Volunteering in Ghana a moo'ving experience

November 16, 2006, Volume 37, No.6
By stuart colcleugh

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 “It came up almost every day,” laughs Otomo, a fourth-year political science student and EWB chapter co-president at SFU. “They saw me as a ticket to a better life. Usually they would say, ‘Oh, I don't have 50 cattle.' And I would say, ‘Well, you better start working on it!'”

The proposals were just one of many surprises for Otomo, who worked with local engineers to implement the multifunctional platform (MFP) project in non-electrified communities. The MFP, a 10-hp diesel engine on a steel chassis, was designed to help stimulate rural development by powering everything from agro-processing machines to saws and welding machines. It can also charge batteries, power water pumps or illuminate as many as 200 lights. The machine is particularly targeted as a time- and labour-saving and income-generating device for rural women, who process most of their communities' food manually.

Otomo's work often entailed visits to remote villages applying for an MFP to make sure it would be economically, socially, financially and technically viable. “It was fascinating every day,” she says. “And the people were so happy, despite many of them being very poor. There was lots of dancing and singing all the time.”

Otomo highly recommends volunteering abroad to help others. “But ultimately you're the one that benefits the most,” she says. “You learn about different cultures and about development, but mostly you learn about yourself.

“I think about Ghana every single day. In fact, I want to do a one-year placement there with EWB after I graduate.”

For more information about Engineers Without Borders at SFU, visit http://sfu.ewb.ca.

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