What happens when children are given the freedom to explore their creativity and designs things they need on their own? Krishna Thiruvengadam went to a village in Maharashtra to find out.
“Before starting work as an SBI Youth for India fellow, I had planned to utilize my engineering expertise and develop technological solutions for rural communities – to innovate something new for the village where I would be posted. But, on the field location, I realized that such a plan will be sustainable only if the people themselves generate ideas and implement them rather than an outsider doing the work for them. My entering as an engineer, developing something and leaving would have less impact than the villagers developing things they need,” says Krishna Thiruvengadam, who is currently posted in Lobhi village of Maharashtra as a Fellow.
The Fellowship is a 13-month-long programme that gives young people in India an opportunity to work on rural development projects. With the aim of enabling children and youth in the village to innovate and come up with solutions for their day-to-day problems, 23-year-old Krishna started teaching them appropriate technology.
This meant that they would use locally available materials to design and build products for everyday use – like water pumps, washing machines, solar lamps, etc.
Krishna started working with the students of Lobhi Zilla Parishad Upper Primary School, from Classes 6-8. But the word about his work soon spread and students from nearby schools joined in as well. Today, he is working with 80 children from Classes 6-12.
“In the first phase of my project, I demonstrated simple science experiments so that children would feel excited about this work. In the second phase, I made basic models of cars, hydraulic lift and jack, extractor machine, etc., using popsicle sticks to teach them engineering concepts. Many of these models were inspired from the works of Professor Arvind Gupta, who is popular for making toys from trash. Meanwhile, I taught the children about various mechanical joints and mechanisms in theory as well as through model making. After a while, they started making models on their own,” he says.
In the third phase, Krishna gave the students a day to write about whatever ideas they had to build models that would help them solve their everyday problems, and they came up with some amazing plans.
“I gave the kids locally available materials to make anything they wanted. One important aspect of this phase was that I withdrew myself from the space. This allowed the kids to be autonomous, independent and responsible. Their ideas include motorized shoes to move around, a safe jaggery production unit, manual powered rice harvester, etc.,” he says.
One of the products designed by the kids is a hand powered washing machine. It is made using locally available materials like hacksaw blade, nails, hammer, plywood, bamboo etc. It is basically a box with two crosses made of bamboo sticks placed inside it.
The gear of a bicycle is connected outside the box, which, when rotated, in turn rotates the crosses inside in circular motion, thus washing the clothes.
A handle powered washing machine: Designed and prototyped entirely by the kids (7th and 8th class)
It works perfectly, I washed my clothes for trials.
It has become a hit amongst the community and now everyone wants one! We are planning to improvise on the model…
Posted by D- Hive on Friday, April 1, 2016
Krishna and the children are now trying to improvise on this design by mounting the machine on a bicycle in a way that the pedal chain will be connected to the gear. All one has to do is ride to the river with dirty clothes in the box, fill it with water and add detergent – the clothes will be washed when you are riding back from the river.
“After we tested the machine in front of the villagers, it gained a lot of popularity and everyone wanted one,” says Krishna.
He is now planning to make a handbook with information about all the tools and equipment required to build products like these. The design and prototyping handbook will have information like what types of bolts to use, the basic components required, etc. He says that all such information is available on the internet in very detailed engineering language, but he wants it all to be there for the kids in their local language, with local names, probable cost, where to find parts, illustrations, etc.
He is also opening an innovation studio in the village, which will be a place for kids to build stuff and exhibit their work. In the studio, they will have access to tools and a dedicated workspace, which, according to Krishna, will encourage them.
One of the shelves to store tools at the innovation centre is made of cob (comprising of straw, soil and clay) – a sustainable and eco-friendly building material.
“The best thing is that people have started getting involved in the project now. They come up to me with different problems they think can be solved with the kind of things we are making,” he says.
As not all the children are excited about or interested in designing and building things, Krishna also conducts art and painting classes. He encourages these students to make crafts out of waste materials, using newspapers weaving techniques, etc.
His classroom is basically a place for individuals to explore their imagination and creativity.
He started by working for just about two hours in a day with the kids, after which they would just go out or start playing. But now, even the teachers are encouraging students to spend more time in his class. “The school that was once dormant in terms of expression of creativity is now bustling with activities. The kids have started to paint, make crafts and come up with amazing tech ideas almost every day,” he says.
Krishna is working in coordination with the BAIF Development Research Foundation. He understands only Tamil and English, while the children in his class speak mostly Hindi and Marathi. But he has found a way to communicate with them easily.
A resident of Chennai, Krishna finished his engineering from SRM University and worked as an intern at the National Innovation Foundation, where he learnt the concepts behind various grassroots technologies.
“This was where I was inspired that kids can be very creative in developing solutions for everyday problems. However, they usually lack proper building skills. I wanted to fill this gap. We think that innovation is something that involves making big and complex machines. But very small things can also have a huge impact, like they are having here,” he concludes.