ENGINEERS WITHOUT BORDERS

Ethiopia 2014’s Blog

Politics, Priorities, and Dirt

Hard work continues in Mekelle, where the team has undertaken the first of our participatory ‘co-design’ workshops with the students of the Mekelle School of the Blind; visited the pilot project of composting toilets which has inspired the intervention at the school; coordinated action with our partnering Ethiopian Centre for Disability and Development… and dug up and filled a really really big hole.

Work opened in earnest on Tuesday, when the group visited the Ayder Referral Hospital, which has piloted a block of eight composting toilets on the site. The team had the chance to explore the design and hear about its functioning from the inspirational and dedicated team there, which have reported favourably on its first six months. Alongside gathering some sketches and information related to the maintenance of the project, the team also had the chance to see firsthand the sign of composting-in-action, in the form of a very big earthworm.

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Interesting conversations continued with the ECDD, where the team learned about the Ethiopian National Policy on disability, which is looking to include students with disability into ‘mainstream’ schools, rather than providing funding and support to specialist schools such as the Mekelle School for the Blind. It presents an interesting terrain to be exploring questions of the meaning of ‘inclusion’ and ‘accessibility’, as the co-design project at the school seeks a different kind of inclusion within a specialized space. In partnership with the Mekelle ECDD office, the team discussed different ways they might press for more support for the school in a wider sense beyond the project undertaken here.

Charged from these positive experiences and reflections, the momentum carried through to the afternoon, where the team undertook the first participatory activity with a group of 15 students at the school. The students were given a set of ‘flags’ covered in either rough (sandpaper) or soft (pipe cleaner) materials, and asked to show the team places on the school which they enjoyed—corresponding to the soft flags—or those that presented challenges—corresponding to the rough flags. In this way, students introduced the school to the team through their own experiences, and revealed a number of values including the importance of shady and clean spaces to play and live, a need for greater lighting, and sites of difficult mobility.

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To celebrate this successful opener, the following day was devoted to ‘De-Construction’ (or D-Day as it became affectionately named). With nothing more than three pickaxes, four shovels, and a super enthusiasm for destruction, the team cleared and removed the dysfunctional latrine where the new composting toilets are to be installed. Not at all daunted by the shockingly large hole that was revealed underneath, the team spent the following six hours filling and relocating the surrounding dirt and rocks, to finally create a smooth surface on which future construction might take place.

The day was rounded off with another co-design workshop with the students mapping the school with sticks and stones, alongside a technical site survey—creating a layered representation of the school and its opportunities and challenges.

With a celebratory dinner of shiro and tibs (ground chickpea sauce and barbequed steak) all wrapped up in injera, the ubiquitous sour flatbread of ethiopia, we’ve called it a day, very much ready for the next set of challenges!