I have found myself some free time, so let’s have a go at a real blog post for once. I’ll begin with my general take of this whole experience and approach to development and engineering service.
In short, the approach is co-creation: to assemble a diverse group of innovators, especially from developing communities who hope to serve their own communities, to collaboratively create new technological solutions. The aim is to invent novel technologies and cultivate new technologists in the process. So, what the heck am I doing here considering I am not from a typical developing community nor do I need to be pushed to be transformed into a technologist? Brilliant question. I still don’t know the answer, but am starting to get an idea. Please comment on what you think about my niche at this summit.
In seriousness, there is no other effort like this one. Our purpose is not to implement these technologies. The people of developing communities are more than capable of implementing appropriate solutions for themselves. This realization alone would solve innumerable problems currently being faced by engineering service-learning projects and groups like Engineers for a Sustainable World and Engineers Without Borders. [It would also make most of these projects and organizations fairly obsolete – which is why they will never change.] But there already exists so many technological solutions appropriate for people in developing communities, so why aren’t more of these people implementing these existing technologies themselves? My answer is that they either don’t know such technologies exist, or they don’t feel confident enough to invest themselves and their communities in trying such new technologies. IDDS works to solve these issues. [For better or worse, it is encouraging me to implement my previous knowledge and these new technologies in developing communities in the States, viz. Native American communities.]
Another important aspect of IDDS is to develop prototypes and not papers. We are here to invent new technologies appropriate for rural areas in extreme poverty. Doing so requires actually building and testing these devices with the people they are for. This is what we are doing. [And sometimes papers come out of it all anyway: Ste was awarded a U.S. patent, a $100K Gates Foundation Grant, and a $100K Cambridge University Grant for his project from last year’s IDDS!]
This ties nicely into my time spent living in the villages. So far, I have visited New Longoro, Dwere, and Gomboi. All of these villages are about a six hour drive north of Kumasi in a very rural area. New Longoro is at the center situated next to the main road (which goes from Accra north all the way into Mauritania!). It has very limited access to grid electricity as well as a community water well. Dwere and Gomboi are much more isolated. They have no electricity and no water except for the stream that flows nearby. I spent most of my time in Gomboi (and stayed in the Chief’s hut).
We spent a lot of time talking with the people of this community. There were only ten to fifteen families who live there. Ste, my teammate (Ph.D. student in ChemE from Cambridge in UK), and I went to the river with the women and girls to fetch drinking water. I carried a small bucket back on my head. I was soaking wet by the time we made it, and all the kids were having a great time with me. The kids really loved my arm hair and the hair on my head. I found out later that I was probably the first white person many of them had ever seen. In a few days I will be heading out to another village (this one is more like a small town) to get another perspective on our design challenge (localized chlorine production from table salt).
There is so much more, but I should try to keep these posts reasonably short. Sleep well.