Our Projects

Projects 2019-2020

Protecting Human Health and the Environment from Artisanal Mining in the Eastern Region of Ghana

Isabel Azevedo, Madison Cunniff, Van Haring, Rosa Reynoso, Rediet Tegegne

The use of mercury in artisanal and small scale gold mining in Ghana poses serious environmental and health risks. The purpose of this project is twofold; to improve safety by prototyping a device to reduce mercury exposure, and to document our collaborative design approach. We formed partnerships with miners, community members, and technical experts in the town of Kyebi, Ghana through semi-structured interviews and an iterative workshop process. Future efforts can include further iterations to adapt device function and manufacturability and an implementation scheme to expand access to these devices.

Mitigating Mercury Pollution from Artisanal Mining

Jessica Antoine, Ema Mehuljic, Meron Tadesse

This chapter discusses the design of an activated carbon distillation column made in Kyebi, Ghana to remove mercury pollution caused by small-scale gold mining. The paper elaborates on the health and safety information regarding exposure to mercury while discussing the collaboration effort with the government and miners of the region. To create our design we studied alternative approaches to artisanal mining and interviewed miners to identify health risks of the process. The sustainability of the design was promoted through materials being sourced directly from Kyebi and the surrounding areas to allow for replication in the future.

Healthcare Center Design, Dwenase, Ghana

Nate Gere, Emily Gordon, Alejandro Marzoratti, Fay Whittal

In recent years, the Ghanaian government has dedicated significant financial resources to improving the Ghana Health Service. The government earmarked these funds for improving “prehospital care, personnel training, health care resource provision, communication improvements, transportation services, and new health facilities.”  The goal of this project was to collaborate using an enhanced human centered design process, with the people of Dwenase, Ghana to identify potential improvements that could be made to the local health center. Enhanced human-centered means empathizing with local people, who are very different from you, to enable designers to facilitate problem definition and design and co-creation of solutions. As anthropologist Arturo Escobar wrote: “effective, meaningful design is a social activity, in which the designer is one actor among many […] The materials of design also include communities, processes, practices and culture, and designers need to be equipped with the right skill to deal with these elements.” For this project, then, it was important to bear in mind that the people of Dwenase, not us, have the most insight into the issues that need resolution in their health center.

Escobar, A. (2017). Designs for the Pluriverse. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Creating an Educational Exchange Using Practical Learning Materials

Haley Hauptfeld, Sonia Litovchick, Linda Puzey

This project, the Teaching and Learning Materials Development Project, which began in 2019, is an ongoing collaboration between students and faculty at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) and teachers working at the Presbyterian Primary School in Dwenase, Ghana. Before this project began, the teaching methods were very abstract. Classrooms had few physical materials that students could interact with in order to better absorb information. This made it difficult for younger students to understand and process their curriculum. Teaching and Learning Materials (TLMs) are physical tools created to aid the teachers with their lessons to create a better educational foundation for students. Additionally, due to financial constraints the community, the TLMs had to be low cost and created only from locally available resources. However, this project goes beyond the physical deliverable. It serves to establish a partnership with the teachers and encourages their own creativity to improve their classrooms. We are taking the abstract curriculum and creating a practical tool for students, as well as a practical partnership with the teachers. This forms an educational exchange that builds a foundation for cross-cultural development between WPI faculty and students and the primary school teachers.

Co-Designing Community Infrastructure

Max Frohlich, Robert Hager, Carly Pereira, Leah White 

The goal of this project was to create a drainage system for the parking lot of the Dwenase Health Center. During the rainy season the area in front of the Center became flooded by rains flowing in from the road and poor parking lot grading. As engineers, we have had experience with designing, but we lacked the regional understanding and expertise of the local residents. For this project, then, we utilized our experience as designers while incorporating local knowledge and experience to solve the problem. Co-design involves a free exchange of ideas between partners. We thought we were co-designing with the community. However, they were co-designing us. This applied to our work and our personal lives. Thus, knowledge flows both ways—even when we do not think we are coproducing, we are.

Using Bridge Co-design and Construction for Developing Community Independence

Ryan Candy, Hannah Murray, Maggie Ostwald, Kristophe Zerphyrin

This project focused on the co-design and construction of two bridges alongside residents in Dwenase, Ghana. Working with our partners was about sharing knowledge we learned in the classroom with their knowledge of their home. These two cultures clashed early as we had our ideas about how things should be and they had their ideas. We began thinking that we would educate our partners on these processes to advance their community and help them learn skills to further their careers. Ultimately, we hoped to  use the design and construction of bridges as a vehicle to provide hope and show the community that they can create their own solutions to their problems. This allows them to become self-sufficient from outside agents, including Western influences and their own government, and leads to the creation of sustainable solutions to their problems. The bridge design and development project can help demonstrate the ability of the locals within Dwenase to execute their own development projects that address significant local issues. We learned, too, however. Through the course of the project we internalized the art of active listening, participating in thoughtful conversation, remaining open-minded to project fluidity, and having an empathic presence. The challenge of actively applying these personal character traits is what helped our team grow as individuals and professionals.