EWB Princeton's Ghana Project began when Prof. Gregory Van Der Vink of the Geosciences Dept. introduced a development project in Afienya, Ghana to a group of EWB students in fall 2007. The project is a joint venture by Prof. Van Der Vink's environmental sustainability company and a real estate company in Ghana. The professor had hoped to get undergraduate students involved in the project, which called for the construction of an entire community from scratch using concepts derived from environmental and economic sustainability.
In Jan 2008, three students accompanied Prof. Van Der Vink on a trip to Ghana to investigate how EWB members can contribute to such a large scale project. Upon their return, they suggested that instead of working on the Afienya Project, which would require a significant amount of specialized knowledge, students can make a big difference in an area without which there can be no sustainability to speak of education. This suggestion was subsequently fine-tuned into an EWB project proposal in spring 2008.
A few months later, two members of the newly established Ghana Project went on an assessment to Accra (capital of Ghana). During their 24-day trip, the students visited a number of NGOs working in the education sector, as well as a number of schools in the Greater Accra Region (the equivalent of a state in the US). One school in particular is eager to work with EWB Princeton to improve its quality of education. This school, EP Basic, is located in Ashaiman, a slum city 30 minutes from Accra. Ashaiman's story is one of population explosion from around 20,000 people in 1970 to around 200,000 people in 2007. As a result, many schools are overcrowded and ill-equipped. EP Basic has over 400 students from pre-K to 9th grade. In the EWB students' meeting with EP Basic administrators, the headmaster noted how the school doesn't have a library. In fact, it has almost no novel/supplementary educational material for the students to read. In recognizing the importance of books in the shaping of young and curious minds, the EWB students came back with a plan for working with EP Basic to spread the joys of reading.
Members of the Ghana team with workers during the Summer 2011 Implementation trip.
As the project has grown and developed, five complementary goals have come together to form the foundation of our mission statement:
- Design and construct a safe, inviting, environmentally and economically sustainable library that can function as both an educational center and community space.
- Organize and formulate a library system that effectively organizes over 4,000 collected books while at the same time welcoming all types of community members.
- Install a digital infrastructure including netbooks and Internet access to increase digital literacy and promote information technology skills.
- Formulate educational programming for students, teachers and librarians that fosters traditional literacy and digital literacy, as well as acquainting visitors with the library layout and resources.
- Become acquainted with the local culture and customs to ensure that there is both an understanding of how our project fits into the community and mutual respect for different ways of life.
The Ghana School Library Project was created after a successful implementation trip in the summer of 2011. In the end, a 10m x 15m library was constructed using sustainable landcrete blocks and over 7000 books and 37 One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) laptops were deployed. In addition, a variety of training programs were conducted in order to educate members of the community on how to best use and maintain the resources provided. During the 2011-2012 school year, we developed a number of educational and library management programs aimed at ensuring the long term success of the library. This includes additional training modules on operation and maintenance of the OLPCs, an electronic library catalog, and a digital eGranary library database. The final programs were implemented during the monitoring trip in the summer of 2012.