A wheelchair accessible playing area in Malawi
Malawi is one of Africa’s least-developed countries. Especially in rural areas, there are very limited facilities and amenities of any kind. This does not mean that there are no possibilities, however. In collaboration with fellow designer Pim van Baarsen and commissioned by the Malawian business Sakaramenta, We designed an entire playground made from recycled car parts.
The playground is located in an old parking lot next to the BEIT Cure hospital, which specialises in orthopaedic treatment for children. Without a place to hang out or an inspiring environment, most of the young patients were bored and stayed inside all day. With their limited mobility, they were sitting in their wheelchairs or just on the floor, watching the days pass by.
RESEARCH Available materials
In order to better understand our target group, we did extensive research in the orthopaedic hospital. We talked with doctors and nurses, and also observed patients. Despite the fact that the majority of the patients were in plaster,
they still where quite mobile. While selecting materials that were locally available and useful for the production of the playground equipment, we were drawn to scrapyards and old-metal markets.
Inspired by some kids who where playing in an broken car in the scrapyard, it was these places where we found a guaranteed supply of particularly interesting parts such as tires, springs and axles.
What we designed
A local production of playground equipment and a completely handicapped-accessible playing area that promotes interaction between disabled children and the kids living in the neighbourhood.
THE FIRST PRODUCTS
Back in the workshop of Sakaramenta we started to work on the first prototypes of the playground equipment. Weekly there was a group of children along the workplace that tested our prototypes. With simple technical drawings in hand, we and the craftsman were able to make a complete line of products with the limited tools available: a merry-go-round made from an old car axle, a bouncing spring bike made from used car springs, a running wheel made from old tires, and stepping stones made with old buckets.
We wanted to create a unique centrepiece in the playground. Inspired by the kids who we saw playing in the broken car, we bought an old used Ambulance vehicle that we found in a junk yard for a few bucks. You should have seen the faces of the men in the workshop when we arrived with the ambulance carcass.. In meanwhile we paved the parking lot of the hospital and installed all of the equipment.
Equipped with a fireman pole-slide, climbing rack, vuvuzela, a regular slide and a double steering wheel in the cabin, the former ambulance stimulated the imagination of the kids, and quickly became their favourite.
Most importantly, with the completion of the playground, Sakaramenta has developed the expertise, workflow and infrastructure to be able to continue producing playground equipment. In that same year they expanded their collection of standard playground equipment, and have now grown to employ more craftsmen and have sold over 450 products.