the capacity to design it properly? I have no idea, but with all the people building schools around here, it must be a common problem.

     The bent school roof 

10 Jul

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Scenarios for the Future of Technology and International Development

July 10, 2010 | By |

The role of technological advances in alleviating poverty

This week’s pick is a valuable new publication available from The Rockefeller Foundation.  This venerable institution “supports work that expands opportunity and strengthens resilience to social, economic, health, and environmental challenges—affirming its pioneering philanthropic mission since 1913 to ‘promote the well-being’ of humanity.”

From their website:  “There is little doubt that technology will continue to drive change across the developing world. However, uncertainty exists about the role of technological advances in alleviating poverty. To uncover the range of possibilities that may emerge, novel approaches like scenario planning are essential.

Scenarios for the Future of Technology and International Development,” a new report, features four very different—yet very plausible—visions of how technology could profoundly alter how we address some of the most pressing challenges in the developing world.

Scenario planning – an innovative method of creating narratives about the future – is a powerful tool for assisting organizations in considering how complex problems could evolve and be solved over the long term. The scenario planning process helps to identify unique opportunities, rehearse important decisions by simulating their broader implications, and illuminate previously unexplored areas of intersection.”

A pdf of the full document is available to download free.

Also available on the Rockefeller website is the complete text of “Scaling Innovation“, an excellent speech delivered by Dr. Judith Rodin, President of the Rockefeller Foundation, at the inaugural conference of the Social Impact Exchange, on June 17, 2010 in New York City.

I’m not expecting you to postpone your summer vacation in order to read both of these interesting documents right now.  But do take a peek, so you’ll know where to save these files for when you’re next awoken by a pesky midnight craving to learn more about planning and communication advances for action-oriented collaboration.

 

02 Jul

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Afrofest 2010 in Toronto

July 2, 2010 | By |

Discover Africa in the heart of Toronto !

AFROFEST is a free celebration of African music and culture presented by Music Africa and held annually in Queen’s Park in downtown Toronto. This year the festival takes place on the weekend of Saturday July 10th and Sunday July 11th, the final weekend of Africa’s first World Cup of soccer.

Afrofest is a showcase of the richness and diversity of African culture.  It is an event of song, dance, drumming and theatre, featuring world-renowned African music acts as well as dozens of highly-rated African musical groups based in Canada. With a bustling African marketplace, food and craft vendors, artistic displays, a Children’s Village, a drum stage, music workshops, and organized fun and educational activities for youth and children. (All preceding text from the Music Africa website).

When you check out the event details online at Music Africa, be patient, as it can sometimes take a while for their home webpage to load.  If you make it down to this fabulous festival, please pop back here and share your comments.