Kenya: The Making of an Award Winning Hand Washing Project

Eric Munene, James Maina, Patricia Mativo and Philip Mwasela are student entrepreneurs from Multimedia University of Kenya.

The quartet has developed a no-contact hand washing station that can hold large quantities of water, soap, and sanitiser and also have sensors that limit hand contact with the containers to guarantee users of high hygiene standards.

They entered their project in the Ford College Community Challenge, and were awarded a grant worth Sh100,000 by the Ford Motor Company.

With the funds, the four innovators plan to set up hand washing stations in Nairobi to help in the battle against Covid-19. So far, they have put up three stations in Komarock, Kayole and Buru Buru estates.

The first hand washing station cost them Sh15,000, while the other two stations cost Sh10,000 each. Are you a young person or part of a youth group whose activities aim to bring positive change to the community? This vivacious quartet will show you what it takes to put together an award-winning invention and inspire you to continue working hard.

Eric Munene, 23, Student, BSc. Software Engineering (Project Leader)

I am a member of the Enactus Multimedia Club at my school. In our association, students are encouraged to use entrepreneurial action to positively impact their communities. My colleague Philip and I realised that waste management was a big challenge not only in the area surrounding our school, but in the wider Nairobi County. We also noted that there were so many unemployed youth in the country, so we decided to come up with a way of solving these two problems at the same time.

We started brainstorming on this issue and in 2019, Patricia and James Maina, who was then in his final year, joined our fold. We built a Smart Bin that could reward anyone who used it with points depending on the type of waste they disposed of.

Patricia had experience in waste management since she was a member of the Health and Environment Club. She also handled our social media accounts and devised public relations strategy.

With the Smart Bin, we collect recyclable waste and give those who use it with Kijani Coins (green coins) as a reward. The kijani coins can be collected using either a card or a mobile phone, and can be redeemed on our Greensmart mobile phone app for discounts on selected products, or even cash! The app is available in the Google play store. To actualise this project, we received financial support from Ford Motor Company, through the Enactus club. We had planned to launch the Smart Bin in April after our end of semester examinations, but we had to shelve that plan because our university was closed shortly before that due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

But my team and I were eager to execute our plans even amid the pandemic. Also, at around that time, the Ministry of Health was urging young people to do their part in fighting Covid-19, and that is how the idea of developing a no-contact hand washing station came to mind. With the backing of my talented team, we developed the first prototype, and it took only one week to source for the right materials and find a suitable metal workshop to work in. The first prototype was costly because we were buying the materials at retail prices from different vendors. However, after creating a good rapport with those working in the workshop, we acquired the materials and labour for the next two stations at a much lower cost.

We assembled a step-on station where one steps on a lever that dispenses soap, sanitiser, and water, and a fully automated station that uses sensors to dole out both water and soap, and is powered by solar.

Out of 152 global submissions to the Ford Covid-19 College Challenge, we were among the 14 teams that received funding. So far, we have built four fully functioning stations which will be distributed in densely populated areas. The stations serve more than 600 users daily. We hope to set up other stations in as many locations as we can to help reduce the spread of the virus.

What motivated us to take part in the Ford Covid-19 Challenge was the need to come up with a product that could help reduce the spread of the virus. Winning the grant put us in a better place to scale up the project and donate more hand washing stations.

We are interested in putting the skills we learn to good use, and are driven by the need to use our entrepreneurial skills to bring positive change within our community. I advise other young people to have clear long and short term goals, and pout every effort into accomplishing them.

From my experiences, I've learned that keeping young people focused on a project from the beginning to the end is not easy. As the project manager, my roles include recruiting the right talent for our initiatives, coordinating our team's efforts, and developing our execution strategy. It can be challenging to bring different people from different backgrounds to work together. Also, finding a suitable time when all members are available to meet is often hard because we are all in different faculties and departments.

Now that the Covid-19 virus is upon us, we are struggling to find ways of undertaking our roles even with the restrictions on movement. We have resulted to conducting meetings virtually, and meeting our beneficiaries only when it is absolutely necessary.

I believe our government acted fast in coming up with rules and guidelines, thereby reducing the impact of Covid-19. I believe that going forward, they should embrace technological solutions to further contain the virus.

Patricia Mativo, 23, Third year student, B.Sc. in Analytical Chemistry (PR Manager for the project)

I joined the team while they were involved in the Smart Bin project. Being a member of the health and environment club, I desired to see my fellow club playing a role in the fight against plastic pollution by collecting plastic bottles. Coincidentally, the Smart Bin project was running a 10,000 bottle collection challenge so I encouraged my fellow club members to participate in the initiative.

My role in the hand washing project is to market our products through social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

I believe what made our submission win the Ford grant, given that there were over 150 global submissions, is that our innovation was unique and tied to the pandemic the globe is currently battling. It was timely and relevant.

The most challenging part of my role is on expanding our audience. Our social media platforms do not have as many followers as we'd like, so I usually share our posts to all the social media groups I am part of and also request the members to share our activities within their networks. That way, we reach a bigger audience even with the limited resources we have.

I think the government should do more to empower young people who have come up with innovative solutions to our day to day problems, especially those with disabilities. I am physically challenged. I was involved in a road accident a while back that led to partial paralysis of my limbs, and my predicament comes with its own challenges. But it does not mean I cannot contribute to innovative efforts. I just need more support. Many youths are creative but they lack the necessary support to bring their ideas to life.

James Maina, 24, Electrical and Telecommunication Engineer (Project Engineer)

Being the project's engineer, my role has been to design, implement and test the electronic system employed in the zero contact hand washing station. This involved coming up with the circuit and computer aided software that would make the hand washing stations work effectively.

I faced the toughest challenge at the implementation stage. The proposed components did not work as expected. This meant that I had to go back to the drawing board to redesign and test out other components. This was both expensive and time consuming. I learnt that we should all be patient when working on new projects. It is better to go slow and do it right than to hasten the process and end up with something that does not work at all.

I think the government should make such zero contact hand washing station available in all public areas, and provide refill services for soap, sanitiser and water to the systems. This way, it will be easier for the public to practice good hygiene which will help tame the spread of the Covid-19 virus.

Philip Mwasela, 23, Bachelor of Science Software engineering (Product design)

On the Smart Bin project, I developed the android application as well as the physical design of the Smartbin. I also oversaw and took part in the installation of the equipment that operates in the Smartbin.

My role in the hand washing project was to design the station builds, posters, flyers and other graphics related work. My role as the lead designer is to ensure that our products appeal, in the simplest way, to the market. I execute this using my proficiency in computer software such as Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop, Adobe XD, Premier and 3D design skills.

The biggest challenge is as a result of the restrictions on movement, since we aren't able to meet physically at each stage of development. It is easier to brainstorm and solve any problem that pops up during development when were all together in a room.

The biggest problem we have as a country is how to ensure that people stay safe even as they go about their daily activities. Once we figure this out, we shall flatten the curve.

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