In January 2016 AMP ran a one-week #ampqamp with students from Princeton University’s PACE Center for Civic Engagement focused on making short health & safety videos for the Agbogbloshie scrap dealers community, narrated in Dagbani.
This group of students, led by Ellie Sell ’17 and Christie Jiang ’17, opted not only to volunteer collaborating on the AMP project as a form of ‘alternative spring break’, but also to spend months prior planning their trip and conducting research around issues of health and safety related to unregulated e-waste processing plus weeks after their visit to Ghana editing and producing the videos. (They blogged about it here.)
Watch the Youtube playlist of videos they produced below. For more on how this connects to the full AMP project, check out this Q&A with the Princeton PACE Center. A huge thank you to the whole team from all of AMP!
Agbogbloshie has suffered incredibly from the single story syndrome, imposed on it by the media and those with the opportunity to tell its story. Beyond the e-waste, the burning and the hardship, that usually characterises the gruesome descriptions of this urban enclave and its surroundings, there are several industries and practices within this urban site that gives it the kind of rich urban flavour that the space has. One major way of way of dealing with this threat of the single story, is to engage directly with a people. To see through their eyes and to feel what they feel. At AMP, we have made it our lifetime goal, to change first, the story of Agbogbloshie, for “he wields power over you who tells your story”.
In the last few months, the AMP team have sought to hear the stories of e-waste workers in Agbogbloshie through the use of interviews. For us, these are the voices that should be heard. It is our primary aim, through these interviews, to give a voice to the voiceless, to inform the E-waste workers and invite them to be a part of the AMP makers collective. The team recruited and trained two of the e-waste workers (Sam & Iddrisou) to help with the process and they have been engaged in all AMPs activities for the past five months. They participated fully and performed tasks from translation to administering the questionnaires themselves as well as photographing the work spaces of the interviewees. As part of the interview process the team continued to map the e-waste landscape, this time, with specific reference to the interviewees and the location of their workspaces. From this data a detailed map of the Agbogbloshie ecosystem is being constructed. The process is helping the team better understand the working conditions of e-waste workers, the various relationships that exist between them, their future aspirations and the nature of the Agbogbloshie site itself. Hopefully, this will help the team better integrate their needs into the project. So far, over 500 workers have been interviewed. The interviews, which started in May 2014 and are still ongoing and have four main areas of interest:
E-Waste Expertise 2. Training 3. Health Awareness and Practices 4. Aspirations
So far, certain patterns are beginning to emerge- majority of the population in Agbogbloshie are from the Northern part of Ghana especially towns and villages near Tamale, the lingua franca of Agbogbloshie is Dagbani, though some have good command of the English language, majority do not. Most of them dropped out of school at the Junior high school and primary (P5 & P6) levels.
E-waste workers engage in various forms of purchasing of equipment, disassembly, weighing and sale, and provide several tons of urban mined materials like copper. There are also many industrious and entrepreneurial individuals who make highly useful objects. Indeed, Agbogbloshie is more than just an e-waste dump. During the survey we took photographs of some of the activities that go on in the yard and here is a field note.
Despite all of these very positive aspects of Agbogbloshie, there still remains the blight of filth and cable burning which means the risk of contamination and disease are highly pervasive. In general, there is a fair level of awareness about health risks amongst the e-waste workers. Thanks to the ubiquitous media coverage of that specific issue, e-waste workers are at least vaguely aware of the adverse effects of burning on their health. They however said that since it was their job, they felt as if they had no option than to do it. In reaction to this discovery on health, the AMP team have designed a utility shirt for the workers. When the second prototype of the utility shirt (the spacesuit) was showed them, e-waste workers insisted on the face gear (with possible embedded gas mask). It was observed that, workers in Agbogbloshie start their day early with the cart pushers, moving out early in the morning to source electronic equipment. Our discoveries provide us with information about Agbogbloshie but this is helping us understand the workings of informal communities, and people who are surviving on the “peripheries” of our awareness and yet contribute significantly to our lives. More than just an e-waste dump, Agbogbloshie is a huge open air manu-factory.
One of AMP’s core objectives is the compilation and design of a “waste” electronic and electrical equipment (WEEE) manual. The main purpose of this is the provision of vital information for the AMP maker collective comprising of STEAM students/graduates (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics) and Agbogbloshie e-waste workers.
For several months, we worked on the print version of the manual–a series of individual manuals for each electrical and electrical equipment studied–which has undergone several design iterations (see image below). We collected data from a number of articles and our own fieldwork (to learn the value in Ghana Cedis of each item brought to and dismantled in Agbogbloshie). We designed a manual for each piece of equipment studied so it fits a single folded sheet of paper. This makes it simpler and more user friendly. In the coming days, these manuals as they are so far, will be hosted online so makers and people knowledgeable about electrical and electronic equipment could contribute to them.
The manual is organized so as to give information on material composition, parts and components, hazardous materials, urban mining opportunities, tools for dis-assembly, steps for dis-assembly, safety gear, and opportunities and ideas for remaking.
This task is a staggering one because it should cater to the needs of people pertaining to different social categories, each with different understanding and knowledge. On the one hand are the STEAM professionals, educated and used to reading guides and who may even love manuals and on the other hand, the e-waste workers, predominantly uneducated and having a general disinclination towards anything remotely related to guidebooks or for that matter, books. This means they would both relate differently to a typical guidebook. Although this may sound stereotypical, it is a truth with which the AMP team is confronted.
To navigate these murky waters, the team decided to go beyond the traditional printed manual in a foreign language and to in addition to this make to video manuals which can be housed on servers and broadcast inside the spacecraft. These will be targeted specifically at the e-waste workers, and put together by some of them, in collaboration with their STEAM counterparts and will be done in Dagbani ( the Lingua franca as it were in Agbogbloshie). In addition to this, makers and/or hackers around the country and the world will have access in open source fashion to all the manuals online, as part of the AMP digital platform.
In the coming years, AMP hopes to see this manual evolve into a highly informative periodical, providing vital knowledge for a local and international network of young passionate makers and hackers. A thrilling thought indeed!!!
#ampqamp14 ran June through August, 2014 at the Kokrobitey Institute, Hub Accra (now Impact Hub Accra) and the Agbogbloshie scrapyard, in collaboration with Togo’s Wɔɛlab. #ampqamp14 focused on M&D (Makers & Development, a practical hands-on approach to R&D) for the spacecraft, while #ampqamp15 focused on codesign of the AMP app.
Any time there is a threat of biological or chemical attack, the first you think about is personal safety. Aside finding environmentally-friendly and efficient solutions to managing mountain-high piles of used plastic products, the AMP also discovered how extremely poisonous it is to work in spaces like Agbogbloshie with plastics constantly set ablaze. It can increase the risk of heart disease, aggravate respiratory ailments such as asthma and emphysema, and cause rashes, nausea, or headaches, damages in the nervous system, kidney or liver. The most dangerous emissions can be caused by burning plastic substances like PVC. When such plastics are burned, a group of highly toxic chemicals called dioxins are emitted. This is a very typical practice in Agbogbloshie for copper wire recovery.
Dioxins settle on crops and in our waterways where they eventually end up in our food and accumulate in our bodies. They accumulate in our body fat and thus mothers give it directly to their babies via the placenta.
Therefore, one of the AMP team’s research trajectories is in safety gear for the industrial environment of Agbogbloshie.
Gas masks–more generically known as respirators–protect workers against everything from dust to toxic gases in general. It is a tight-fitting plastic or rubber face mask with some sort of filter cartridge. In one main type, the supplied air provides pre-filtered air from a canister through a tube whiles in the other, the air breathed in and out of the mouth directly. Based on particle filtration, chemical absorption or adsorption and chemical reaction to neutralize a chemical, respirators are built to effectively filter a wide range of contaminants from burning emissions. Some filters are disposable whiles others can be replaced.
Additionally, we looked at the hazmat suit which is an overall garment (including boots, gloves, a hood) worn to protect people from hazardous materials or substances, including chemicals, biological agents, or radioactive materials. It is worn in a dozen or more layers; the first layer jumpsuit being re-usable. Some hazmat suits are loose to prevent spillage only, whiles others are air-tight to prevent gaseous contact.
Unfortunately, local dealers may not be able afford such equipment costing some hundreds of dollars. More importantly, many of them remain unaware of the dire effects of their daily activities. Not only these people who are burning plastics are exposed to these pollutants, but also their neighbours, children and families.
Hopefully, the creative geniuses at AMP can create some local and sustainable gas masks based on American and European standards. With our own teams and the workers at Agbogbloshie in mind, we hope to reduce the risks of individuals being exposed to unfiltered fumes. Our thinking caps are on tight!
For further reading, please visit the links below:
Here are a few pictures from the first qamp, held yesterday under an “abrofo nkatie” (tropical almond) tree in Community 18, Tema. We discussed several projects that relate to teaching and learning about the environment in informal contexts.
Rene Neblett, Founding Director of the Kokrobitey Institute presented the flash card-based curriculum on environmental education that she has developed as supplement to her initiative Ghana School Bags, which recycles billboards and other waste plastic materials into locally-made backpacks for school children in Ghana. “P is for pollution…..”
Dr. Victor Atiemo-Obeng, a chemical engineer who recently opened the Ghana office of Dow Chemical Company, where until recently he served at the rank of Dow Fellow, gave an introduction to the concept of turbidity – a measure of the number of particles suspended in a given fluid, an important aspect of water quality – and how to measure it. We took samples of water from various sources – but have to wait 48 hours to observe the results. He also explained the science behind bio-sand filters such as Hydraid, a low-cost water filter available locally in Ghana.
The science behind water quality is critical to understanding the e-waste ecosystem. Bio-sand water filters can eliminate pathogens such as bacteria, viruses and spores but not contaminates like heavy metals which can be found in e-waste dump sites like Agbogbloshie.
Hassan Salih gave an update on Accratopia (also a Facebook group), a collaboration of architects, artists, illustrators, photographers, poets and other creatives to explore the potentials of Accra’s urban future as utopia. What can a remade Agbogbloshie look like after its post-apocalyptic present?