The best and most successful research and development (R&D) projects are grounded in solving real-world problems and field testing for functionality and user feedback. Prior to the opening of the Malawi Field Office (MFO), Design Outreach (DO) received feedback mostly from our implementing partners. Now, DO receives regular input and feedback on technologies from the MFO team, U.S. teams who travel to the communities we serve, and the beneficiaries who use our technologies every day.
Recently, representatives from R&D traveled to Malawi to field test LifeTap, gather use-case information for LifeLatrine, install a LifePump, plan R&D projects for the next year, and conduct training with the MFO team. DO Co-founder and Chief Technology Officer Abe Wright, DO’s new R&D Partnerships Director Michael Cook and DO Fellow and LifeLatrine project team member Les Shephard had the privilege of collaborating with the MFO team and local communities to continue researching and refining DO innovations.
The trip started with a LifePump installation at Gogo Nkhalamba where Michael Cook, who has led the Golden Cup ride for the past two years, was able to see firsthand the impact of having a LifePump installed in a community. “I was looking forward to the LifePump install, to see one for myself,” he said. “It exceeded my expectations; it was fantastic! It was so moving to see the joy expressed by the community when the water came out and to see their excitement about having water that they can carry back to their homes from right there in the community. We saw the contaminated water source they had been using. While it was not too far away, it wasn’t good water. It made me realize how much I take for granted being able to turn on a spigot in my house and have clean water instantly. I can really understand now why DO is so passionate about designing technology to provide safe and reliable water.”
Additionally, the team visited the Dzaleka Refugee Camp, located in the Dowa District and home to an estimated 52,000 refugees who have fled there from nearby countries plagued by conflict and war. German nonprofit World Hunger Helfa (WHH) manages the camp and reached out to DO to pilot the use of LifeTap technology on some of the camp’s tap stands. WHH estimates that 198,000 gallons of water are used each day, and they were looking for an easy-to-use, durable, and efficient alternative to taps that leak and break. As soon as the LifeTaps were installed, people started using them and gave the team instant feedback that they liked LifeTap better than the previous technology.
While at the Dzaleka Refugee Camp, Les Shephard had the opportunity to research latrine usage, challenges, and needs for future innovation. Les and Malawi Field Engineering Director Hugo van der Walt also visited the Kaslyafumbi community and learned more about community needs for safe and sustainable sanitation.
During their visit to Malawi, the team spent time at the Malawi Field Office compound planning R&D projects for the coming year, conducting training with the MFO team, unloading 45 LifePumps from a recently received shipping container from the U.S., and visiting a community to learn more about how an Afridev pump works and the associated maintenance issues. They enjoyed the fellowship of the Malawi team and worshipped on Sunday with fellow Malawian believers. They had the special treat of attending a birthday party of a local girl where they witnessed the tradition of pouring water over her head to celebrate.
The team returned home tired, inspired, and ready to put their learnings from the field to work in the continuous process of refining and developing DO’s technology.