What do you think of when you hear the term innovation? Is it drones, 3D printing, robots, mobile applications or any other forms of technology being implemented to simplify day-to-day activities? A few days ago, I was no different and would have echoed the same thoughts. However, after my trip to Arusha, Tanzania, the term Innovation took up a human form! And his name is Bernard Kiwia, a man after my own brain! He’s a valuable member of the IDDS community and the Co-founder and Director of Technology at Twende Social Innovation Centre, a space aimed to empower people to design and make their own technologies to solve community challenges.
He not only takes up the role but he lives it or rather lives in it, literally!
My friend and fellow Engineer, Annstella Mumbi and I, got the opportunity to visit the Twende space, where we got to see creative, feasible and scalable projects targeted at helping the direct communities. What was even more impressive was that these projects were being built by local secondary and university students! Think an adjustable wheelchair, a bean and rice thresher, a device that easily removes sunflower seeds from the sunflower, bicycle driven washing machines, manure dispensing wheelbarrows and many more! We couldn’t understand how all this was possible until we got to visit Bernard’s home, the epitome of where the innovation spirit is born!
As we approached his home, escorted by the ever so kind Epifania Wilbard, a friend and Twende Education Director, we saw his Volkswagen Bettle, that he fixed up himself, parked outside his house. He was from closing up a session with a couple of high school students when he happily ushered us in. After the cordial meet and greet, we immediately dropped our bags and ran around his compound like kids in a candy store! A reaction he’s become accustomed to by now. (He recently did an interview with BBC, you can check it out here.)
From a wind-powered washing machine to a bicycle water pump, a solar water heater, a solar fridge to a solar-powered cooker and DIY decor. Did I mention the table top he made with tiles because it was expensive to buy material that isn’t affected by rain or sun and is easy to wipe? Benard’s house does not use any electricity from the grid despite having all the latest technology you can imagine.
His home is literally his lab and it forms a beautiful space for him and his very gracious wife to bring up their three wonderful daughters with one in particular already following in his footsteps. Curiosity is his drive and his passion to continuously empower others and build appropriate technology his mission, AISE!
We interacted with him on a technical level, probing him with never-ending questions! Seeing our interest, he invited us to cook using his sun-powered cooker, an invitation we enthusiastically accepted!
He later welcomed us to a delicious meal with his family. As we sat and shared a meal and an engaging conversation, we left feeling more challenged than ever. Why do we spend a whole year building robots and drones in the School of Engineering that never see the light of day?
I hope that as we continue to grow as a nation, we will see our students as a resource that can develop the solutions needed by the communities that surround us, engage them in projects that will actually be implemented in society, growing not only their skill and confidence but also exposing the locals around Universities and beyond to the power of technology!
More articles on Twende and Bernard can be found here.