OK – The past week or so didn’t turn out as I’d originally planned and this blog post is well overdue, but despite my apparent silence, the DIY Kenya project has been progressing well and I have had some interesting experiences since I last posted here! 

On Sunday (1st Aug) I took an unexpected 3-night trip to Nairobi, the capital city of Kenya.  I was invited by the Director and Principal of the Kwale Homeopathic Centre to tag along with them whilst they tended some administrative duties in the city, leaving me free to explore during the day – great!  In Nairobi, I glimpsed a side of Kenyan life quite different to that of rural Kwale and I was very glad of the opportunity to scope out the city – with company – ahead of my two-week visit planned for the 17th of this month.

On Thursday (5th Aug), I was back in Kwale, and following the recommendations of the Homeopathy clinic staff I checked into the nearby ‘Kutazama’ lodge in Kwale for one night of relaxation and recharging and once again, a very different Kenyan experience!



On Saturday (7th Aug), sadly, I spent much of the day, debilitated with a stomach bug, but I’m much better now, thanks I’m sure, to the Homeopathic remedy I was prescribed by Marie – my first experience of Homeopathic medication!

The students and I have since resumed work on the DIY Kenya Design Project and are set to finish the remaining project prototypes and evaluation exercise by the middle of this week. 

We now have two prototypes of our ‘Kwale Clay Jiko Stove’.  Our friendly local maker ‘Jiko Man’ is back, this time with some helpers and they have been building our ‘Kwale Fuel Press’ and ‘Kwale Mosquito Trap’ which are due to be fired tomorrow (Wednesday).

The gardener and carpenter at the Kwale School of Homeopathy kindly volunteered to help with the construction of a rig to demonstrate our ‘Kwale Bamboo Guttering System’ which was finished a little earlier today and is working very well. 



The students are now also working on a banner which they have designed to advertise bloc’s stall at the Maker Faire Africa, Nairobi.  The girls are using a variety of local textiles and hand-woven materials to make a collage.  The banner will also include three icons based on the design challenges which they identified during the DIY Kenya project (Water, Fuel, Malaria).


So, that’s the news in brief, now here the ramble!:

‘The Jiko Man’

Saturday 31st July.  Just before leaving for Nairobi, I was able to arrange with a local maker in Kwale, who everyone refers to as ‘Jiko Man’ (Magambere is his real name), to make a prototype of our ‘Kwale Clay Jiko Stove’.  He worked on the production of two stoves over the course of a week (as his busy schedule allowed) making the stoves on-site at the college.

‘Jiko Man’ and I were not able to communicate very easily on account of my pitiful command of Swahili and his limited English, however, he was happy to interpret the drawings and card prototype that the students and I had produced, in order to make the stoves.  I always imagined that the stove would be crafted entirely by hand and with only simple tools, whereas ‘Jiko Man’ decided to first, create a metal mould with which to form the clay and then use this mould to produce multiples of the stove, allowing for variations in height and wall thickness each time. 

Once formed, the clay stoves were left in the sun to dry and then further hardened through wood firing. Each stove was built entirely from local clay, traditionally used to make Kenyan ‘Chungu’ cooking pots.

The first prototypes are looking good and we’re all looking forward to trying them out once they’ve been fired.  Our immediate concern however is that they’re rather heavier than we had imagined.  This weight is on account of the 1.5 inch wall thickness which the maker deemed necessary for the stove to hold its own weight!  Still, it’s important to remember that these are ‘prototypes’ and not finished pieces, and by the very act of making them, we have been able to highlight this potential problem.  Perhaps we can concentrate on developing a lighter version in the future?  I wonder if a thinner wall-thickness, a lighter clay or perhaps a lattice rib-structure might help to retain strength in the piece whilst also reducing weight.




‘Jiko Man’ has since produced prototypes of the Mosquito Trap and Fuel Press – also from local clay – and these will be fired on Wednesday 11th Aug.  My exchange with ‘Jiko Man’ has at times, reminded me of a comic strip that I first saw over 10 years ago as a 1st Year Product Design Degree Student.  You know the one…:

None of the prototypes have been made to look quite as I imagined they would.  Through the process of communicating the designs to the maker, design details have been misinterpreted and proportions have been skewed.  For instance; the circular design of our ‘Kwale Mosquito Trap’ has been realised as an oval because the maker did not read the technical drawings and was referring only to a ‘3D’ rendered drawing for instruction and was seeing the circular form in perspective. 

The most charming example of miscommunication was the time when it appeared that ‘Jiko Man’ had decided to start a small production run of improvised ceramic ash trays.  I assumed that maybe he was just using up the left-over clay in a practical way or perhaps making them to offer as gifts.  It then became clear that he had actually been working on our project but had interpreted the drawings of our ‘Kwale Banana Fuel Press’ as a circular ash tray with three round indents in the rim for cigarettes!  Looking at the computer-rendered visuals of the Fuel Press (below), I can see why he might have made such an assumption!:


Still, I am delighted by the results of ‘Jiko Man’s’ work and am actually quite glad that the drawings weren’t followed too prescriptively, not least because each design is intended as an open source concept which will inevitably be interpreted and adapted as each individual maker/user sees fit.  It has been useful, from a design perspective, to see how such adaptations might occur.  This experience has also served a welcome personal reminder in the importance of effective visual communication; the pitfalls (and the joys) of not getting it right first time!

Nairobi Visit:  Sunday 1st – Wednesday 3rd

We elected to travel to Nairobi by car; a very scenic, but also very tiring, 9-hour drive along the A109 highway that runs from Mombassa and divides the famous Tsavo National Park.

Day 1 in Nairobi and I was lucky enough to meet up with a friend of the Kwale Homeopathic Centre; Cas Rooseboom, a Dutch artist who had been delivering a range of educational programmes across Africa that engage school children and youth groups through collaborative art practice and workshops.  He was kind enough to let me tag along with him for a day of visiting his collaborators and students in the centre of Nairobi and to allow me to get a ‘feel’ for the city.

Cas took me to meet some of the students at ‘Slum Cinema’; a youth group that teaches documentary and video editing skills to young people living in slum areas.  The Slum Cinema films are screened locally (the students also organising and promoting the screenings) as well as to an international internet audience, thereby giving the students a platform for voicing their views and for personal expression. 

We then visited the Kibera slums where many of Cas’ colleagues live and work and where many of his art-based workshops have been taking place.  Despite the evident poverty and decidedly harsh living conditions of Kibera, I found this slum district to be predominantly a place of colour & warmth; of hope, joy and humanity.  The residents I met there were delightfully friendly, accommodating, supportive of one another and were clearly enjoying life with a sunny optimism, despite any immediate hardships.  I liked it.

Later that afternoon, Cas and I each hopped on the back of a “Boda-boda” or motorbike taxi to ride a short distance to the Jua Kali area of the city (that journey being the most thrilling and possibly dangerous experience I have ever had for 50 pence!).  The Jua Kali area is where hundreds of local craftspeople transform incoming scrap and sheet metal into all manner of new products which are then further distributed to the shops and markets of Kenya.  One of Cas’s contacts, a metal worker named Noah, treated me to a guided tour of the maze-like complex of bustling metal workshops, fiery-hot foundries and stalls practically bursting with metal goods. 

We saw great quantities of reclaimed food and gas cans being turned into Kerosene lamps; scrap metal being beaten, cut, melted, and welded into all manner of tools and utensils; sheet metal being manually formed into immensely strong storage and cargo boxes.  In one large, dark shed, fifteen guys hammered unrelentingly at heavy metal discs which they held in their bare, calloused hands to produce a mountain of ‘Chipati’ pans.  The sound of those fifteen hammers, all striking in stuttering succession, was incredible – like the peal of village church bells!  The scene was decidedly less ‘chocolate-boxey’!

One of the Jua Kali workers was so excited to see a ‘Muzungu’ visitor in his busy workshop, he leapt from his seat, grabbed me by the arm and, grinningly, tried to convince me to have a go at bashing the red-hot lump of metal at his feet into a set of four chisels.  I appreciated this seemingly kind offer, though perhaps he just fancied a break?!  With every step we took toward the glowing metal, I would instantly felt the ambient temperature rise an extra 30 degrees centigrade.  With no protective gear in sight, my ‘Health & Safety in the Workplace’ reflex kicked in and I politely declined the offer of the anvil.

Amidst a sea of mass-manufactured, hand-made products, many of them almost identical to the last, I was curious to know about the role of design in the Jua Kali district.  How did the initial idea for a product emerge in order to spawn these vast quantities of multiples?  How and when does innovation and new product development occur?  Do the Jua Kali makers ever cross-collaborate? Who’s working together and who’s not?  …and who is running this show anyway? 

Regrettably, I got so caught up in the sights and sounds of the tour, I neglected to ask any such questions on this occasion.  Fortunately, I’ll be able to conduct a follow up visit in just over a week or two.


I was so grateful to have been able to accompany Cas’ that day.  His prior knowledge of the city and network of friendly contacts meant that even after just one day in Nairobi, I had seen many things that I would otherwise have missed or perhaps not have dared to investigate alone.  …And so it has been for much of my time in Kenya: I cannot overstate the value of enlisting the help of someone with local knowledge and experience, whether it be for planning a day in the city; making the most of a short stay; gaining insights for a local design challenge or making your first prototype in a foreign land (and ensuring you don’t get diddled by a hiked-up tourist price in the process). 


On the journey back from Nairobi to Kwale, we all decided to take a safari drive via two of the national parks: Amboseli and Tsavo West.  I won’t bore you here with my stories of the Zebras and Elepants that delighted us so by crossing the road in front of us, of the magnificent Maasai herdsmen we greeted along the way or the clear views of the majestic Mt Kilimanjaro.

I’ll be blogging again before the week is out to let you know how the prototypes and evaluation exercise turn out!  Please check back again soon!

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Preparing for Presentation of Design Concepts or “The Looming Deadline as Creative Catalyst”

Wednesday 28th – Thursday 29th July

There was no collaborative workshop on Wednesday.  I spent all-day (a solid 24 hours in fact) drawing-up concepts, researching and prototyping in readiness for a presentation of design concepts which I had promised the girls would take place at 9am, Thursday morning.  The girls were scheduled to leave the centre on Thursday afternoon to commence mobile clinics across Kenya – for them, a valuable practical experience in providing Homeopathic treatment outside the college.

I wanted to present to the whole class, five design concepts – one concept selected from each of the Design Groups – at a more advanced stage before the girls left for the weekend.  This to provide a general platform for all groups to come together and raise any comments, questions, concerns or recommendations, which would in turn inform the final development work which I would be carrying out until the girls return.

When they return to Kwale on Tuesday next week, I will present the final concepts to the girls and we will close this chapter of the DIY Kenya project with an evaluation exercise …and then I’ll probably have a little sleep!  Next stop, Maker Faire!

Design Work on Show:

So, Wednesday morning, I based myself in the shared library and adjoining classroom so that the girls could see the work progressing and get involved.  With my drawings and rudimentary prototypes spread about the place, the girls would come and look and we would occasionally discuss the direction of a design concept, confirming or tweaking it in the process.   The girls used the opportunity of a ‘non-workshop day’ to write up their thesis or to make bracelets for a large order of product from their ‘Sweet Sixteen’ shop.

As I sat there drawing in an ever increasing state of enlightenment and excitement, I was reminded of a wonderful design quote from the simply brilliant little book: 101 Things I Learned In Architecture School.

“Drawing is not simply a way of depicting a design solution; it is itself a way of learning about the problem you are trying to solve.”

Too true!

The same can be said of prototyping.  When you make the move from 2D to testing a concept by working with materials and real-world scenarios, even in a fairly basic way, further problems and insights are illuminated.  Prototypes can also communicate a lot more about design intent than pictures alone and help stimulate conversation when presented to project stakeholders.  If “a picture is says a thousand words” then perhaps a prototype ‘says’ a thousand pictures?

As the project was now in the prototype stage, I couldn’t spend all-day in the classroom:  I made a film analysing the water run-off of Makuti roofs to inform the Bamboo Guttering project.  I stopped by the Hardware store to buy some plastic sheeting and other making materials and also met with some Jiko makers in Kwale town to discuss the viability of our ‘Kwale’ Clay Jiko.  Two of the students accompanied me on a trip to harvest some ‘free’ bamboo from within Kwale town and to buy some of the most overly-ripe, blackest bananas we could find to be turned into bio fuel experiments.  The bamboo was split and the interior knots removed.  All the while, I was checking the home-made yeast-based mosquito traps which were bubbling away in my room and so far, attracting only a lot of flies!

The Night-Shift

Night fell around 7pm and around an hour later I stepped out to see the most glorious night sky I have ever witnessed.  No moon, but an expanse absolutely FULL of stars and satellites; the bright light of Venus and whisps of purple clouds from the Milky Way.  You could lie on your back, look up and almost imagine you were floating in space.  With all those far-away galaxies and the ancient light of distant stars, you had to wonder, how many more collaborative design projects are taking place out there?!  Perhaps we could work together some time…?!

A brief interlude to see one of Marie’s visiting friends and a top Jazz trumpet player perform an impromptu and improvised concert for the girls.  What a show!  The girls later sang their own songs and played drums with an improvised Jazz trumpet accompaniment.  African rhythms, choral singing and Jazz trumpet (and dancing) from Holland!  Talk about fusion!  Talk about collaboration!

And so, night.  With the chorus of chirruping insects and talkative toads to keep me company, I busily –though very happily – worked across all five projects, collating the work of the design groups to present the next morning:

(per group)

  • 2-3 alternative concepts (the ones that didn’t get picked).
  • 1 selected concept, with iterations where appropriate.
  • A photo-storyboard and/or video of the development work.
  • Prototypes and rig-work.

I cannot remember a design deadline that hasn’t involved an ‘all-nighter’ prior to presentation!  Let’s face it, nothing is ever perfect right?  There’s always something to improve or try out and I found the pressure of the deadline rather inspiring!

Thursday 9th July

9am Presentation of Design Concepts:

And so, here are some excerpts from the presentation of design concepts.  Each concept was developed collaboratively with the Kwale students in response to a local problem or concern and further designed for assembly with free or cheaply available local materials. All design concepts are intended for open-source distribution.  The distribution of each design to the Kenyan people would be through live demonstrations at public events and especially at Chief meetings ‘Baraza’ which provides the most effective source of information transfer to the rural people in Kenya

Water Group 1:

Concept 1: Anti-contaminant “River Sieve” concept (rejected)

Concept 2: Grey-water recycling system for outdoor wash houses (rejected)

Selected Concept:  “Rain-Harvesting mat”.

The need to maximise available water in Africa is profound.  There are typically two ‘rainy’ season per year in Kenya.  Still, much of the rainfall around a typical housing is lost as there are few rain harvesting measures in place.   The impetus for this concept was “How can we collect the maximum amount of rainfall over a large area without investing in expensive systems or permanent fixtures?”

Though still in development, this mat will be made from cheaply available materials and assembled by hand with only basic skills.  It can be unfurled whenever rain occurs to collect rainfall over a large expanse.  After the rain, the mat can be articulated in such a way (likely a draw-string method) as to draw the water into the centre and to form a ‘bag’ for carrying the water to storage.

The mat does not rely on any nearby structures to erect and therefore can be sited away from the compound to better utilise flat or available ground.

This image shows the concept at an early stage of development!

Early prototypes:

Water Group 2:

Concept 1: Manually-powered pump for distance water carriage. (rejected)

Concept 2: Water Harvesting from condensation of trees and vegetation. (rejected)

Selected Concept: “Bamboo Guttering System”

(Apologies, I didn’t have time to re-draw the picture above and so you have the scrappy version here complete with my self-notes you were never supposed to see.  At least it lends an insight into my design thinking.  Further apologies should you spot my rather ungracious round-roof comment!)

Some Kenyan households utilise expensive guttering with metal roofs in order to harvest water.  Many rural houses in Kwale however have ‘Mukuti’ roofs made from wooden beams and coconut leaf thatching, but no guttering system.  This is a wasted opportunity considering the expanse and water-gathering potential of many of these roofs.

Our simple concept was to utilise hollowed-out bamboo canes of sufficient maturity (diameter) to capture the water run-off from these roofs.  Guttering will be made from canes split in half whilst whole canes will act as down-pipes. The interior knots will be removed and scraped flush to avoid pooling of water and the guttering will be hung at a slight incline to allow water to flow.  The bamboo can be treated with beeswax to preserve its life.

Our design can be retro-fitted to most Mukuti roofs by tying extension poles made of Sisol or locally-harvested wood.  The collected water will be channeled to a storage tank or open well via subterranean pipes constructed of whole bamboo canes or half pipes at the surface of the ground, which will allow for easy maintenance and fault identification.

The collected water will be filtered for use utilising organic methods.

Bamboo Halves for prototype:

Fuel Group 1:

Concept 1: “Mystery Kwale fuel”

Admittedly, we didn’t have many clearly-defined concepts.  We knew we wanted to utilise waste material common to Kwale households as a fuel for cooking and heat.  We discussed what waste materials were most commonly available in Kwale: coconut trees, maize husks, banana trees, animal manure, ash, wood, plastics and paper.  We then carried out internet research – slowly, due to connection – as a means of developing our concept.

Selected Concept: “Kwale Banana Fuel Press”

Our research hit upon a bio-fuel made chiefly from banana waste which could be used as an effective alternative to charcoal.  Check out University of Nottingham’s Joel Chaney’s story about how he developed banana briquettes for fuel: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/8044092.stm

Kwale is full of banana trees, as is much of Kenya and so this research seemed to point to a pertinent solution.  Once the fruit has been eaten, the peel, indeed, the whole plant and leaves can be pulped, dried, mixed with sawdust or dried leaves and turned into fuel.

In order to make this a truly Kwale-based innovation, the design group developed a briquette press, a handmade tool that allows for quick, easy and efficient production of consistently shaped bio fuel ‘ring-shaped’ briquettes.  The ring allows for a more efficient burn as hot air is drawn through the centre hole.  The hole also allows for quicker drying of the fuel after it has been pressed.

The press is made from the red clay which is common to the Kwale region and traditionally used for the manufacture of ‘Chungu’ cooking pots.  Unlike other bio-matter fuels, the banana fuel does not require great force to successfully compress and bind the slurry into briquettes.  The hardened clay formers will allow the user a good purchase to provide sufficient force to form a large quantity of briquettes in a short time.

The press design also incorporates two outlets for liquid as the slurry is being pressed in the mould.

Because the tool allows for easy batch production, the user could make a surplus of ‘Kwale bio fuel’ to sell.

Prototype: 1:1 Scale Plasticine Model

Fuel Group 2:

Concept 1:  “Kwale Mystery Stove!”

Again, we had decided we wanted to make a ‘Kwale’ stove that would tackle the fuel problem, but we had no firm concept.  We talked about how we might maximise the heat by stacking cooking pots or otherwise spreading heat from one fuel source to a wider area.  There was also mention of a bamboo smoke diverter to channel the nuisance smoke outside the house…

Selected Concept: “Kwale Clay Jiko Stove”

Taking influence from the ‘rocket stove’ we developed a two-piece ‘Jiko’ cooking stove made from local clay.

As the diagram illustrates, the user takes a piece of fire wood, lit at one end, and places it burning-end-first into the large opening.  The air intake holes at the base of the unit ensure a constant inward draft to fan the flames which in turn, provides a more efficient flame.  The hot air is carried directly upward, through the stout round chimney of the ‘Kwale Jiko’ stove and hits the base of the cooking pot.  Three exit slots at the top of the stove allow hot air to escape and spread across the base and sides of the pot.  As the wood burns, the user simply pushes it further into the opening to ensure the fire is directly beneath the pot.

The ash from the burnt fuel can be easily removed by lifting the stove (once it has cooled) to reveal a separate ceramic footplate which can be used to carry the ash.  The collected ash can be recycled for the creation of bio fuels or even as a water filtration agent.  This is an improvement on many existing Kenyan Jikos which research suggested are very difficult to clean of ash.

The pot has been designed to be portable but can also be sited semi-permanently by packing clay/mud/stones around it to improve heat retention, safety and aesthetic.

The pot is made from 100% clay and can be recycled.

Prototype: 1:1 Scale Card model

Malaria Group:

Concepts: Deluxe ‘Lifetime’ Mosquito Net; Mosquito Repair Kits/Social Initiative; Clockwork Mosquito Repellant, Family Planning for Mosquitos. (rejected)

Selected Concept:  100% Natural “Kwale Mosquito Trap”

The “Kwale Mosquito Trap” can be made very cheaply from 100% natural materials.  Its construction takes influence from the traditional Kenyan ‘Chungu’ cooking pots which are hand-made from local clay.

There are several variations on the design of this trap but essentially, the trap consists a clay vessel with a small opening just big enough for a mosquito to enter.  Inside the pot is a mixture of warm water, brown sugar and yeast which releases a CO2 vapour that is said to be irresistible to mosquitos.  The mosquitos fly in through the narrow opening but due to the conical shape of the interior and the narrow egress, cannot easily fly out again.  the mosquitos will eventually drown in the liquid solution.  Alternatively, the fermented alcohol of the coconut tree, which is very commonly taken in Kenya, can be used as a substitute to the yeast/sugar solution.

The traps should be placed around the house, particularly in the bedroom at night when mosquitos typically bite in the early hours of the morning.

The ‘lid’ of the trap can be removed to check that it is working and to allow cleaning and re-filling.

Prototype: 1:1 Scale Plasticine and Chungu pot prototype

The presentation was a great success.  The girls enjoyed seeing their ideas a little further toward realization and delighted in critiquing the work of the other (rival?) design groups.  The ceramic Jiko project in particular was awarded a round of applause after presentation of the final concept and card prototype.  An open discussion followed and some suggestions were made for further development and tweaking of ideas.

‘Jiko Man’

Just before the girls departed for their mobile clinics, we arranged to meet with a local Jiko stove maker who came to the centre and after looking at the prototype and drawings, agreed to make our ceramic Jiko for us, on-site over the weekend.  Great!  The ultimate test!  I forgot to ask at the time, but I will try to persuade him to provide some extra clay for our Fuel Press and Mosquito Trap when he returns on Saturday morning.

I couldn’t help myself, with the girls gone and a new quiet descending over the compound, I crashed asleep at around lunchtime and slept solidly and peacefully until 6 this morning.

Nafurahi sana!

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Design Concepts …and Kangas!

Monday 26th July

First day back after a long weekend away and fearing the girls may have a spot of the Monday Blues, I wanted to start the week with a laugh. I put my dignity on the line and popped my head around the door of the classroom where all the girls where assembled.

“Good Morning” I said.

“Good Mooooorniiiiing” they all replied.

So far, so normal.

And then I entered, resplendent in a brightly coloured ‘Kanga’ I had purchased from Kinango market that weekend.

Screams of laughter!  Great!  That’s the kind of mood we need for formulating great ideas!

I started today’s workshop with a slideshow of photos from my visit to Kinango, so as to highlight the virtues of cultural exchange! I was keen to express all the things I experienced which were completely new to me (yet probably very ‘everyday’ to them); eating Ugali with my fingers, sweeping the compound at 7 am, collecting water for the day, washing clothes at the reservoir. There were also inclusions of things that I simply found curious or captivating as a foreign visitor; friendly strangers with warm invitations to take lunch with them, charming hand-painted school murals and signposts, Matatos (buses) doubling as delivery vans and people’s relaxed attitudes to discarding litter. The litter issue was, to my dismay, demonstrated almost immediately after I handed out some sweets to a group of young kids. A dozen discarded cellophane wrappers tumbling in the breeze toward the maize crops as the kids jumped around, their lips smacking with sweet glee.

The slideshow was followed with a brief presentation to illustrate the process of Product and Branding Design in the UK, using examples of undergraduate work from the Product Design Programme at UWIC. The Kwale girls enjoyed seeing the diverse range of innovative student projects and although the Cardiff projects were of a decidedly different breed to the type we were engaged in at Kwale, the students could see that the process for innovation was the same.

We talked about the potential for design as a tool for economic development in Africa, in particular, harnessing and promoting the indigenous crafts and tacit knowledge of Kenya’s Jua Kali workers. How design can ‘add value’ to a product or service and how branding and internet-based marketing can create new markets.

After a short break, I then met each team individually and in turn to discuss the results of Friday’s brainstorming session, to take ideas forward and to start visualizing their concepts.

At this stage, we were still encouraging ‘Crazy Thinking’ within the groups as well as practical design solutions. Due to time constraints, the meetings had to be kept to 30 minutes each but with a tight deadline and a plate of ‘Haribo’ sweets to power us on, we started broad by generating a quantity of ideas very quickly and then narrowing our design focus toward the close of session by selecting two or three concepts for further development at the next meeting.

Here are the ideas that the students selected:

Water group A:

• A low-cost, wide-catchment, retractable water harvesting ‘mat’ for rural households;

• A ‘filtration sieve’ to curb contamination of river-ways by litter.

• Grey Water recycling system for standard stone and ‘Makuti’ wash houses;

Water Group B:

• Bamboo guttering and water harvesting system for use with ‘Mukuti’ roofing.

• Water (condensation) collection system for use with trees and plant-life.

• Human-powered, mechanical water pump to draw water from far away water sources, wells or boreholes.

Fuel Group A:

• A ‘Kwale method’ of generating fuel from bio-matter (such as yellow, green or white ‘charcoal’) suitable for small-scale home production.

Fuel Group B:

• A system for making a fuel-efficient, homemade ‘Jiko’ stove from freely available materials.

Malaria Group:

• Mosquito Net Repair Kits/Patches

• Mosquito Trap based on the construction techniques of “Chungu” clay vessels and utilising all locally available materials

Prototyping: Seeing is Believing

Tuesday 27th July

Today, I met once again with the five groups to help them develop their ideas into more refined concept proposals.

Each of the teams – myself included – were keen to develop design solutions that can be adopted by people of all social and economic circumstances. Solutions that can be shared as open-source as well as, perhaps, providing some people with the opportunity for generating a source of income. We have been exploring government, community, and NGO intervention in the delivery of our concepts but ultimately, we would like to develop ideas that can be assimilated from freely available materials by even the poorest members of the Kwale rural community.

‘Water Group A’ elected to drop the ‘river sieve’ idea in favour of the water harvesting mat and grey water recycling system, both of which we are developing for initial prototyping and testing tomorrow.

‘Water Group B’ likewise are developing two concepts: the bamboo guttering and the plant-life water harvester.

‘Fuel Groups 1 & 2’ are continuing to develop their methods for a bio-fuel and a ‘Kwale’ Jiko (most likely made from ceramic and stone). Prototypes will be tested tomorrow all being well!

‘Fuel group 1’ are struggling with the problem of devising a reliable method for compacting and binding the fuel briquettes without relying on the assistance of a machine press. We are currently looking at the possibility of using clay moulds to form and compress the organic slurry into shapes that will remain rigid yet quick-drying when left in the sun.

During the meeting with Fuel group 2, we decided to break out of the class room and check-out the Jikos at the neighbouring girl’s high school for inspiration. These Jikos fuelled mainly with firewood typically cater for 500 boarding students daily! We learned about the construction of these giant cylindrical monsters which are built on location and permanently sited. Whilst we are only concerning ourselves with fuel-efficiency on a small domestic scale, seeing the large Jikos at the school helped to improve this group’s understanding of the typical make-up of these stoves and helped prompt conversation. We will be experimenting with stone and clay constructions which should retain heat from even a minimal amount of fuel. We will also be experimenting with ‘funneling’ the heat toward the point of cooking and ensuring a good intake of air at the base of the heat source.

The ‘Malaria group’ decided that the ‘Mosquito Net-Repair Kits’ which where expected to sell for around 30 bob (a new net costs 350 – 400) couldn’t really be justified in a culture of make do and mend where people are pretty adept at fixing holes in nets with needle and thread. However, we all really liked the idea of creating a home-made mosquito trap based on the traditional construction methods of the Kenyan Chungu clay pots. The mossies would fly in through an opening in the clay vessel and once inside, would either get stuck in a liquid or viscous solution (like fly paper) or drown or otherwise find it physically impossible to fly out again. The clay vessel would obscure any grim sights as the trap fills but could also be opened for emptying and cleaning.

We spent a little time researching what attracts Mosquitos; a very complicated problem it turns out especially when there are over 2,500 species of the things, each with their own distinct characteristics and preferences. Still, we hit on two insights that may be pertinent for our project and certainly worth trying out. One being that mosquitos can be attracted using a sugar, water and yeast solution. Another insight being that they really like three-day old socks!! …and certain kinds of cheese! That ‘yeasty-cheesey’ smell is common to all three so there may be something in it! We are testing these solutions as we speak. I have a collection of dishes and bottles next to my bed, each containing different concentrations of the yeast solution.


After hitting on the yeast-based solution, we sketched out some possible designs for the trap and then made some quick prototypes in Play Doh to better understand how it might work and also, because Play Doh is a good substitute for clay in this case, we could imagine how the vessels might be made using hand methods. The students really seemed to enjoy this task; their first experience with Play Doh! One girl even went as far as making a delicate Play Doh mosquito to sit on top of her trap!

Each team has now reached a stage in the design project where we need to enter the realm of prototypes; making models, role-playing, experimenting, playing with ‘stuff’, testing theories. Seeing is believing.

More prototypes will be constructed tomorrow, some of which employing the skills of local craftsfolk. I will try to add pics if time/internet/schedule allows. The design concepts as they stand will be presented to the class as a whole for an interim evaluation on Thursday 29th July. All of the students are to be mobilised on Thursday PM for, among other events, an AIDS awareness event at Kwale Prison. I will then continue to develop the design concepts until the girls return on Tuesday 3rd August where upon the final design proposals will be shown and a final project evaluation carried out.

Check out this coal iron.  Saw it outside a laundry shop in Kwale town.  Great huh?

Oh my word!  Where has the time gone!

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Intanet Kafe iko wapi?

The charms of the internet provision in rural Kenya, combined with a busy schedule – and what I take to be my spoiled European impatience – have made it difficult to update the blog these past four days. Internet provision is pretty sparse here. Just yesterday, at the only Cybercafe in town, a 10-strong bank of computers was reduced to a single PC with a 236.8 kbps wireless connection following a server error. After a half-hour wait to use the machine, the connection was just cripplingly slow and I abandoned the mission. Still, “hamna shida” it’s no problem!

The collaborative design project with the girls at Kwale Homeopathic Health Centre and College project is going very nicely! Today we began generating early design concepts inspired by some intense research and brainstorming of ideas carried out last week. Just to remind you all, the girls are working in groups and are tackling design challenges that they identified as key for the Kwale district, Kenya. These challenges can be summed up as:

 • How can we deliver improved systems of Water provision for domestic and agricultural purposes?

 • How can we deliver improved solutions for safe, clean, affordable, plentiful fuel (for cooking & warmth).

 • How can we alleviate the impact and spread of Malaria among typical rural families.

Here follows a quick day-to-day breakdown:

Thursday 22nd July, ‘Research’

This session was all about researching and gaining a deeper appreciation for the context of each of the three Design Challenges; filling in some of the gaps in our collective knowledge and challenging/or otherwise confirming any assumptions.

Working in their design groups of six/seven students each, the class conducted a short period of intense research in response to the ‘Information Gathering’ sessions of the previous day (e.g. What We Know / What We Don’t Know). I facilitated the group in preparing interviews with relevant people within the region as well as conducting secondary research via internet searches and the Kwale District Development Plan.

The students first interviewed a local community expert, Mdme. Behati, to garner a deeper appreciation for the wider social, political, economic and logistical issues relating to each of their design challenges. We then mobilised to interview a cross-section of families from the Kwale community about their experiences to the problems described in the design challenges. We hoped to obtain some new insights from the very people we are trying to help through our design work.

Before setting out, we had to consult the local chief to check if it was OK to carry out these door-to-door interviews within his area. The director of the Homeopathy Clinic, Marie, arranged for two of the students and myself to meet with chief Masahraja to explain our intentions. Thankfully, he was most accommodating and very generously arranged for three of the local elders to accompany the girls on a tour of the Kwale district. “You have my blessings” he said before turning to the elders “You must help these girls. This is more important than a burial!”


The elders are well respected amongst the residents of their home communities and are very well liked too, so accessing a cross section of families was not a problem whilst in their company! The girls documented their experiences with digital video and pictures to help capture the context of each interview. I accompanied the group researching Malaria and we spoke with 6 families in the Gova village.

Each family seemed to be aware of the causes and possible preventions of the disease but were all concerned with the costs associated with Malaria prevention and treatments. Getting sick is not something many families can afford to budget for. A sudden outbreak of malaria can interfere greatly with a family’s finances. The purchase and upkeep of mosquito nets was seen as prohibitively expensive. Free nets are only offered to pregnant mothers and children under five. Attitudes toward any future innovations were positive and each interviewee said that they would be willing to pay more for a longer-lasting, more effective intervention.


Some of the people we met gave the girls gifts of tangerines and oranges. The sweet, cheerful citrus-smell was wafted all about us by a gentle breeze in the pleasant late afternoon sun as we walked among the trees of the Gova village.

With the interviews complete, the girls called each other on their mobile phones to arrange a meeting. We reconvened at the town square, thanked the elders for their time with a Kenyan hand-shake and then headed to the Wena Paradise Cafe for sodas. We concluded that the village interviews had confirmed much of the girls expectations of the problems – they were not surprised by the results – but they agreed it had been a worthwhile exercise for focusing the mind and prompting constructive conversation. We also gleaned a few unexpected insights (such as a disparity of views regarding the most effective method of mosquito prevention and people’s positive attitudes to innovation).


 Friday 23rd , Session 4: Ideas Generation

Today was about translating the research insights into possible design solutions; making sense of all that prior knowledge-mapping and research and moving into the realm of innovation!

Gathering Insights:

The design groups discussed their research findings of the day before and listed any interesting and potentially useful insights that they felt they had made. These ‘Insights’ would later act as the catalyst for new ideas. Insights were written as short statements such as: “Nets are deemed too expensive; Malaria treatment often presents an unexpected and interfering cost” Statements that make one stand to attention and encourage action.

Finding Themes:

The students were then assisted in grouping any complimentary or related insights into ‘Themes’ to enable the previously scattered information to be more easily interpreted. Examples of ‘Themes’ were: Problems, Obstacles, People, Technology….

Creating Opportunities:

Now we began addressing the themes and insights in sequence and drawing out opportunities for design, adopting the stance of, “wherever there is a problem, there is an opportunity for design!” The opportunities were written on Post Its for the group to share and phrased as “How might we…?” questions to promote a positive engagement with the problem. E.g. “How might we better assist people collecting water from a river 1 mile away?” or “How might we provide affordable/free nets for everyone”.


Finally, we began the fun task of brainstorming new ideas in direct response to the “How might we…?” statements. The students were reminded that they should try to defer judgement when presented with another person’s idea to a shared problem and that there could be no such thing as a ‘wrong answer’ in this exercise (a concept that the girls seemed a little uncomfortable with) in the search for true innovations.

 To warm-up, I asked the girls to pair-up and adopt the titles ‘Person A’ and ‘Person B’. the task was to imagine arranging a promotional event for the Homeopathy clinic in Kwale. For 3 minutes, ‘Person A’ had to state ideas for this event whilst ‘Person B’ rejected each idea; “No” followed by a brief reason for the rejection. That tasked completed, and another 3 minutes, this time the roles were reversed but ‘Person A’ now had to give a positive response to each of ‘Person B’s’ suggestions; “Yes” followed by a reason why that idea might work. This exercise was a lot of fun and much laughter ensued, but it was agreed unanimously that it was the positive environment of the second round that the students should adopt when nurturing new ideas in a successful brainstorming session.

As the girls progressed with the brainstorming exercise, the ideas came thick and fast and soon we had many ideas for possible design solutions; some practical and humble, others ambitious or whimsical. Tangible ideas such as grey-water recycling solutions for the home-toilet/shower cubicles or Mosquito net-repair kits to cloud-generating machines (for rain) and condoms for Mosquitos to curb breeding!

We had managed to complete a brainstorming session just before the start of the weekend break. I asked the girls to keep the challenges and possible ideas in mind so that at some level the girls could be reflecting on their ideas during this period.

Friday PM – Sunday AM: House visit at Kinango

I had arranged with Marie and Mary at the Homeopathic Centre to conduct a two-night house-stay with one of the student’s families. My host for this trip, Megeorge, a very smart, pleasant and outgoing girl in the second year at Kwale Homeopathic college. Kinango is her home town and her family very kindly agreed to let me stay for two nights at their home and experience a slice of typical Kenyan living.

We departed Kwale in a Matatu (a kind of mini-bus) from an unmarked spot in Kwale market. It is surprising to me how people here seem to ‘just know’ where to catch a bus! “No, not that spot! The Matatu that leaves there goes to Mombassa!” We drove for about an hour and half along some shaky roads and through some breathtakingly beautiful countryside. We both had to stand as the Matatu was full to capacity, but I didn’t mind. One kindly lady held my bag on her lap as I stood so as to make more standing space. Driving along, two monkeys darted from the bushes onto the road and coaxed some maize-cakes from one of the window passengers whilst another primate looked on incredulously from the roadside, scratching himself. People clung to the roof rack as the vehicle bumped, weaved, stalled, halted, stuttered and heaved it’s way across the dirt roads and into Kinango town.

When we arrived at the family home, just 5 minutes walk from the centre, it was getting dark so we set straight to making our beds before ‘taking’ supper as a family. We sat around outside the house eating Ugali with “Kenyan Cutlery” – our bare hands. Neighbours would stop and strike up conversations as they wandered through the compound. The kids (of which there were around 12) all fell about laughing whenever I tried to lift the food to my mouth, converse or indeed do anything. To them, my awkward ‘Muzungu’ ways were pure comedy gold. It was wonderful! How many British families enjoy the pleasures of such unity and social exchange over a typical dinner?!

After a very pleasant sleep, I emerged at around 6 am to find my first chores of the day. Megeorge offered me the task of sweeping the compound. The rubbish is gathered in piles amongst the broken sheaves of the harvested maize crops and then burnt. The burning of rubbish appears to be common practice throughout much of rural Kenya and the smell and crackle of the fires is there t almost every turn. Most families cook indoors over three stones and burn wood for fuel. As charming as this image is to me, the occasion visitor, one feels concern for the long-term health concerns and irritations of such prolonged exposure to smoke.

With the compound clean, Megeorge and I went to a nearby tap to fetch water for the day. Around 120 litres were gathered for the family at a cost of 18 Ksh. Enough for one day. Back again tomorrow. Megeorge ably carried a full 20L bucket on her head whilst I visibly struggled to carry the things at arms length. Yet more hilarity for the kids! After a fine breakfast of Chai and bread Megeorge took me on a tour of the town, taking in the Ministry of Forestry, Kinango District Hospital, Kinango-branch Homeopathic Clinic, several schools, the reservoir, many shops, market stalls and a women’s institute group who invited us to take lunch of Pilau with them.

The ladies at the women’s group ran a business providing mass-catering for the schools and local functions. A constitutional ‘Yes’ rally taking place in the town that day meant that they were keeping busy! One lady told me how NGOs had brought about many positive changes in Kinango, especially in providing opportunities for schooling and the empowerment of women. The women’s institute for instance, was much supported by the Academy for Educational Development which helped the ladies establish an independent business and is now also providing lessons in English and life skills. She pointed out however that when NGOs first started working in the area they would often make the mistake of helping individual endeavours (such as individual school bursaries) which would breed discontent and accusations of ‘favouritism’. One time, some newly installed water tanks, installed by NGOs were destroyed out of spite by disgruntled town folk. “Now,” she said “the NGOs in Kinango engage exclusively with projects that benefit the community at large”.

A white man visiting rural Kenya it seems, can not stay inconspicuous for long! The children in particular stop what they are doing to look as the ‘Muzungu’ walks by and within seconds, cries of “How are you? Fine!” ring out from all corners of the compound. A few brave kids approach to pull at the hairs on my arms, to ‘hi-five’, talk football (something which I know very little about) or to practice their English. It is utterly charming; the excitement and curiosity the young children show in this foreigner seems genuine, but I find it utterly embarrassing – like an undeserving phoney celebrity – and oh, how I wish I could blend in a little more! The slightest glimpse of my camera in rural Kenya has been enough to prompt a stampede of kids all jostling to be in the picture and to show off their karate or athletic skills, completely blowing my attempt to capture some delicate element of Kenyan life in a calm and candid way. Still, it is always a lot of fun. One can’t help but laugh with them.

Back at the compound now and I am helping the family to make dinner by shelling and preparing the maize kernels for milling and turning into Ugali. I have been told that a chicken is to be killed to celebrate the arrival of the guest. The family seems really excited by this prospect and I did not wish to offend. I don’t eat chicken as a general rule. Ever since I got some chickens as pets and named them all, I have gone all soft on the matter, but that night in Kenya, I ate chicken. Cooked very simply in its own fat with a punch of salt and some tomatoes. It was delicious!! Megeorge and I had brought sodas and sweets home for everyone. A rare treat and much appreciated. “Thank YOU! Thank YOU! Thank YOU” the kids chanted. Once again we sat, ate, talked politics, joked, laughed and even danced a little by the light of the full moon. No TV dinners here.

During my stay, I noticed a beautiful hand-woven basket which was being used to collect and carry maize. Stylistically simple but beautifully and intricately constructed, these bags matched in style, the large oval mats that we sat on to eat. I couldn’t imagine how they were constructed, nor how long each would take to make. I didn’t want to know. They were magical! I wanted one! “My dad makes and sells them” said Megeorge. “I MUST have one, no, TWO, can I buy some?” Megeorge’s father kindly gave me a basket as a gift. When I later asked if I could buy a second, I was astonished that the going rate per basket was just 100 Ksh (around £1). I would have gladly paid so, so much more for this beautifully crafted, culturally rich object.

Africa needs to trade – locally, transnationally and internationally. “Poverty is central to all problems here” said a Kinango shopkeeper when we asked him his opinions on the three design challenges we have set. It was true, I felt. Of course it was! Even in the harsh dry-lands of Kinango, those people who had money enough could afford all the provisions for a comfortable, healthy life; decent stone-floored housing, piped water, electricity for lighting and power, ample fuel for cooking, mosquito nets, money for schooling, land for fruit crops etc. Those people struggling to support very large families without the means of generating a source of secure, steady income have a much tougher time.

Many such people are subsistence farmers and can afford little time for work to generate income when also committing to the hard graft of growing food, fetching water, raising a family (which may include any number of inherited family members). I met many people during the field interviews and during my stay in Kinango whose main source of income was through selling goods either at the local market, road-side stall or a shop in the town. Many of the houses in Kwale have make-shift shops sitting out front.

‘Design Kenya’ is an organisation operating out of the School of Art & Design at the University of Nairobi which brings together educators and designers in monthly meetings. Design Kenya recognises the importance of engaging with the ‘Jua Kali’ (hot sun) producers, which account for around 70% of Kenya’s working population; to harness and promote the indigenous design knowledge of these people and to inform design strategies at policy level for the acceleration of economic development in Kenya. How might design promote the work of the Jua Kali workers? How can design open up trading opportunities for these producers, perhaps even on an international level? I think ‘Sole Rebels’ from Ethiopia is a sweet example (please take a look at the earlier post).

Lastly – PK licorice chewing gum! A childhood favourite of mine is back (or maybe never went away) IN AFRICA! And gargantuan multi-pack bags of the stuff too!

Apologies, this isn’t meant to read like a ‘holiday diary’ and I hope I haven’t bored or upset anyone. Yes, I am having some wonderful experiences here but more importantly, this time in Kenya has been very informative for one trying to engage and better understand the challenges, subtleties and opportunities for collaborative design in developing countries. Cultural immersion, understanding and for want of a better phrase ‘user empathy’ are essential , I feel, for delivering successful design.  I am learning a lot, day by day.

Usiku mwema! Good night! Nos da!

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Interview with Peter Hathaway and Carolina Vasquez

bloc Creative Technology Wales have developed this new exciting commission to send a Welsh practitioner to Kenya to take part in Maker Faire Africa to share, exchange and learn from other makers. Do you want to find out a little more about Peter’s thoughts before he departed for Kwale, Kenya? Or about Carolina’s experience as bloc’s Programme Developer, managing and realising the project? Then follow our link to CultureCandy’s interview:

Peter’s interview http://culture-candy.co.uk/2010/07/artist-interview-peter-hathaway/ and Carolina’s interview http://culture-candy.co.uk/2010/07/interview-carolina-vasquez/

Peter is currently based at the Kwale Homeopathic College and Health Center in Kwale, Kenya delivering a collaborative design project with the students at the Center. He will post regularly on this blog, so stay tuned for more news!

Stefhan Caddick and Paul Granjon are departing in a few weeks and will join Peter in Nairobi for Maker Faire Africa. Find out more about their projects here:

Stefhan’s No Cost Website Website Workshop and Paul’s Nairobi Solar Machine

A very big thank you to our partners and funders for helping us realise this project.

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No cost website workshop

I’m the third member of the bloc contingent, travelling to Kenya for Maker Faire Africa (with Paul and Peter). Like Paul, this will be my first time in Africa. I’m an artist and a designer based in Wales, working across a variety of media, sometimes (but not always) involving technology.

My plan for Maker Faire has been to do one or more workshops on creating simple websites for free, so a bit of html (just to show how easy it is) then looking at free tools (mainly WordPress). The idea being to enable makers to market their wares/skills more widely. This is dependent on a Workshop type setting being possible at Maker Faire, whether the topic is appropriate for attendees, availability of internet access and so on. Otherwise I’ll need to come up with an alternative strategy, and would love to hear from people with local knowledge or MFA attendees whether the idea is appropriate and acheivable or not.

Other skills include bits of knowledge in Max/MSP and I’m just finishing a short, animated film which makes use of istopmotion.

There’s bits about my art practice at stefhancaddick.co.uk, older stuff on an Axis Open Frequency and design practice at papergecko.co.uk, where most of the websites are built using a standalone WordPress installation.

I’ll keep track of progress as it develops.

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Habari za leo? What’s the news of today?

Day two of the collaborative design project at Kwale Homeopathic Centre!

The tasks for Today’s Collaborative Workshops:  Announce the chosen Design Challenges / Recognise Existing Knowledge / Formulate a research plan.

Today’s session began with each of the 5 design groups taking turns to describe to the assembled class, which one of their “Design Challenges for Kwale” they had chosen to pursue and the reasons why they had selected that particular brief.

Two of the groups picked challenges to develop better solutions for the provision of clean, safe and affordable domestic fuel; two groups have opted to explore innovative solutions toward the provision of sanitised water and one group has decided to focus on innovative alternatives to Malaria prevention.

Now that the design groups had each identified a challenge to focus on, we could now begin a period of research to better understand each topic.  This began with a “What We Know” session where  each design team was given some Post-It notes and asked to write what they already know about the topic (one piece of information per post-it note) as well as any early ideas for potential solutions.  After 30 minutes, the groups were flush with ideas and the results were analysed for patterns, connections and for areas where knowledge was strongest.  Of course, the girls took great pleasure in sharing and critiquing the ideas of rival groups at half-time!

Next, the design groups performed a similar exercise, this time recording “What We Don’t Know”, as well as things that they feel they need to learn and the challenges they may face in their quest to satisfy the challenge.

The class then discussed how they might ‘fill the gaps in their knowledge’ and began identifying key sources of information, such as speaking with relevant people, seeking expert opinion, secondary-research and carrying out direct observation.  They also identified many methods for gathering such relevant data e.g. conducting door-to-door as well as targeted interviews, ‘Facebook’ surveys, direct emails, questionnaires, video and sound recording.

The workshop concluded with each group writing a research plan, drawing from the findings of the previous exercises e.g What they need to know?  Who (or what) do they need to approach? What questions should they ask?

The design process I am using has been adapted from the ‘Human Centered Design Toolkit’ which was developed by international design firm IDEO for use by NGOs and social enterprises as an innovation tool.  The HCD toolkit is open-source and free to download here. The IDEO HCD has won many international design accolades and has been used successfully by many hundreds of NGOs to deliver on humanitarian design projects.

The girls have all selected ambitious challenges I am sure you will agree, especially for such a relatively short project!  However, they are all fundamental challenges to improving the quality of life in Africa and I am confident that even during the short-time we have together, the girls and I can hit upon some exiting innovative ideas for the benefit of Kwale, indeed, possibly for much of rural Africa.

The girls’ youthful enthusiasm, optimism, energy, their caring natures and their intrinsic knowledge of African concerns all add up to make them ideal candidates for the tasks ahead.  I also sincerely hope that the ‘DIY Kenya commission’ provides something of a pre-cursor – an introductory exercise if you will – to a much longer-term project and relationship with Kwale over the coming years.  I anticipate that any ideas coming from the 2-week DIY Kenya project will not be abandoned once the commission ends, but rather form concept proposals for further development and delivery over time, drawing in further collaboration and expertise as needed.

Kwale Market

There was a lot of rain-fall this morning – somewhat pertinently for the two design groups wishing to investigate domestic and agricultural water management!  The weather brightened considerably around midday however and so the girls were mobilised to Kwale town centre where it was ‘Market Day’.

The girls arrived complete with a PA sound system and microphone and broadcasting from  their own market stall, they began promoting the various offerings of the Homeopathic Centre to the passing public.  They were supported by some of the grooviest and seriously loud African beats and a slightly eerie-sounding microphone which projected the spoken messages of the Kwale girls in a manner that one could simply not ignore!  The stall attracted many on-lookers and some enthusiastic young male dancers and, thankfully, there were many people also interested in the clinic!

Kwale Market: A very cool kid with a very cool toy car!

Kwa heri!  Bye for now!  Hwyl!

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Welcome to Kwale!: Day 1, DIY Kenya Project, 20th July 2010

Ni siku nzuri sana!

What a beautiful day!

How wonderful it is to be here at the Kwale Homeopathic Health Centre & College!  I write now at the end of my second day at the Kwale centre and a very successful day working on the collaborative design project with the 1st and 2nd year Homeopathy students.

The first of the ‘DIY Kenya’ collaborative sessions began at 8am this morning in the lecture theatre with all 31 students in enthusiastic attendance.  In Kenya, most everyone appears to be awake around 6am so this ‘early start’ did not pose a problem!

The focus for today’s project activity was identifying opportunities for design to improve the quality of life in the rural area of Kwale and defining a short statement – the Design Challenge – to help guide the project over the remaining two weeks.

The class was divided in to five separate groups of 6 or 7 pupils and each group was asked to brainstorm their initial thoughts and ideas for an innovative design project based on their own intrinsic knowledge and experience of Africa.

The teams contributed ideas under the following headings:

  • Problems – identifying a wide range of problems experienced by people living in rural areas.
  • Ideas – ideas sparked from top-of-the-head thinking and inspiration.
  • Technology – technology-led ides e.g. wind-power, solar, mobile, etc.

The teams were each given some PostIt notes (their first experience with these) and pens and were asked to use these to record their ideas and place them under the appropriate heading.  This approach allowed the whole team to observe and openly discuss the ideas as they emerged.  Students were encouraged that there could be no ‘wrong answers’ in this exercise, nor such a thing as a ‘bad idea’.  Any suggestion, whether humble or ambitious, practical or ridiculous would be valued because it may just be the ‘spark’ that ignites an innovative thought further along the process.

This exercise lasted for around 45 minutes.  Half-way through, the students were asked to stop, circulate and look at the work of all the other groups to share and build on ideas – we were not in competition here after all!

For the next exercise, the students were guided through a process of re-ordering their PostIt note ideas into a hierarchy based on order of humanitarian urgency (for problems) and desirability/need (for ideas).  This simple exercise was a nice way of helping the students to re-evaluate their ideas and instigate conversations about what might make for viable design projects based on satisfying a genuine need for design.

After a short break, the girls re-grouped and were given 1.5 hours to generate three human-centered design challenges based on the morning’s brainstorming session.  As described in IDEO’s “Human Centered Design Toolkit”, such a design challenge should be:

  • Framed in human terms (rather than technology, product, or service functionality).
  • Broad enough to allow you to discover the areas of unexpected value.
  • Narrow enough to make the topic manageable.

Each group did brilliantly well in identifying three (or four!) distinct ‘Human Centered’ design challenges for Kwale and these were later presented to the whole class, including the director of the centre, Marie Marie and a visiting speaker from Nairobi, Cas Rooseboom.

There were design challenges concerning issues such as improved water harvesting, income generation, promoting trade and employment opportunities utilising local materials and establishing local professional networks to boost economy.  The girls seemed to enjoy presenting to the class.  They all enjoy a good rapport with one another and their oratory and presentation skills were of very high standard!

At the close of session, the girls were asked to discuss and select amongst their groups which of the design challenges they would most like to address over the coming weeks and to explain the reasons for their choice at tomorrow’s session.  Once each group has agreed upon pursuing a single design challenge, we will employ research techniques with which to uncover deeper appreciation for the issues at hand, collate available resources, identify possible solutions and unlock the potential for true innovation.

I cannot finish this post without describing how wonderfully accommodating everyone has been since I arrived at Kwale. When I arrived at the all-girl boarding school of Kwale centre yesterday afternoon, I was given the enormous pleasure of a “song-and-dance” welcome party courtesy of the students!  The song had been specially composed to mark the occasion of the DIY Kenya project!  I hope to post it here soon!

Marie has very kindly offered me the most delightful living accommodation during my stay.  She also gave me a very insightful and fascinating tour of the facilities here which include a clinic offering treatment to the public as well as practical training in Homeopathy for students; classrooms; a lecture theatre (that doubles as a cinema) a library and computer room; boarding houses; beautiful gardens (which are also used for growing crops) and a wonderful ‘family’ of very sweet people and adorable animals.  Yes, my friends, there are also lots of Ku kus (chickens)!

They certainly know how to welcome friends at Kwale!

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Nairobi Solar Machine


My first post on DIY Kenya: I will be coming to Nairobi for the Maker Faire, sharing a table with Peter Hathaway and Stefhan Caddick.

It will be my first time in Africa, and I will try to get a feel for the local context and develop a quick response based on a solar powered Arduino device.
I am looking for local collaborator(s) to develop a project along the following lines:

Nairobi Solar Machine (working title)

I am a visual artist working with robotics and electronics, I make robots and other machines with recycled parts and micro-controllers.

I would like to make a machine specific to Nairobi. I will arrive in town a few days before the faire, and will bring a basic solar powered battery kit and electronics.

It would be great if one or more makers from Nairobi wanted to collaborate to the project, I am keen to share skills, ideas and knowledge.
Collaborator(s) profile: people with an interest in hand-made robotics and electronics (no need for previous knowledge, just curious is fine) if possible with a good knowledge of local resources.

My skills are: hand-made mechanical and electronics construction including recycled parts, programming Arduino micro-controllers* for mobile robots and other machines, making electric music instruments, performing with robots.

* Micro-controllers are self-contained programmable electronic units which can be used in many applications, with sensors and motors, lights, timing, communication….
Arduino is an open source micro-controller which is used by makers world-wide, relatively easy to program and interface. Check their website for more info: http://arduino.cc

For information about my work, please visit: http://www.zprod.org

More info coming soon,


Nairobi Solar Machine

early sketch for Nairobi Solar Machine

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Innovative minds: karibu Kwale, Kenya!

The great psalmist once said “lives of great men all remind us we can make our lives sublime and departing leaves behind us foot prints in the sands of time”. As the Kenia School of Homeopathy fraternity, we are intrigued by your brilliant and outstanding innovative ideas.We believe it is an auspicious start in the developing countries and much beneficial to small villages like Kwale with a high rate of illiteracy, zero job opportunities and little or no cash crop to sustain the locals.

We fumble to find appropriate words to express our feelings in the land who walk among us and who mean so much to so many. We are amazed by your idealism after perusing through your web Mr. Peter Hathaway, not forgetting Carolina Vasquez from Bloc and other collaborators who have given a nod and decided to incorporate us in this unique event. Whatever you do is not in vain, for you shall have many followers. This is going to be a turning point and you may not want to hear how much and many innovative ideas are lying unpatented all in the name of “poverty”.

With all this fresh round news clippings, we have been encouraged and with keen appreciation of brevity of your noble and enthusiastic innovative ideas! As we make our wish list, that very first Airplane made out of remains of coconut fruits and the engine run by coconut fuel, electronic shoes with wooden remote control so that next time you are in Kenya, we need not to pick you from the airport simply switch it on and phew! Ha ha ha ha haaaaaaaa this is just but to name a few.

Sincere gratitude goes to Bloc, British council-Wales, Butterfly works, Wales government and in person Dr. Noel Thomas for his relentless efforts and being a good ambassador for both parties. lastly the Director of Kenia School of Homeopathy Ms. Marie Magre for taking chances and accepting to be seduced and embrace this brilliant idea to unleash to the fullest potentiality of her students, to tap and uncap their talents at this Era of “THE DOT.COM GENERATION “.

“HE IS ON HIS WAY” Welcome to Kenya Welcome to Kwale “Peter Hathaway”!

Mary Nyanchiri – Principal Kenia School of Homeopathy

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