Project Work in Ghana


Right now, a double decker London bus is taking children from the 47 primary schools in the Ekumfi District to the John Knapton Library in Ekumfi Atakwa. The library was opened by Craig Murray, Deputy British High Commissioner in Accra on Saturday 23rd June 2001. The library has been constructed by Newcastle University students under the supervision of Kate Eldon and full details of the early part of the work are given below. The following pictures show the library being prepared for the opening ceremony and the first batch of children being taken from their school to the library.


All aboard as 70 children take time out from classes to visit the library.


The upstairs seats are taken first. For many of these children, it will be the first time they have seen stairs anywhere, let alone on a bus.


Finishing touches in preparation for the opening ceremony. Note the flagpole on the right. A Union Flag was procured by Mark Batey and Paul Welsh of BBC (and a hotel in Accra had to survive the weekend with one of its flags missing).


Karen O'Keefe, one of the 2001 students poses alongside the list of students who built the library. After a week in Ekumfi-Atakwa, she became proficient of carrying a bucket on her head and will shortly progress to filling it with water.

The red London double decker rolled into Ekumfi-Atakwa at 3-30pm on Thursday 5th October 2000 to an amazing welcome from the entire village. Kate Eldon, Mark Batey & JK had a torrid time extracating the vehicle from the Abidjan docks in the Ivory Coast. Recent political events had destabilized the country. We had to negotiate 20 police/army roadblocks and were subjected to all the corruption of a third world port. Our Ghanaian driver, Dan, was abducted at one checkpoint and we had to pay a small ransom to have him back. On Wednesday 4th October, the bus was finally released from the port and we made a dash for the Ghana border as a bomb exploded killing 4 in Abidjan. A state of emergency was introduced and the border was closed. We were detained at the border for 14 hours whilst the officials argued amongst themselves over the fact that out papers were photocopies, not originals. At one stage, we thought that we would have to abandon the bus within sight of Ghana. We got out at 6-30am on 5th October and made for Ekumfi-Atakwa and 9 hours later, it all seemed worth it.

On Monday 18th September, the Ivory Coast president's residence had been attacked in Abidjan. Two of military ruler General Robert Guei's palace guard were killed and several were injured. Throughout the day, sporadic gunfire was reported in the Cocody district and vehicles were being stopped and searched by armed militias. One civilian was reported to have been injured by a stray bullet. By Tuesday, the situation had eased but with the elections planned for 22nd October, the country remained tense. 


In 1999, our Ghanaian friends asked us to help them buy a bus in Accra to ferry children from outlying schools to our library in Ekumfi-Atakwa. Our research in Accra confirmed that the second hand bus's, imported from The Netherlands, were a rip off - they were really old vans converted to look like buses and costing 5,000 to 10,000. We put this to our friends at Go-Ahead, a Gateshead based bus company and they gave us a double decker from their London fleet (they run many of the London buses) and have completely refurbished it to ensure it will not break down. Port of Tyne Authority and the Lady Leech Foundation are two of our sponsors who have donated money for fuel, ferry costs and incidental costs en route.


How is the bus being managed in Ghana? Is the project sustainable?

Because labour is cheap in Ghana, vehicles are kept running way beyond their European design life. The only component which might give trouble is the automatic gearbox. Therefore, we have had a new three speed auto box and torque converter fitted. Overheating might also be a problem. The whole cooling system has been overhauled and enhanced. Tyres are a major cost item but the existing networks of tyre companies will be able to help - we are stressing the importance of changing tyres before they fail - a new concept in Ghana. Diesel is cheap so even at 7mpg, this will not be a problem. By summer 2002, the only significant problem was the loss of reverse gear but this was repaired using funds donated from NE England.

We are providing 350 per month to maintain both the bus and the library. We are asking people to pledge say 10 per month for a year to help. If you would like to do this, please contact or telephone (44) 191 252 8333.

Upon arrival we handed the bus over to Prof. Kwesi Andam, member of the Ekumfi District Council. By then, we had mapped out the bus routes and evaluated the roads. During summer 2000 Newcastle University architecture students found the schools which the bus visits and provided information on the school buildings and the children to be transported.

 The following map shows the bus routes developed by our Architecture students during their summer visit in 2000.

Our beach running tests at Whitley Bay on 23rd May 2000 were covered widely in the press and on BBC TV and radio:



Note: people often ask if they can become involved in our work in Ghana. We can now extend the opportunities which only our civil/structural engineering students previously experienced to others. We have teamed up with an adventure travel organisation who can take you to Africa. For more details, contact



During August 1997, 12 Newcastle University Civil Engineering undergraduates began the construction of a library/resource centre for the village of Ekumfi-Atakwa in the Central Region of Ghana. The building was designed by Kate Eldon, Master of Engineering student specialising in Structural Engineering as part of her 4th year dissertation. The students helped raise funds for the project by undertaking presentations at Tyneside schools. 25,000 was raised which was sufficient to purchase the construction materials in Ghana. The picture below shows the 12 students of 1997 in Ekumfi-Atakwa.



The 1997 students are shown being interviewed by Chris Eakin for a BBC documentary broadcast on BBC2's "Close up North" series in January 1998. The building has a reinforced concrete frame with sandcrete blocks as infill. It is octagonal in plan and now has a timber roof. It is being fitted out as a library and a clinic geared towards the treatment of malaria in infants (until this project, 25% of the children below 5 died of malaria).



The village of Ekumfi-Atakwa experiences erosion of the lateritic soil during tropical rainstorms which leads to the undermining of foundations and collapse of houses, usually within 15 years of construction. The village is built on a hillside in a jungle clearing and we are developing engineering solutions to the structural problems. The next picture illustrates eroded foundations.

 Kate Eldon, one of our drivers who now works for Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) graduated in civil engineering at Newcastle in 1997 designed the village library as part of her final year dissertation. Here Kate meets her new friends in Ekumfi-Atakwa.




On 15th August 1998, we struck water in Ekumfi-Atakwa. Funded by Birse Construction, a 62m deep 175mm diameter lined borehole was sunk and encountered water at 60m. The borehole yields 12 litres per minute, enough to satisfy the village and visitors from neighbouring settlements. Until this date, villagers had to make a 10km round trip bringing back a heavy bucket of water. For many of the children, two trips per day ruined their education and disrupted family life. The photographs were taken by Matt Newman, engineer from Birse who worked with the students and who was one of our four bus drivers.


The truck on the left drills the borehole whilst the tender truck on the right supplies water to cool the drilling bit and holds the steel casings used during the drilling and the blue permanent lining pipe.


The foot pump can be operated by adults and children. Water stands at a depth of 12m below ground level so the pump lifts the water to the discharge height shown.


Peak period is between 7am and 9am when villagers stake their place in the queue with their containers. The previous dirty water led to guinea worm and other debilitating diseases. The village is adjusting to the taste of clean water.