En route to Managua, I managed to pop in and spend some time with an old friend, Carlos Marroquín. Carlos lives in San Andrés Itzapa, a small town around 2 hours by bus from Guatemala City. Itzapa is home to some of the descendants of the ancient Mayan civilisation and many people still speak the local Mayan language of K’aqchiquel.
Carlos is the designer of over 20 bicycle machines designed to meet the needs of rural Guatemalans. He’s come up with everything from the bicidesgranadora (pedal powered corn degrainer) to the bicilavadora (pedal powered washing machine) and the bicibomba (pedal powered water pump and I was lucky enough to work with him for my Master’s project designing, building and testing the bicibomba movil (mobile pedal powered water pump).
Carlos’ house is simple: it only has running water for a few hours a day, wood is burnt for cooking, filling the kitchen with smoke and until recently, they shared the house with a cow and a bunch of chickens even though there is no garden! However, this is exactly why Carlos’ bicycle machines have been so successful: because he faces the same challenges that the rest of Itzapa face every single day. Therefore he knows exactly what each of the machines needs to do to make those challenges easier. He’s currently designing a new multi-machine with a number of detachable contraptions that will allow them to degrain and then mill corn, as well as blend fruit, pump water and even generate electricity. Not all at the same time of course, but a great space and cost saving idea nonetheless.
This new multi-machine will be used and therefore tested by himself and his family day-in day-out, which will allow him to get to know all the ‘quirks’ of the new machine and iron them out in the next model. Thus, when the product finally reaches the general public, it really is easy to use, efficient and appropriate for the task at hand.
This is exactly the same reason why Hugh Piggott’s wind turbines have been so successful: both Carlos and Hugh live with the technology they design every single day. Therefore the products they have designed are much better than anything some lab rat, such as myself, could ever come up with. Their combination of high technical skill level, creativity and familiarity with the challenges faced on the ground along with their long-term commitment to the technology they are developing is what is really going to spark development all around the world. If we’re going to use technology to eradicate poverty then we need to think about how we can empower more people to be like Hugh and Carlos.