Soon to Depart for Africa

Our departure for Kenya is just over two weeks away and, although your group is smaller this year, we have much planned. First, after an overnight stay in Nairobi on July 5th, we will take a few days to relax. While Clarice enjoys the bird life at the base of Mt. Kenya, Emily Lyn (our daughter) and Susanna (recent graduate and now Master’s student in Mechanical Engineering at ASU) will set off for a 4 day climb of that Mountain. Although it is 2,000 feet lower than Mt. Kilimanjaro, which straddles the boundary between Kenya and Tanzania, Mt. Kenya will provide many wonderful sights and challenges. We look forward to the climb and opportunity to witness dawn from the top.

Once we descend Mt. Kenya, we will head back to the lodge where Clarice will be waiting, clean up, and then on to Nairobi (about 3 hours drive) in time to catch a flight to Kisumu in western Kenya. From the moment we land, the projects will be our prime focus.

There are devices to deliver, which have been designed and developed by bioengineering students in the ASU Fulton Schools of Engineering. These students, each year, rally to the call to spend their final, senior-year, project to benefit people they will never know but with whom they come to identify.

In all cases, up until now, these design and development projects have been intended for a specific individual. This year, however, one project focused on a specific need that will benefit many women in Kenya, Malawi and (ultimately we hope) many other countries. One bioengineering team led by Peter, with Lingyan, David and Li, designed and developed a maternity bed made from bamboo. If you wonder why they chose bamboo for the construction material, it is readily available in western Kenya and throughout much of sub-Saharan Africa, thus cheap, and very strong.

Bamboo Maternity Bed

This bed design is the product of the ASU Senior bioengineering team (Peter, Lingyan, Vi, and David) who have now graduated from the program.

The prototype bed, seen in the photo, will soon be shipped to Kenya where we plan to use it in demonstrations to women’s groups, maternity clinics, and students at St. Joseph’s Technology school for the deaf, near Bondo. Our plan is to demonstrate construction of the bed and to share the technology so many will be able to build and make them available in many parts of Kenya and Malawi.

I will continue to report as we progress through our demonstrations, both in Kenya and Malawi. However, we already are assured that the training will continue after our departure.

A second ASU engineering student, Clay, will join us 10 days later and we look forward to having him with us. Clay will fly to Kisumu–his first trip outside of the US–to join us and I have made arrangements to have a trusted friend meet him at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi, to make sure he successfully transfers to the domestic terminal and flight to Kisumu.

During part of our stay in western Kenya, we will be honored guests at the home of the Kenyan Ambassador to the US, Dr. Wenwa Akinya Odinga Oranga. She has made arrangements for us to meet with the chief of their village, south of Kisumu, who, himself, is excited about the maternity bed design. With this sort of attention, we have great hopes that this maternity bed design will significantly affect, in a very positive manner, the birthing practices and environment for women in sub-Saharan Africa.

We will return to Nairobi, by bus, accompanied by our good friend and colleague, Silas, who will see us off on our flight to Malawi. There, the process will be much the same as we deliver devices and provide instruction on how to build the maternity bed. Although the prototype will remain in Kenya, we expect to be able to initiate production there as well. In every case, we will target women in our efforts to learn the skills so they can earn income through their own entrepreneurships.

Throughout our five-week trip, I will continue to report progress on this site. The five of us have much to accomplish and there are certainly some additional projects that I have yet to describe. Susanna will spend time in an effort to investigate levels of interest in the maternity clinic now be fashioned by engineering students on the ASU Campus from decommissioned shipping containers. Emily Lyn will be looking at areas related to her field in nursing. Clay will investigate potential mechanical engineering projects, while Clarice will provide instruction of the use of discarded plastic shopping bags to “knit” useful items. I will interview more people with disabilities and we will all partake in deliveries of those devices being shipped. Of course, we will hope to make progress on the “School for Women, Girls, and People With Disabilities” although the major hurdle remains efforts to secure funding to support construction.

We also have a number of backpacks for children, loaded with school supplies and hair-care items (for girls), that have been donated by the staff in the Harrington Department of Bioengineering at ASU. Those treasured gifts, and more, will be provided to children in both Kenya and Malawi.

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