Reflections on the J-term trip to Burkina Faso

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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.

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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: http://collaboratory.wixsite.com/burkinafaso17

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