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Success Stories - Project GROW from Report by Emily Landry

Humanitarian Grant Report by Emily Landry, University of British Columbia, Okanagan
Ghana Rural Opportunities for Women (Project GROW) is a campus-wide community development project, which aims to facilitate women's economic empowerment and community capacity building agenda in rural Ghana. It is a student driven project supported by staff and faculty at UBC's Okanagan campus.

In May 2012 Emily Landry travelled to Ghana to conduct a solar energy feasibility study, supported by a Humanitarian Grant from the IEEE Canadian Foundation.

Emily travelled with Nicole Malkinson, a third year civil engineering student at UBC Okanagan who conducted the preliminary soil testing and geo-surveys required to plan a small water-diversion project, in keeping with the interdisciplinary approach of Project GROW.

There is minimal access to electricity in rural Ghana, although a demand for it exists. Most families own cell phones which are used for economic reasons. For example, payments and/or savings can be done by phone (a much more accessible and secure alternative to banks or hoarding cash). Cell phones also enable up to the minute information from markets thereby improving supply capability (wireless connections are strong even in remote areas). Because of its wide accessibility and economic relevance, cellular technology is leading an economic revolution on the African continent. Electricity is therefore required for charging cell phones as an important step in promoting economic growth. Furthermore, several schools in the GROW area currently own laptops or can get access to them, which could improve student access to educational resources. However without electricity the laptops remain unusable. Adult education programs are also being instigated in the GROW area, but the only available time for adults is at night when it is dark and malaria-carrying mosquitoes come out. Indoor light is therefore needed in order allow the adult education to move forward. The aforementioned factors have provided motivation for GROW to engage in an electricity project in the GROW catchment as one of the next strategic actions to further the progress they have made so far in promoting female health and education in the region.

In order to provide electricity to the remote rural region under consideration, appropriate electricity generation methods must be identified. Solar photovoltaic technology is being considered as an appropriate electricity generation method because of the high solar radiation in the country, the sparsely populated and remote site locales, and the pre-existing presence of panels in the region under study.

Phase One of the Electricity Generation project encompassed those actions that were taken while in the country to provide immediate electricity generation capability, albeit on a small scale.

The second phase of the project encompasses the near-to-distant future (i.e. the next two years). It is recommended that in this time period, infrastructure be installed and/or adapted to provide electricity to the area for services such as cell phone and computer charging, indoor light, and possibly refrigeration. A public utility model was proposed for financial and governance aspects of the infrastructure. In this model, members of the village will be selected to assist with wiring the solar panels and will be concurrently trained on how to operate and assist with maintaining the utility.

The electricity project assessment was successfully completed with the support of the GROW personnel both in Canada and in Ghana, and we have enjoyed the overwhelming welcome of the communities who are benefiting from GROW’s efforts. The impact of GROW’s work was evident everywhere in the community, from the success of the grinding mill to the collection of donkey carts that gathered in the village on Presentation Day. The Chief (above, centre) welcomed the female engineers into his community and personally toured with us while we assessed the catchment, exhibiting a great deal of forward thinking and a progressive attitude towards women.

This project and other Humanitarian projects supported by the IEEE Canadian Foundation are the realization of the mission to support new and innovative projects within Canada that seek to apply technology for the benefit of humanity. In this way the IEEE Canadian Foundation provides a rare global engineering opportunity to students, which teaches them global citizenship in a unique and highly impactful manner. This experience raises awareness in regards to humanitarian technological applications and advances IEEE's core purpose to foster technological innovation and excellence to benefit humanity.

Project GROW is a unique combination of interdisciplinary research, international engagement and community involvement. It is also a model that can inspire other, similar initiatives.

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