On this week’s African Voices Changemakers, CNN International explores innovative forms of aid, meeting Ken Mwarandu who makes the first off-road wheelchair – designed and built-in Kenya.
SafariSeat designs innovative wheelchairs that enable disabled people to get around even on the toughest terrain. Mwardandu tells CNN about his company’s aim, “We at SafariSeat believe that mobility is not just about movement, but it’s about the ability to live a full, independent life.”
Mwarandu was inspired to help people with disabilities by a childhood friend. He tells her story, “Growing up I had a friend who had a mobility impairment and I saw first-hand how she struggled to operate in the local environment. The memory of her truly inspired me to take action and help people in similar situations.”
There are few low-cost wheelchair solutions in Kenya and many of these are donated wheelchairs. Although these donations are appreciated, Mwarandu explains why they can cause problems, “Even though the people donating them have the right intentions, you find that because these donated wheelchairs are not suitable for the Kenyan environment, they tend to break quite easily and it’s very hard or even impossible for users to get them repaired locally.”
To combat these issues, Mwarandu approached the UK-based inventors of SafariSeat about their open-source design, and after long discussions launched the first-ever manufacturing facility on the Kenyan coast. The SafariSeat is designed with special features to make it robust for the Kenyan environment, and Mwarandu talks about the unique materials that make the chair easy to fix, “The SafariSeat is made using bicycle parts and this is because if a SafariSeat breaks down, it’s very easy for someone to get it repaired locally.”
The program follows Mwarandu as he revisits users of his wheelchairs to see how they have impacted their lives. Mwardandu speaks about these visits, “We at SafariSeat like to follow up on our users just to see how it is impacting their lives. But one thing that I didn’t expect was the kind of bond that you form with the people. It makes me a part of their family and that for me gives me a lot of joy.”
SafariSeats have changed lives across Kenya and Mwarandu hopes that he will be able to work with companies around the world to open manufacturing workshops in more locations. He sums up the importance of his company, “A user who has a SafariSeat will be able to live an active political, social, economic life. They’ll also be able to overcome any stigma that’s associated with a physical disability and avoid being marginalized in their communities.”
This week’s episode also travels to Senegal to meet the people behind Mercy Ships, a faith-based organization that uses ships as fully functional surgical hospitals to deliver healthcare across the coasts of Africa.