'I felt a great sense of responsibility'

Young alum's experience in a Ghanaian slum confirmed his career path of sustainable development

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Watts Carson

Carson Watts (Oakes '13, sociology) (Photo by Carolyn Lagattuta)

Black smoke from burning e-waste and the acrid smell of sewage filled the air as Carson Watts (Oakes '13, sociology) strode through the slums of Old Fadama in the capital city of Ghana.

Home to nearly 100,000 people, the shantytown is a collection of dusty alleys, wooden shacks, and a sanitation system that consisted of trash haulers and latrine operators dumping their loads of waste into a fetid lagoon at the edge of the slum. A nearby e-waste disposal site was the reason for the black smoke.

Watts, who hopes to get a Ph.D. in sustainable development, was soon talking to residents and government officials in an attempt to understand why such unhealthy conditions existed and what could be done to improve them.

Old Fadama's residents said trash bins and public toilets would solve much of the problem—but the government only wanted the slum to be erased. Make something happen, the residents implored Watts.

"I felt a great sense of responsibility," said the 24-year-old alum, a community college transfer student who went to Ghana through UCSC's Education Abroad Program.

Watts not only wrote his senior thesis from research gathered during the five-month trip but he is also writing a position paper to send to Ghanaian officials outlining what he discovered.

"It was eye-opening to see the poverty there," Watts said of his time in the slums, "but it also confirmed my career path."

One day, Watts hopes to work in the sustainable development field both at home and abroad. He's arranged a future fellowship with the Center for Global, International and Regional Studies, a center for the study of international affairs at UCSC. Meanwhile, he is working for a grassroots campaign that fundraises for environmental and social justice issues.