Engineers Without Borders - Iowa DOTer part of group bringing water to remote village in Ghana

LogoTo build a better world, that’s the mission of Engineers Without Borders-USA. When you hear that someone wants to build a better world, what does that look like to you? To Justin Sencer, transportation engineer manager in the Office of Bridges and Structures, it looks like a better and safer water system for a small African village of Ullo, Ghana.

ISU EWB Travel Team
Justin Sencer, back row on left, with the Ghana team.

Working with the EWB Iowa State Student Chapter (EWB-ISU), Justin recently returned from a three-week trip to Ghana on the southern coast of west Africa. The trip to Ullo entailed a flight to Ghana’s capitol city of Accra and then a 17-hour, 400-mile bus trip on two-lane paved and dirt roads. His traveling companions were six engineering students from Iowa State University and another professional mentor. “I have traveled to Guatemala and South Africa before,” said Justin, “But this was my first trip to Ghana and my first trip with Engineers Without Borders.”

Justin, who has been with the Iowa DOT for five years, explained that EWB-ISU has made a five-year commitment to the village of Ullo in the Upper West Region of Ghana to conduct research, establish relationships and develop a sustainable water distribution system.

Typical-BoreholeUllo has about 800 people living within an approximate 5 kilometer radius. There is no water distribution system.  All of the community’s domestic water is pumped from hand pumps and carried in open bowls to the homes, businesses, and farms in the village.  Some of the pumps are 20-years old and cannot keep up with the demand of citizens and the five overcrowded schools in the village. 

Justin said, “Our first trip last May was to do an assessment of the water system, determine the uses and sources of water for the village. We were in the village for eight days and were able to begin development of a well project that may support the water needs, and possibly enough water to allow for additional school buildings to ease overcrowding and retain teachers.”

The group’s assessment included looking at the entire water distribution system including ground storage to capture rain runoff during the three-month rainy season, sanitation, and irrigation.

Welcome meeting for the team.

Justin said, “The villagers were very appreciative of our efforts and I think the first trip was a success. The next time we go to Africa will be to refine the details of the plan we are putting together based off the assessments we made in May. A third trip will include construction of the projects and two follow-up trips are on the schedule to make sure the projects are functioning and meeting the water needs of the village.”

Justin also says he appreciates the support of the Iowa DOT in this effort. He said, “Our inspection team in the Office of Bridges and Structures has been great. They covered my duties, which allowed me to take a large block of time off to do this.  Everyone in the OBS has been very supportive and I’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback and questions about the trip.”

Justin and his wife, Krysta Deitz, who works at Iowa State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, live in Ames.  

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