From Ghana to Gainesville: The Story of Silas Achidago’s Journey in Planning

In 2022, Silas Achidago decided to leave his home country of Ghana for the first time, moving to Gainesville, Florida, driven by his passion to make a global impact.

March 7, 2024
“I had a lot of mixed feelings. Even though I had to start a new life and leave my family– there was still a lot of excitement about the new prospects, being in the United States, and getting to know what it was all about”
Silas Achidago, UF MURP student

In so many words, this sums up how Silas Achidago felt in 2022 when he left his home country, Ghana, for the first time. Embarking on a new chapter, he moved from the only place he had ever known to Gainesville, taking advantage of an opportunity presented to him by researchers at the University of Florida. Driven by a passion for this research and a desire to make a global impact, over the past two years Silas has left his mark not only in the Urban and Regional Planning Department but also in the broader University network. 

The planning profession was not Silas’s original plan for his future, entering undergrad at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology intending to study business. After applying for the Human Settlement Program as a backup and getting accepted, Silas was encouraged by his family to pursue the field. He quickly was convinced this profession was for him after just his first project which allowed him to work within a local community, exposing himself to the positive impact this profession can have. 

“I became convinced this profession was for me when we went into the community, talking to people and asking them what their challenges were. It almost made me feel like I had the power to make people’s lives better. I saw everything I did from that lens—that anything I do here has the potential to better someone’s life.”
Silas Achidago, UF MURP student

Following his graduation, Silas completed his mandatory year of national service at the Accra Metropolitan Assembly. This opportunity introduced him to ArcGIS, creating spatial data, and the fieldwork needed to validate spatial data. This experience is where his interest in GIS came from. In the years to follow, Silas would eventually get his first Master’s degree in Geographic Information Systems and, not long after that, add it as a specialty for his MURP.

Experiencing a national restriction on government hiring following this year of service, Silas faced a roadblock limiting the opportunities available to him. Advised to use this time to build relationships and further develop his skills, Silas then began volunteering with a local planning department in his community, participating in engagement efforts, site inspections, and leading a team in the development of a street naming and property addressing database. 

Working within the Land Use and Spatial Planning Authority, Silas conducted training of data collection officers

His introduction to the University of Florida came from his work with the Land Use and Spatial Planning Authority (LUSPA) National Office, where Silas was first employed following the lift on government hiring. Beyond introducing him to researchers from UF, working within this office allowed him to oversee planning activities throughout Ghana, train regional and district planning staff, and develop the guidelines and standards for these staff.

In early 2022, Silas was introduced to UF researchers through the Ghana Land Use Project. This project, a collaboration between LUSPA, the Center for Remote Sensing Information Services (CERGIS), and UF’s Center for Remote Sensing, was a capacity-building endeavor focused on resolving land use conflicts in Ghana. Silas worked closely with researchers on this project, who introduced him to the University and offered him the opportunity to work on the project further as a Graduate Assistant. 

Silas with the GALUP Team and stakeholders from the Asante Akim Municipal Assembly in Ghana

Up for a new adventure, Silas did not think twice. He quickly applied for the Masters in Urban and Regional Planning, got his acceptance in May, and left Ghana for the first time, moving to Gainesville in August. 

“The opportunity sounded too good to resist. This was the first time I was going to leave Ghana, and I felt that I needed this kind of change to widen my worldview.”
Silas Achidago, UF MURP student

During his time working as a graduate assistant at the University, Silas has worked on two primary projects–the aforementioned Ghana Land Use Project and the Botswana Human-Wildlife Conflict Project. His time with the Ghana Land Use Project allowed him to work with FIBER Postdoctoral Associate Changjie Chen to improve land-use planning in Ghana. This project provided Silas the opportunity to visit his home at the end of 2022, training stakeholders on how to use the open Land Use Conflict Identification Strategy (LUCIS) framework developed for the project. 

Silas with staff from the Center for Remote Sensing and Geographic Information Services (CERSGIS) for the capacity building workshop in Ghana

After his involvement in the Ghana Land Use Project, the team he collaborated with received a request from the NGO in Botswana specializing in wildlife conservation. They sought to apply the OPEN-LUCIS framework to address ongoing human-wildlife conflicts in Botswana. This project acts as a collaboration between UF’s Center for Remote Sensing and the University of Oxford’s Wildlife Conservation Research Unit. While an ongoing project, thus far, Silas has been able to further develop this framework and travel to the Chobe District in Botswana to train stakeholders on how to use OPEN-LUCIS to inform planning and policy interventions related to the conflict.

Traveling to Chobe, Botswana, Silas introduced the OPEN-LUCIS framework to participating stakeholders

Beyond his work as a research assistant, Silas has made his mark in the MURP program through his involvement with the Student Planning Association (SPA).

“My time here at UF since August 2022 has been a journey of phases, challenges, and successes. Initially, I struggled to settle into the new environment, grappling with unfamiliar foods, culture, and even language barriers that were unexpected. Building connections and making friends was tough, but over time, I found my footing and began to interact more freely, especially through my involvement with SPA.”
Silas Achidago, UF MURP student

Serving as Treasurer allowed Silas to contribute to the creation of a supportive community for international students like himself, aiding in their transition and fostering connections with peers. Thus far, he is proud of the progress SPA has made during his time and looks forward to its continued success.

Silas with SPA members volunteering at a beach clean up

Beyond developing a greater connection internally, Silas has also furthered SPA’s external connections, connecting the organization to CHW Professional Consultants—the local firm Silas had the opportunity to intern with, representing the University at the Florida APA Conference, and through volunteering opportunities. 

Silas with fellow SPA students, representing the URP Department at the Florida APA Conference

In the Fall of 2023, the UF International Center awarded Silas the Certificate of Outstanding Merit, acknowledging his excellence in academics, achievement, and contributions to the University through his research. 

Silas receiving the Certificate of Outstanding Merit from the UF International Center

Looking forward, Silas will graduate with his Master of Urban and Regional Planning (MURP) degree in the Fall of 2024. Unsure exactly where he will be going next, Silas knows that wherever he goes, he will continue to widen his view of the world and work towards making people’s lives better—his goal from the very beginning. 

Scroll to Top