Welcome to the DtM Field Journal
In summer 2003, Design that Matters and four members of the MIT Kinkajou design team conducted an extensive field study in Mali and Benin. The objectives of this study were to broaden our network of collaborators among local communities and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), test a prototype educational tool developed by the student team, share information on existing DtM design innovations, collect data for new DtM design challenges, and generally experience life in sub-Saharan West Africa.
This journal is an account of our experience. Listed below are some of our favorite entries. You can read the complete story in the journal archives, which are listed in the right-hand column.Continue reading "Welcome to the DtM Field Journal"
Design that Matters, a Massachusetts non-profit corporation, is dedicated to improving the quality of life in underserved communities. We do this by fostering the development of products and services that meet immediate community needs in areas such as clean water, health care, renewable energy and education. We also do this by developing curriculum materials that engage university engineering, science, policy and business in the design process, thereby strengthening their commitment to serve these communities throughout their careers. Since its launch at MIT in 2000, DtM has worked with over 300 engineering and business students to develop dozens of prototypes that promise to improve thousands of lives.
To learn more about our work in communities and universities around the world, see the DtM homepage.
Kinkajou Microfilm Projector
The Kinkajou Projector is a novel educational tool for developing countries that combines the efficiency of LEDs with the durability of microfilm. The Kinkajou alpha prototype, shown in the photo below, was developed in Fall 2002 at MIT as part of Woodie Flower's and Dave Wallace's senior capstone mechanical engineering design course, "2.009 Product Engineering Processes." The Kinkajou team continued working on the project through the Spring semester, developing the beta prototype model we're packing with us. To learn more, see the Kinkajou website.
Tue 08 Jul 2003
DtM on Morning Edition
Today on NPR's Morning Edition, you'll hear an interview we gave about Design that Matters and the field study. Here are some pictures to give you an idea of what it's like to visit a recording studio. Fortunately, Neil and I both have faces for radio.
Continue reading "DtM on Morning Edition"
Neil reviews the script with Morning Edition editor Margaret Evans.
Tim in the studio with journalist Suzanne Bates. There was a "cough" button on my microphone console, but I had to supply all of the other sound effects.
Tue 08 Jul 2003
The Kinkajou team in the 2.744 lab at MIT with less than 24 hours to go before takeoff.
Continue reading "Finishing Touches"
Martin Tolliver as Electrical Engineer.
Sun 13 Jul 2003
MFC Site Visit in Tabacoro
Here are some brief notes and lots of pictures from our site visit in Tabacoro. In this village, the Mali Folkecenter has installed a number of solar panels, and they also operate a training center for solar hardware technicians. We collected some fantastic design feedback on the Kinkajou, which we summarized on video before leaving town.
Continue reading "MFC Site Visit in Tabacoro"
Mon 14 Jul 2003
Siby Hiking and Field Test
A beautiful village surrounded by a wall of red stoned mesas, Siby greets visitors at its tourist information center where a tax of 1000CFA per person is requested. Siby is my favorite place in Mali so far. Before we even saw the village, we were mystified by the surroudning greenery and a distant waterfall in the cliffs. There we hired a guide to take us to the great arch. He not only took us to it; he had us climb all the way to the top where we could see for miles around. Small kids followed us, barefooted and with torn clothes. With our hiking gear we appeared over-prepared.
In the village we tested the Kinkajou.
Continue reading "Siby Hiking and Field Test"
Wed 16 Jul 2003
Association Jeunesse Action
The Association Jeunesse Action (AJA), or Youth Action Agency, in Bamako is a sort of school that trains young people between the ages of 9-35 in the skills of trade, business, and craftmanship. We got a tour of their facilities and gave a demonstration of the Kinkajou to 11 employees and students.
Continue reading "Association Jeunesse Action"
Wed 16 Jul 2003
The Kinkajou Team, Week One
We took these pictures yesterday in Kati, a small town about 15 km northwest of Bamako where we met with Maria Diarra and her colleagues at the Institute pour l'Education Populaire. Clockwise from upper left, that's Beto Peliks, Kateri Garcia, Stacy Figueredo and Martin Tolliver. Parents, please notice that everyone still looks healthy.
Wed 16 Jul 2003
Boite des Images
One of the most exciting discoveries during our trip has been the "boite des images", a sort of low-tech predecessor to the Kinkajou. We first heard about the teaching tool from a group of school directors in Siby. Souleymane Sarr at Association Jeunesse Action (AJA) in Bamako was able to demonstrate the actual device, as AJA makes them for the Ministry of Education.
Souleymane and his colleagues immediately saw the connection between their programs and the Kinkajou. We'll be meeting them again next week to discuss the details of a manufacturing partnership between DtM and AJA.
Continue reading "Boite des Images"
Fri 18 Jul 2003
Low Tide in Mopti
Today's adventure was a day trip to Mopti, a bustling city about 20 km from Sevare at the confluence of the Bani and Niger rivers. In addition to being a major port, Mopti is also the tourist capital of Mali, with tour groups leaving by boat for Segou and Tombouctou, by bus for Douentza and Gao, and by SUV and bashe (covered pickup truck) for Dogon Country.
Hassini, our guide, lead us on a tour of the city. Our first stop was the port itself, where from the elevated roadway we could look down the cobbled ramp to the river's edge and the collection of slender pirogues (small, flat-bottomed punting canoes) and bulky pinasses (30-40 foot, motor-driven cargo boats, like long canoes with arched awnings made from grass mats). The air was thick with flies and reeked of dead fish--which reminded us, it's time for lunch!
Continue reading "Low Tide in Mopti"
Mon 21 Jul 2003
We're back in Sevare after three days and two nights hiking, riding oxcarts, fording streams and scrambling over rocks in Dogon Country. It was a journey of extreme contrasts--sublime views and maddening insects, warm hospitality and unimaginable poverty.
Here's a view from our last sunset in Dogon Country, from a point atop the Falaise near the village of Begnematow.
Continue reading "Dogon Country"
Mon 28 Jul 2003
APAF Muso Danbe
Earlier this evening, we participated in THE meeting we've been looking for. APAF Muso Danbe is a Malian NGO that runs night-time courses for young women in Bamako. The nine-month program ordinarily runs from October through June and is intended for girls who haven't had any previous schooling. The first-year curriculum, conducted entirely in Bambara, covers literacy and numeracy, maternal and infant health. and domestic skills like cooking and clothesmaking. Madame Dembele, the energetic and charismatic director of APAF, organized a special class session for our benefit, which brought four instructors and almost seventy young women (plus twenty of their babies) to the Mairie of Quartier Mali for an evening literacy course. It was exciting to finally get to see a real literacy course in action, and we received mountains of useful feedback on the Kinakjou design.
Continue reading "APAF Muso Danbe"
Tue 29 Jul 2003
Footprints in My Memory
The most memorable moment I have embedded in my head is when we came out of Dogon Country. Watching the sunrise over the cliffs was a breath taking experience but witnessing the poverty and the reality that the people lived through was like throwing cold water on me in my sleep. Our guide had hired some teenagers to carry our bags for us. At first we saw it as a way for them to get out of their daily chores and earn some extra money but I began to observe more closely the feet of the girl who was carrying my bag.
Continue reading "Footprints in My Memory"
Mon 11 Aug 2003
Does this Taxi Stop for Chickens?
We set out after breakfast from our Hotel in Grand Popo on our way to Ouidah, a small town about 25km east - also known as the voodoo center of Benin. To get to the main road, where we had the best chance of flagging down a taxi on its way between Togo and Cotonou, we had to hop on the back of a zemidjan - a moped taxi. Since there was only one zemidjan in sight, the driver convinced us he could take two of us…even though Tim looked incredibly skeptical.
Later that day we had a zemidjan driver in Ouidah that claimed he could carry 4 passengers or even 5 petit passengers! We quickly learned that zemidjan drivers are adept at handling all kinds of passengers - grande and petit (even little babies ride on the back of zemidjans wrapped in pagnas around their mother's back) and all kinds of baggage - including produce, bags of rice, household goods, firewood, tables….
Continue reading "Does this Taxi Stop for Chickens?"
Wed 06 Aug 2003
Lighting in Kemon
Kemon, like many rural villages in West Africa, is not connected to the electric grid. Night-time lighting is mostly provided by various classes of kerosene lamps, although about 50% of the population can afford to use battery-powered flashlights for getting around town after dark. One of our goals for the visit with MVV was to introduce them to Light Up the World's solid-state LED lamps. Here (from left to right), we have an electrician from a larger, nearby village, our friend Gabriel Agbede, and MVV's technical expert Salomon Chabi getting a first-hand look at the LUTW lamps.
Continue reading "Lighting in Kemon"
Thu 07 Aug 2003
The directors of MVV organized a Guelede mask dance for our second night in Kemon. Ordinarily, this dance starts around midnight and can last until dawn, with everyone in the audience getting up to join the dance. At the beginning of the dance, the masks are called out of their palm-frond house by the dancers. Here is the petite mask, who comes out first.
Continue reading "Danse Guelede"
Fri 08 Aug 2003
Kinkajou in Kemon
This afternoon we had our tenth field test of the Kinkajou projector--this time with a village literacy class organized by the Evangelical Church. This class, held regularly throughout the year through two groups in the village, is open to all ages. The classes take place in the late afternoon, between the time when adults get back from the fields and before sunset. They concentrate on basic literacy, but also cover introductory math skills.
Continue reading "Kinkajou in Kemon"
Wed 13 Aug 2003
"The Centre Songhai is principally involved in agricultural training, research, and production for sustainable livelihood in Africa. Founded by Father Godfrey Nzamujo, a Dominican priest, in 1985, the Center has been managed by Africans since then. The Center's aim is to create the conditions for improving the lives of Africans, the great majority of whom live in rural areas." [from the Songhai website]
Centre Songhai is a world leader in innovative development programs, including integrated farming, biomass gasification, microenterprise and IT for rural communities. Nzamujo, the 1993 Africa Prize Laureate, is a visionary and an inspiring educator. Songhai has established partnerships and student exchange programs with a number of US universities (Wake Forest, SUNY-Oswego, Colorado State) and has close ties with universities and technical schools across Africa. Songhai is an excellent partner for sourcing and implementing DtM design challenges. In the photo, you can see Songai director Fr. Nzamujo at the far right.
Continue reading "Centre Songhai"
Wed 13 Aug 2003
Design Challenges at the Centre Songhai
Centre Songhai was a gold mine for potential DtM design challenges. They also have the facilities and trained staff necessary to build and test many existing DtM prototypes. Finally, they have an extensive network of collaborators both with in West Africa and abroad, with whom they can exchange ideas and disseminate successful new designs.
We collected a trunk-load of preliminary data on a number of potential DtM design challenges, including this prototype palm nut shelling machine, based on a Nigerian design and currently in development at the Centre.
Continue reading "Design Challenges at the Centre Songhai"