In August of 2016, we traveled to the village of Gomoa Gyaman , Ghana for the fourth time since 2013. Our travel team consisted of six students, Camille Blaisdell, Rachel Broughton, Louis Campbell, Emily Haussmann, Andy Rhine, and Dhruv Vora, our technical mentor Jed Holt, and our faculty mentor Dr. Daniel Tetteh-Richter. On previous trips, we constructed one latrine and communicated with village elders to formulate a design to meet Gomoa Gyaman’s needs as serve as a source of pride. During this trip, we completed the substructure of the second latrine in the village. We also completed the superstructure of the first latrine since time restraints kept last spring’s travel team from finishing. The community, with the supervision of the team, painted the latrine and finished installing the plumbing, stall doors, and some aesthetic features.
Upon arrival, the team was set back two days due to unexpected issues with pit excavation. The community did not dig a stepped excavation but rather left the team with a vertical-walled pit and piles of earth to the side that posed a safety risk. However, within two days’ time, the team and local community modified the excavation to improve the safety of the worksite, allowing construction to begin as planned. The team constructed all parts of the substructure using concrete and rebar in some form, following the construction process of the last build closely with a few alterations. Rather than using a neat excavation method, the footings were formed above the pit bottom since the ground in Gyaman is difficult to dig out. The team poured the interior and exterior walls separately in order to reuse the wall forms and decrease the volume of each pour.
Meanwhile, the first latrine remained nominally complete but not quite ready for use. Our previous team only stayed for a week and thus didn’t have the time to finish all the details of the latrine, such as hanging all the doors. The community also decided to add such amenities to the latrine as a privacy wall, a tiled floor, and painted walls. As a result, the travel team and community leaders decided to complete the first latrine while the team was in town. Although the team helped coordinate the work at this site, most of the effort was community driven and financed. Ultimately, everyone helped put the final touches on the first latrine and the community held an opening ceremony the last day of the travel team’s stay.
Along with gaining engineering experience, the travel team grew through personal understanding of communication and life skills. One of the major obstacles the team had to overcome was the language barrier. Rural Ghanaians often speak local languages rather than English, so communication with them depends greatly upon body language, hand signals, and a few choice English words. Although this type of communication can be frustrating, we learned to keep a positive attitude regardless.
Currently, we plan to construct the second latrine’s second superstructure in the next year, and further assess Gomoa Gyaman’s needs that can be met by our engineering skills.