The dust has finally settled on our third and final village visit, so I thought I would fill you in on what we got up to, before following up this evening with some overdue updates on the projects.
This visit differed in many ways from the previous two, not least because we actually had something physical to show to the villagers. These prototypes are the result of five weeks of collaboration with welders and workshop managers in Suame Magazine, and indeed the villagers themselves. The aim of the visit was not simply to showcase a bunch of cool technologies, however. The teams were desperate to hear the villagers input on the usability and efficiency of the prototypes, with a view to incorporating these suggestions into the prototypes displayed at the final presentations this Monday.
Rather than focusing on one village, participants instead each visited a cluster of three/four villagers, to make sure that the villagers got to see as many of the prototypes as possible, given that we had talked so much about them on the previous two visits. Each village thus got to see four different teams present, and thus you can imagine we caused quite a stir as we loaded off the bus on arrival! I personally had the opportunity to travel back to the cluster including New Longoro, the site of my first village visit over four weeks ago, and it was inspiring to see the sense of ownership the villagers placed in projects that they had helped to transform from problems to prototypes.
Loading the goods into the van was an experience in itself. We had with us the Groundnut Threshing, Chlorine Production, Kid Friendly Latrine and Shea Oil Extraction teams and as such had quite a few bulky prototypes to try and squeeze around the twenty or so bodies also making the trip! However, looking around us to the other buses loading up (including the gargantuan rice thresher and playground carousel) quickly put our troubles in perspective!
The electro carousel generator, while irrevocably cool, was a nightmare to transport!
We set off in the early morning and thus arrived into New Longoro just in time for lunch at Pastor George’s house. After a healthy serving of Palava Suace and Yam (courtesy of the hospitable Comfort) we made our way across to the Mango Tree, to begin setting up for what would turn out to be a pretty momentous meeting. Quite a few of the teams were actually quite nervous about presenting their prototypes, given how much was riding on the villagers reaction to them. They would not have been assuaged by the huge numbers of children and adults beginning to assemble for the event!
An expectant grouping of elders awaits...
We are lucky enough to have a direct link to the village committee in New Longoro, due to the fact that the chief of the village, Daniel Kanter, is a participant at this year’s summit! The relationship that has been built up with this community due to D-lab’s continued involvement in it seems an apt example to highlight the importance of strong partnerships in development. Another example of how these ties are constantly being strengthened came with a quick presentation made before the teams introduced their own individual projects.
Amy presented the primary school with some supplies which had been fundraised by a school in her home town of
Once the formalities were over and done with, it was time for the much anticipated project presentations. The crowd were in raptures as the first the Shea Oil team presented, quickly followed by Chlorine Production and Kid Friendly Latrine. It was the final presentation of the Groundnut Threshers that really provoke the most vociferous reaction from the villagers. The team has developed a number of handheld and mechanized prototypes for threshing groundnuts, a time intensive process. Every member of the team got to demonstrate a particular prototype and each time, they held aloft the threshed plant to raucous cheers from the crowd!
The real interaction between the villagers and the teams came outside of the formal presentations, however. Each team set up their prototype and encouraged the villagers to come forward any attempt to use it, and the children present at the meeting certainly didn’t need to be asked twice! A scramble ensued to see who could grab the threshed groundnuts, before the kids made their way over to the Kid Friendly latrine team, to try out their prototype. The adults present were also not slow at providing feedback for the teams, and all seemed genuinely in understanding not only how the project worked, but also how it was made, which was a crucial point.
This was hugely useful to the participants in two ways. The feedback they received and the testing questions they were asked served to provide much food for though as regards their final designs, and they are excited to see how these changes could be implemented. More importantly though, it also served to excite the participants about their own projects, when they saw the unbridled enthusiasm that potential end users had for the early stage prototypes. Stephen Gerrard, from the Chlorine Production team, highlighted this mid way through the visit when he spoke to the group about how unsure his team had been about the potential usability of their product among the people who would need it most. “There is a huge difference between discussing concepts and actually talking to the people who will be using the product”, he said. “Actually having fifteen or so young men come up to me and ask how they could go about making some Chlorine Production prototypes of their own has had a big impact on how I view the project”.
After an intense couple of hours, we eventually managed to leave the mango tree meeting, not without half of the children following us back to George’s house though! We were up early the next morning for the next leg of our journey, a trip to the smaller
At this point in our journey, our paths diverged, with some of the teams staying in Gomboi and the others back in New Longoro. The Groundnut Threshing team still had some work to do and as such remained behind in Gomboi with Amy. The rest of us made our way back to the pastor’s house, before deciding on gifts for the villagers who had been so hospitable to us over our three visits. A group of us even managed to get up at 6am for a 22 man game of soccer with some of the kids we got talking to the evening before. After teaching us a couple of lessons in fitness and finishing we decided to give our ball to the kids, who will probably make better use of it than we will!
Throughout these village visits there has been a huge amount of scope for teams to break away from the itinerary of the trip in order to accomplish their own specific goals. The ICT Enabled Baby Monitoring team took full advantage of this on this village visit, completely changing their plans for the weekend. A day into their visit, they realized that they were not yet a stage to present their project to people in the villages, and made their way back to the hostel to keep working on their project. An intense 48 hours later, they made their way to another nearby village, conveniently on baby weighing day, and got some great feedback on their prototype there.
Evan and Mensah playing around with their prototype on the way into the village
Paulina and one of the health workers test out their prototype
Everyone I spoke to on my return from the villages had a positive experience on this final visit, and the vast majority had also got some great information for their project too. Sometimes incredibly simple things can often be overlooked by teams as they get caught up in the intricacies of their design. The Rice Threshing team ran onto this on their visit, with the standout comment being, “how can you make it bigger, and thresh more out of it?”. The rice team had been understandably worried about the size of their rather large machine but when looking at it from a rice farmers perspective, one can easily understand how quantity could be the major issue!