Tutaonana Kwale! Farewell Kwale!


"Time to move on!"

And so the DIY Kenya project is finished; for now at least.  Wow, it’s true, how quickly time passes when you’re having fun!I have always maintained that ‘DIY Kenya’ should not stop at the 2-3 week mark, but rather be the catalyst for long-term, collaborative activity and enquiry into design application in Kenya, for Kenya.     

Everyone here at Kwale Homeopathic College had a great time together during the project; I am confident of that!  We were united in the spirit of learning; of creativity; of wanting to make a positive change.  We made some interesting discoveries, shared some inspiring experiences; made some cool stuff. We also made some new friends and we all hope to work together in the near future and continue what we started!     



Recent activity

Since last I ‘blogged’ on the DIY Kenya site, we at Kwale have experienced some exciting successes, one or two let-downs, several untimely electrical blackouts and some exploding prototypes!     



‘Bloc’ Maker Faire Banner


OK – lets start with the wonderful banner which the girls designed and made to advertise bloc’s presence at the Maker Faire Africa next week in Nairobi.  Working over just a few days, the girls answered the call to produce a hand-made banner for bloc that embodied the ethos of the Maker Faire: a Celebration of African Innovation and Design.      

The whole class met to contribute ideas toward the design of the banner and once a concept had been agreed, a smaller group of around 10 students stepped-up to help acquire the materials and work on the painting and assembly.     



The word ‘bloc’ has been rendered with a collage of African textiles and textures; incorporating regional kangas, Maasai cloth, rafta weaving and beadwork.  There is also a touch of alchemy as the girls have created a bed of bright flowers hand-made from redundant plastic delivery sacks.  Some of the textiles were locally available but the paint and beads had to be bought in Mombassa.  The rafta weave was produced to order by a local ‘mama’ within the village.     

The girls were keen to include graphical icons to represent the three ‘DIY Kenya’ design challenges; Malaria, Water and Fuel.   We developed the ions as a group, following an impromptu workshop in graphic design.  The slogan ‘Innovation for Kenya’ was lifted from the anthem which the girls composed to mark the DIY Kenya project and which they performed on my arrival in Kwale (I must upload that video!).  The banner credits the “Students of the 4 Kenia School of Homeopathy” and “Peter Ku-ku” which is my Kwale name! 



‘Jiko Man’ iko wapi?!  – Prototyping the ‘Kwale Clay Jiko Stove’, ‘Kwale Fuel Press’ & ‘Kwale Mosquito Trap’.


Unfortunately, Jiko Man did not (could not?) return to complete the firing of the clay Jiko, mosquito trap and fuel press.  After a few days of waiting we hurriedly found another local guy who said he could do the job.     

Our new friend proceeded to build an impressive fire in and around the clay vessels using firewood and dry chippings gathered from the locality of the school.  After about 10 minutes I was called over to the burn-site by Suleileman the school gardener who explained, whilst pointing at the smouldering mound and trying hard not to laugh “…it was like a bomb!”        



Our Jiko had exploded during firing, shattering irreparably, though fortunately, without harming anyone.  Perhaps this was due to a fault with the design… or Jiko Man’s construction?  Shortly after the accident, I was informed that the traditional ‘Chungu’ clay vessels are normally packed in earth during firing to avert just such an outcome.   At this stage, we are not to know the true cause of the explosion.     

I was also later informed that, due to the lack of paying work in this area, as with much of rural Kenya, it was likely that the person who offered to fire our vessels (in exchange for a good few bob) was over-exaggerating his ability to successfully carry out the work as a way of securing the job as his.  An unfortunate but apparently, all too familiar occurrence in Kwale.    

The following pictures show the two failed clay prototypes of the Kwale Clay Jiko Stove next to a photo of the 1:1 scale card prototype.   


Our ‘Fuel Press’ and ‘Mosquito Trap’ survived the firing, though acquired a decidedly ‘rustic’ texture and patina in the process.  We were able to test the Mosquito Trap with some Palm Wine and more of the yeast/sugar/water solution (both of which are reputedly great for attracting mosquitoes) but so far, neither have succeeded as sufficient attractants for those pesky ‘mozzies’.  We discussed the need for further tests particularly in varying the quantities of the yeast, sugar and water in the attractant, as well as perhaps applying a small amount of heat to the liquid container as this may help generate more carbon fumes and attract more insects.     

We ran out of time before we could make and test the fuel made from banana peels.  The clay press did however survive some pretty brutal compression tests using loose earth.  We’re confident the banana fuel will work thanks to Joel Chaney’s research at the University of Nottingham and the wealth of banana trees in Kwale suggests that this is an ideal solution for alternative fuel in this area.  The compression tests suggest that the clay moulds will survive the punishment of repeated use although whether the clay mould will allow the pulped fuel mixture to be sufficiently formed and cleanly ejected without ‘sticking’, remains to be seen!    

The following pictures show some of the computer visuals which I created to communicate our design intent to the maker, alongside photos of the resulting clay prototypes made by ‘Jiko Man’.     

‘Kwale Fuel Press’     



 ‘Kwale Mosquito Trap’   





The Water Ran Red – Prototyping the ‘Kwale Bamboo Guttering’  



The girls bamboo guttering concept works!       

We built a 1:1 scale section of a typical ‘makuti’ roof with which to test the concept.  The bamboo that we had previously harvested (see earlier post Wednesday 28th July) was still ‘green’ and so, once we’d split it, within two days it had closed-in on itself making it useless for guttering.  With no time to sun-dry our own bamboo, we were lucky to find a local guy who was willing to sell us an enormous 14-foot, dried bamboo cane.     

The two handymen at the Homeopathy school, Naftali and Suleileman were kind enough to offer their tools and their skills in helping us to build the prototype.  The long bamboo cane was cut into required lengths and split in half with a machete, which was hammered down the length of each pole with a sturdy stick.      

With the Makuti roof built, attaching the bamboo guttering was a simple case of tying a stick (approximately 1 – 2 inch in diameter) to the beams that run at regular intervals down the pitch of the roof.  The end of the stick extends beyond the roof edge to provide a support for the bamboo which is affixed with twine, wire or natural Sesol string.  As with all guttering, the bamboo needed to be set at a slight angle to allow water to flow.      


To test the prototype, we simply turned the a ‘thumbed’ hose on it to simulate rainwater.  It seemed to work wonderfully with, at a guess, 90% of the water flowing fast down the roof, through the gutters and down-pipes and into our bucket.  Check out this video:     

The next day it was raining (although only very gently) and so I decided to make a second video to see if the guttering worked in ‘real world’ conditions.  I tracked the camera along the gutter pipe, following the slow drips of rain water down the tube, once again to the bucket  …but what’s this?!: 



One of the students had warned that the water would likely turn red after running off the Makuti roof.  Clearly, we now need to investigate a viable filration method to be used in conjunction with our bamboo guttering.  I imagine that such filtration would most likely take place as a post-process when water is being collected for use, but it could perhaps be something which is incorporated into the guttering system. 

The bamboo guttering concept still needs some development if it is to provide a viable system for rain harvesting.  Some issues we would like to investigate are;      

  • how one might filter the red contaminant from the water to allow safe drinking/washing;
  • how might people effectively grow, harvest and dry bamboo canes sufficient enough to be used for guttering;
  • whether harvested bees wax could be used as effective wood preserve;
  • how multiple bamboo canes may be joined to form longer poles (without simply staggering them);
  • how this system might be applied to corners and round roofs
  • whether the bamboo could be effectively used for either surface or subterranean channeling of water to a storage tank.



“Thanks Rolf!”  – Creating a Virtual Prototype of the ‘Kwale Rain Mat’



With one day left on the DIY Kenya project, ‘Water Group A’ only had a few rudimentary prototypes toward the ‘Kwale Rain Mat’ project.  These were essentially just pieces of paper, plastic sheet, card or dissected rafta mats illustrating possible folding mechanisms, but nothing much to look at.  With little time or materials left to produce a satisfactory physical model, I suggested that creating a ‘virtual prototype’ of the ‘Kwale Rain Mat’ might be a worthwhile exercise.  I imagined that a short film animation depicting the concept would work rather well.     

Initially, I began some test animations using some 3D CAD and animation software which I had on my laptop.  I soon decided however that the payout wouldn’t be worth the large amount of time it would take to produce the CAD model and so pondered alternatives.     

I decided to produce a lo-fi animation constructed from a series of hand-drawn ‘frames’ that would be scanned and then played back in sequence. The techniques I used to produce the animation were, I later realised, all harbored during my junior school days when I would sit in square-eyed worship of Rolf Harris and his TV show ‘Rolf’s Cartoon Club’.  Rolf would often use simple two-frame hand-drawn animations to enchanting effect and they were quick and relatively simple to produce.     

For any fellow fans of the ‘Cartoon Club’, I’m afraid I didn’t include my own Rolf-esque vocal sound effects in the animation!     

Check it out:    


The concept: Many houses in rural Kenya will have one or more mats woven from raftas.  These mats are commonly sited outside the house and used for sitting, especially when relaxing or taking food as a family, but are also used for drying maize and other food item in the sun.  Mats are often woven at home, but people also opt to buy them from markets.      

Kwale typically has two ‘rainy’ seasons per year but despite almost guaranteed water shortages during the dry seasons, the precious rain water is seldom harvested to full potential.      

The ‘Kwale Rain Mat’ is a specially woven, extra-large rafta mat with a water-resistant lining on the reverse and a series of sesol string loops stitched along the edge of the mat.      

The ‘Kwale Rain Mat’ can be used in the same way as a standard rafta mat (for sittng, drying maize etc) and because of it’s familiar material construction, does not look out of place within the compound.      

When rain begins, the ‘Kwale Rain Mat’ can be inverted and moved to flat ground, either directly within the compound or in the near locality.  A rope or sesol twine is passed through the loops around the edge of the mat to form a ‘snare’. As the rain falls, the plastic lining retains rainwater across a large area which then pools in the centre of the mat.      

The collected rainwater can then be harvested by pulling the free-end of the snare which closes the mat around the water, forming a convenient ‘bag’ or pouch for carrying the water.  The harvested rain water can then be transferred to a storage tank, a well or other vessel.      

They say inspiration can come from the most unexpected places. In deciding on a possible method for closing the ‘bag’ around the water, as well as looking at animal traps, I suggested to the students that we take influence from the illegal street sellers I had seen on the streets of Barcelona.  These guys display their goods on a blanket that with a single pull of a rope, can be quickly gathered – complete with all of their goods – into a shoulder bag which means they can make a speedy exit should the police arrive on the scene. 


There are of course, many unresolved aspects of this design such as the folding mechanism of the bag and the effectiveness of the ‘snare’, or whether the waterproof lining wouldn’t just tear along the ground when the mat is used rafta-side up.  As with all the projects, it represents a concept in the early stages of development.  A “what if…?” proposal – and we feel, rather a fitting one in terms of answering the design brief. 

hand-woven rafta details 




Evaluation and Project Close   

On Thursday evening (12th), I presented the collated works of all 5 five design groups to the entire class and we held a collective evaluation.  Also in attendance were the Principal and Director of the school; Mary and Marie.  As this was to be our ‘last session’, the students had been treated to cookies and crates of soda and there was more than a hint of a ‘party’ in the air.  As I put the finishing touches to my presentation, I could hear the students (on the opposite side of the compound) were making good use of the sound system and playing their collection of soul, hip-hop and Bongo music.      

The evaluation presentation started with a brief recap on the design process we had followed; from identifying local problems and setting the design challenge in the early days, through to solving problems with idea generation, design development and testing of prototypes.      

Next, I showed the latest project developments of the past few days, which largely outlined the development and testing of the prototypes (described earlier in this post).  As the last slide faded, the girls gave a huge cheer and awarded themselves a big round of applause.      

We then held a class discussion to evaluate the project and concluded that, even though each of the projects and prototypes required further development prior to any practical application, we were very proud of our achievements.  Not only had we generated a wide number of possible solutions to some fundamental local problems, including five developed ‘product’ concepts, we had also managed to explore solutions that could be freely (or very cheaply) appropriated via ‘open-source’ information-channels.  By extension, we now also shared a deeper appreciation for the core issues pertaining to each of the design challenges; information which will provide a foundation for any future enquiry, whether design-based or otherwise.      

Some lovely speeches followed from one of the student representatives and Marie, the director, thanking me for my work on the project and to extend a delightful invitation to return one day.  Very touching indeed and I do so hope to return!      

Oh dear – and once the evaluation session had well and truly finished, Mwomvumbo (a second-year student and my host during my Kinnango visit) took to the stage and spoke over an over-driven mic, instructing me to remain on stage whilst another girl fetched a ‘special gift’!  I soon found myself holding a very sweet card, a Kenyan music CD and a triangular package…  I had a pretty strong feeling of what was in it…!      

And so, for all those who missed the sight of me wearing a ‘Kanga’ the first time around, here it is, only this time, you also get to revel in the ritual humiliation that was my on-stage dancing!       

      An impromptu disco broke-out with many of the girls either taking the stage or dancing in the tiered seating of the lecture hall.  After a few songs, I decided to duck out and let the professionals take over as I watched from the sidelines.  Those girls really know how to dance!  They even had coordinated dance routines to their favourite songs!  I contributed a make-shift VJ/disco light effect by projecting the ‘Alchemy’ Media Player visualization through the projector, giving the room a real ‘night club’ look!       


We partied until the power went out around 10pm.  It is a regular occurrence here for the electricity board to cut out the power to the town.  They do it at least once a week, particularly on Thursdays.  In pitch blackness, we said our goodbyes (for the students were to leave for home early the next morning) and made our way back to our respective bunks.   

Sitting on a bench outside my accommodation by the light of a single candle and the night sky, I enjoyed a glass of wine from my store and reflected on the project.  I was still too excited to sleep.  The two dogs that keep guard over the compound at night – both fiercesome Maasai dogs – came and kept me in good company for a time.  I was glad they were on my side!  


I looked up and was delighted to see the African sky once again FULL of stars and the purple whisps of the MilkWay.  A friend reliably informed me it was Perseids nights and so a good night to gaze at the stars.  And, whilst reflecting on an enjoyable, innovative and educational few weeks, that’s exactly what I did. 

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2 Responses to Tutaonana Kwale! Farewell Kwale!

  1. Glynn says:

    Wow – what a great series of projects. It was interesting to note the similarities between the design process that we are familiar with in the UK and your experiences – how many times have our prototypes also not done what we thought they would!

    It’s been great following your story and I hope your travels back are free from hassle.

    By the way, what’s the red in the water?

  2. Amelia says:

    What a spectacular finish and wonderful story, your blog is very compelling, very human, extremely delightful. Good luck with the maker faire and I hope all the amazing work and designs are a success. I don’t think they will forget you. Well done old thing!

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