In the biennial Ghana Design/Build workshop of the ARC+ID Department at Miami University, students spent six weeks on a project centered on the needs of the village of Abrem Essiam. The program was started by retired CCA faculty member Gail Della-Piana and, upon her retirement, was passed on to J E Elliott in 2005.
Elliott returned home on July 3 with 19 students and fellow faculty, along with John Blake, the next director of the program. They began their journey on May 20 — flying to the capital city of Accra — where they stayed at the University of Ghana and explored the city and its environs, all the while adjusting to the time change.
They then relocated to the family run Hans Cottage north of Cape Coast, which put them 15 minutes from the village of Abrem Essiam where the class was planning to build a teacher’s cottage.
After a welcoming ceremony and visiting the proposed site with the Chief and his committee to learn about the teacher’s cottage, the group then toured the country to gain a better understanding of the people, the culture, architecture, and landscape of Ghana. While on the road, the class divided into small groups, each designing their solution to the project prompt as described during their meeting in the village.
It’s not all work and no play though. In addition to visiting historic sites and enduring hours long bus rides, the group visited the game preserve at Mole where they hiked to see elephants up close in the wild. Another day had them playing in the water falls at Kintampo on a lunch break. One of the most culturally immersive experiences was in Kumasi where the group visited the enormous Kejetia Market, the largest in West Africa. Most of this experience was coordinated with our Program Guide and Chef, Helen Keliva Akagbo.
After returning to Hans Cottage, the group made their final preparations for the presentation to the Chief the following day. There was a surprising reversal of the requirements previously stated, which then required an immediate student response. During an extended lunch break the group managed a complete redesign and presented an alternative approach which was accepted. Work began that afternoon.
A local building crew was created by Kwabena Asante, the program’s construction foreman and Miami friend since the beginning. The team includes masons, carpenters, and laborers, all of whom are paid. The group hand dug foundations, mixed and poured concrete, made and laid concrete block, cut and finished the wood for roof framing, windows, and doors, as well as applied the finish coat on the block walls. Village members often volunteer to help as well as provide the crowd with fresh bananas, pineapples, and coconuts. A prominent resident generously gave space in his house for the group’s breakfasts and lunches while they built.
What started as a teacher’s cottage became a duplex for two faculty families — a larger building than was originally planned. This was taken in stride by the students. Working six days a week, they completed the building within the four weeks allocated to the construction phase, after which a celebratory closing ceremony took place in the community center built by the workshop in 2016.
In the past in other villages, the workshop built a library with adjacent covered outdoor reading areas, playground equipment for a school, market shelters, two community centers, two guesthouses for village visitors/aid workers, a classroom building with attached faculty office, three teacher’s cottages, and a maternity ward. With John Blake agreeing to take the reins in 2025, the program will continue to give ARC+ID students the opportunity to put to use the education they receive in Alumni Hall to help underserved communities in Africa and carry on the tradition of community service begun by Della-Piana and maintained over the years by Elliott.