Ghana Sustainable Change Program Aims to "Do Something Real"

By Alaina Bartel
Outreach and Engagement Communications Student Intern

Imagine wandering around in the jungles of West Africa searching for water. For Kimberly Burton, assistant professor of practice in the Knowlton School's City and Regional Planning Section and the program coordinator for Ghana Sustainable Change, that's just a part of her job.

"We went out, not just into the rural villages, but actually out to the jungle where many people get their water sources, and got to test some of the streams," Burton said. "I was in the middle of one of the hikes, and I texted my friends and family ... 'I'm hiking in the jungle looking for water...it's the coolest thing ever.' It was awesome."

This project is just one of many that Burton oversees for GSC, an interdisciplinary studio course and service-learning study abroad group at Ohio State. They have completed more than 29 developmental projects in the Offinso North District in Ghana, which is a part of one of 10 regions in the country. Some of these projects include shared shelter settlement plans, soccer programs, health services access, water quality and access, renewable energy technologies, housing surveys and mapping, and public sanitation for rural schools and villages.

An Ohio State student works with an iPad in Ghana.

An Ohio State student works with an iPad mapping program in Ghana.

With the motto "Let's Do Something Real," the program, now in its sixth year, aims to help Ghanaian communities become sustainable, resilient, and healthy, and embrace their distinct culture and identity. This happens through focusing on locally-expressed critical needs, supporting interdisciplinary service-learning, and building on a strong planning and development foundation. Stakeholders in this effort include the Honorable Kojo Appiah-Kubi, the District Chief Executive of the Offinso North District Assembly (ONDA); faculty from the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) in Ghana; as well as Nana Marvin Owusu, a native Ghanaian and local Columbus resident.

Owusu is known as Nana Odeneho, which means "chief" in Ghana, because he is acting as a chief on behalf of his uncle, who is the head chief of the Brong Ahafo region in Ghana. He lives in Columbus and volunteers his time to speak to students about the current cultural, political, and economic state of Ghana. Owusu provides feedback on student projects prior to the service learning trips, and when students return, they brief him on the progress they have made. Although not directly involved with the projects, he shares their excitement, and said GSC has had a great impact on the community.

"I have never had an iota of negative feedback from Ghana. I would like this program to sustain forever," Owusu said. "I pledge my support, I pledge my availability to serve anytime that I am called."

An Ohio State student works around a well with partners from Ghana.

Ohio State students worked with partners in Ghana on a well project. 

After they decide on the most urgent projects, the students map out a feasible plan at their studio located in Knowlton Hall, and then bring them to life on a service-learning trip over spring break.

Adam Sauer, a recent graduate with a degree in electrical and computer engineering, participated in two service-learning trips to Ghana. He was involved with three of the projects there, and said his most memorable moment from the trips was visiting a gold mine (see more from Sauer in the video below).

"It was just an interesting experience because I didn't realize that kind of mining operation existed there...it was literally a bunch of holes in the ground," Sauer said. "We leaned up to the edge of one and you could hear pickaxes clanking way down below, but you couldn't see anything."

A group photo from Ghana.

Program partners from Ghana and Ohio State.

Burton has been leading a process to create a strategic plan for the future of the program and has received input from stakeholders, alumni, and other interested parties regarding the direction of the program. The goal is to create a roadmap to guide the program and ensure it continues into the foreseeable future.

"Maybe once we're done doing all of our projects in one region, in our strategic plan we've talked about moving to a neighboring region. And then, maybe once we're done with Ghana, we move onto a neighboring country in West Africa," Burton said. "That's what we've been building so this can actually be a sustainable program over time, so we can continue to have the opportunity to work in that part of the world, because I think it's so important for us to interact and experience that kind of life and culture firsthand."


Recent graduate Adam Sauer created a short video about his experiences in Ghana.


The Ghana Sustainable Change Program received an Engagement Impact Grant from the Office of Outreach and Engagement in 2014.


Contact: Kimberly Burton, burton.90@osu.edu

Program website: http://u.osu.edu/ghanasc