African Engineers at Work

When we think of an engineer, many of us probably think about the years of rigorous schooling, complex math problems, and difficult wirings or chemicals. While in other places, an engineer is anyone who creatively develops solutions for technical, practical and social problems either for themselves or others. Firelight team member, Gretchen Ellis, saw this on her first visit to Africa,While I was in Africa, I wrote to my engineering friend in the States saying, ‘you would love it here, EVERYONE is an engineer… It is inspiring to see creativity combined with respect for an object’s endless utility. In so many other places, and especially in my home country, things are viewed as having one purpose, and designed for one use and then tossed. It was refreshing in so many ways to see an alternative perspective. I have tried to bring this part of Africa home with me and into my everyday life from now on.’”

One of our grantee partners displays his engineering qualities in Namwera, Malawi. His name is Amini Afick. In 1988 he came to the National AIDS Coordinating Committee (NACC) when he was destitute with impoverishment, a disability that limited the use of his leg and no family to care for him. He decided that begging for money on the streets did not suit him well, so in an attempt to improve his life, he learned the art of tinsmithing through NACC.

He started making polished tin buckets that could be used to carry food or water. His zest for life returned--now that he could support himself. These newfound skills also helped to support his 5 children so they could attend school and be fed properly. Mr. Afick’s affection for working with his hands gave him a new sense of creativity and perspective. Now, he is often seen around the village using his homemade, hand cranked wheelchair operated similarly to a bike except that he uses his hands on the pedals.

Mr. Afick used his creativity and the materials at hand to create a new way to support his family. He is, to himself and to his family, a problem solver—practically, technically and socially. Mr. Afick is now a teacher of tinsmithing at NACC, creating the same opportunities for others to save themselves and their families from a life of hardship.

In places like sub-Saharan Africa where there can be a lack of resources, funds or governmental structure to create jobs, community members are obliged to be more creative and to utilize their entrepreneurial intuitions to solve problems using what few resources they have at hand. Here in the States as our economy struggles, we also find ourselves being more resourceful. Whatever it is we’re doing to be more resourceful and creative with what we have, keeping in mind the intuitive ingenuity of our friends in Africa is truly inspiring, thought provoking and ingenious.