Reflections on the J-term trip to Burkina Faso

Dan Vivolo saws tubing that will be used to fabricate an electric-powered tricycle.

While most students were sitting through classes or even still on winter break, members of the Collaboratory were in Burkina Faso being God’s hands and feet to those in need. The team was tasked with building electrical tricycles for local people with disabilities. Engineering major, Dan Vivolo ’17 is one of the members of the team.

Burkina Faso is a former French colony in West Africa. The Collaboratory has been working with clients in Burkina Faso for over 15 years.





It was evident to the team that Burkinabe people with disabilities are in need. Oftentimes they are rejected by other members of their community. “They are viewed as less than human, so that was the need, and we addressed that need by making the tricycles,” Vivolo explained. The Collaboratory has been making these wheelchair-like tricycles to bring mobility and independence to those with disabilities for over a decade. This team was focused on improving the tricycles to make them easier and more helpful for the people. They taught three local fabricators how to build the tricycles and then worked alongside them.

One of Vivolo’s favorite parts of the trip was the change of emotion that the team was able to bring to the people with disabilities. “It was really cool to see the change because for the first time in a long time they had huge smiles on their faces because they knew that life was going to be significantly better for them,” said Vivolo.  Tricycles allow users to be more independent and participate in many daily activities.

Burkina Faso was more than a service trip for Vivolo, it was a time of growth. “It was very different from the average college experience,” he said. He added that it involved a lot of critical thinking and problem-solving skills as well.

The language barrier was a challenge along with design issues. Most of the people didn’t speak English and if they did, it wasn’t much. Through some knowledge of the language and gesturing, the team was able to figure out how to communicate with the locals effectively in spite of the barrier. Vivolo and the team customized the tricycles to everyone’s individual needs. Taking measurements and the specificity involved required the critical thinking skills that Vivolo mentioned.

More than just technical skills were learned on the Burkina Faso trip. “I learned the value of the work that we are doing,” said Vivolo. All of the work and preparation that the team took part in during the year was paying off. “I got to see the impact that our work was having on the people and how much we were changing their lives,” he said.

If offered the chance to return to Burkina Faso, Vivolo would definitely go. “We can get so caught up in all the luxuries we have and it’s very easy to forget that not everybody is this fortunate. It’s a great wake-up call to go over there and change lives through service,” said Vivolo.

For those unsure if a service trip like this is for them, Vivolo says, “Just go for it. You will be surprised how much you will take away from the experience.” And if that’s not convincing enough, he jokingly added, “plus you can put more stamps on your passport, and that’s pretty cool.”

Read more about the trip on the team’s blog:


Interview with Katelyn Spieker

Kira Adelman ‘19

Within The Collaboratory, there are multiple sections. One sect is specifically dedicated to teaching the children in the Downey Elementary School’s after school program (a local school within the city of Harrisburg), teaching them how to execute various science themed activities. Typically, the people who get involved in this branch of the Collaboratory are education majors, because the group allows them to enhance their teaching skills. I had the privilege to interview one of the Messiah Students who was involved in this branch of Collaboratory in the fall semester. Katelyn Spieker (a sophomore studying Elementary Education) gave the scoop on what this Collab branch is all about!

I began the interview by asking Katelyn what her favorite part of her Collab group was and why. She explained to me, that her Collab group is unique compared to the other Collab groups, because she gets to physically leave campus and visit the Elementary school one day a week. She likes that she can form positive relationships with the children every week, while visiting Downey Elementary School.

Not only does she love the positive relationships she’s able to form, but her Collab branch is relevant to her major. As mentioned, Katelyn is an Elementary Education major and during her Collab experience in the fall, she learned a lot about lesson planning. She learned how to both plan and teach lessons to the students at Downey Elementary school. She explained she learned a lot from the Education professor, who leads the Collab group too!

Since their lessons are devoted to science, I asked Katelyn about some of the cool experiments she has done with the kids in her Collab group. She explained to me her favorite experiments were those that involved pill bugs. Overall though, she enjoyed all of the experiments and loved when the kids would become interested in what the group was trying to teach.

I ended the interview by asking Katelyn what she would like others to know about her Collab branch. She explained that the group is always looking to add new members and get insight and input to better help the students. Also, the group wants to form a lasting relationship with Downey Elementary School and impact the lives of the students there. After my interview with Katelyn, I realized how truly incredible this Collab branch really is. If this is a group you would be interested with investing your time in, you should email for more information.