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Tuesday, 06 July 2021

The Afrikan design dream

GRADUATE: Ralitsa Debrah GRADUATE: Ralitsa Debrah

Ralitsa Debrah recently graduated with the degree Doctor of Applied Arts in Design. Her thesis is titled: Design for Health: Co-designing health information services in the Afrikan context. Below follows her personal story on her journey to graduation:   

“I come from Ghana, West Africa and studied design for the most part of my academic life in my country. I became the first person and female to obtain a master’s degree in design from my university in Ghana – Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST).  I learned about CPUT, through a senior colleague at KNUST and at the CPUT/ KNUST Design and Development Research (DDR) conference in West Africa, Ghana.  I became enthused, highly motivated and curious and wanted to learn more about design research.

Since I was born and raised in Afrika, I realised that the best place for me to learn about Afrikan design was actually on the continent itself. Studying on the continent will afford me the opportunity to tell the Afrikan design story from “the inside-out” as a way of decolonising design. On the flip side, the story of Afrikan design has often been told from “the-outside-in” which has been the norm of telling the Afrikan story to the rest of the world. Since we live in a global village now, there is the need for the design story to be retold from the Afrikan perspective, which motivated me to study on our continent.

In my search for schools, I landed in Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT), South Africa. Although there were many opportunities to study in European countries, I chose to study in Afrika due to the reasons I have stated earlier in this story. My choice to study at CPUT, I must say, offered me the opportunity to learn more about Afrikan cultures and how resilient our societies have been and sustained by design over centuries.

Although my goal was to undertake research, for me it was more of a re-discovery of who I am as an Afrikan designer and an opportunity to learn more about Afrikan design cultures to serve as a source of inspiration for sustainable design solutions in the future. On one hand, it was a demanding journey, yet fulfilling. I can humbly say that I am once again the first female to hold a doctorate degree in Applied Art in Design from my institution and within the design academic cycles in Ghana.

On the other hand, I have learnt a lot through experiential learning as part of the research process and engaging with the local community. Immersing myself into some of the cultural and historical activities in the research locale provided insights, which helped me to embrace diversity and inclusion in a more holistic way to design for a better world – World Design Organisation (WDO). I must say that I have learned a lot through the Ubuntu leadership network, CPUT.  The skills I have obtained will equip me for a lifelong career in design and enable me to be self-reliant (resilient). I am really grateful to CPUT, the Design Research Activity Workgroup (DRAW), the Faculty of Informatics and Design and my supervisors for their commitment to creating futures to capacitate young people on our continent.  I would like to conclude by saying that – “I live in Afrika but Afrika lives in me” – Kwame Nkrumah!”

Note: The author spells Afrika with a K “as a way of telling the Afrikan story from the internal point of view to the rest of world”.

Written by CPUT News

Email: news@cput.ac.za