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“DE has helped me find a vocation I wouldn’t have predicted for myself. Hearing about engineering meeting the needs of people in needy areas was new to me and a big part of why I wanted to come to Messiah.”


—Dan Dourte '04

Appropriate technology: Meeting people where they are


Students watch a young boy try out his new tricycle

Dourte recalls watching Yempaabou first operate the electric tricycle. “He was focusing really hard and trying to make it work. It was a challenge for him to give input on the throttle,” Dourte says. “I remember my own emotional response—being really anxious about a year of work by a lot of people, and it all coming down to this.”

During countless out-of-classroom hours spent over the previous academic year with the guidance of staff advisor and mechanical engineer John Meyer, Dourte and two other engineering students had retrofitted the tricycle with an electric motor. “One of the greater challenges was to find controls that would be suitable for a user with limited dexterity,” remembers Dourte, and “to provide a design that could be built, maintained, and serviced locally with a minimum of parts provided by us,” he says.

The team also strove to make the design flexible enough to incorporate any needed changes while building the tricycle in Burkina Faso. As it turned out, the trike was modified the first day Yempaabou used it. “He tried to go a little too fast,” recalls Barr. “Dan put a stop on the accelerator so Yempaabou wouldn’t throw himself out of the seat. We also put a seat belt on the tricycle.”

That evening,Yempaabou’s father, Depingua,the center’s nighttime guard, asked if he could watch his son use the tricycle. “Yempaabou left the center, went into the road, and negotiated a small turn through a herd of goats,” recalls Dourte, who remembers his own anxiety giving way to relief and gratitude. “It was wonderful seeing him use the tricycle effectively and seeing his father’s appreciation.”

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