An old bicycle or a plastic bar chair can be recycled in many ways, but perhaps one of the most original and supportive is to turn it into a wheelchair for users from the Third World, as is the case with the "Kigali Chair" initiative. Project "by Clara Romaní and Josep Mora.
This project arose in 2012 in their Barcelona workshop, where they both work as industrial designers, when they met a colleague from Rwanda who explained the situation in this African republic -and their need for wheelchairs- and put them in contact with a local reference orthopedic center working in Kigali, its capital, and in the Gatagara rehabilitation center.
Around 3% of the population of this country - more than 220,000 people - suffer some type of physical disability that prevents them from walking due to illness, accident or amputations from the 1994 genocide, according to government data.
The World Bank estimates the average annual salary of a Rwandan at 618 euros, while the price of a “basic” wheelchair does not usually fall below 100 euros, so these instruments are not always accessible to the population.
The objective of the "Kigali Chair Project", as explained by Romaní and Mora to Efe was "to build wheelchairs at an affordable cost, using indigenous and also recycled material, and, above all, to teach the Rwandans themselves to make them" by developing their creativity in an easy and manual process.
Teach how to build and repair wheelchairs
Romaní recalled that Rwanda receives “many chairs donated by various NGOs” but, if they break down, they tend to be rendered useless because there are not people with enough knowledge to repair them.
For this reason, both designers decided to face the challenge of teaching Rwandans to build and repair their own chairs by combining reused materials with others "locally available" and for this they financed the trip and stay without the help of any public or private organization.
During this time, they manufactured eight different chairs with the help of a group of Rwandans to whom they offered theoretical and practical classes in a workshop in which “before we left, we distributed an instruction manual for each chair that we had made to the people who participated. ”So that in the future they could continue to build them.
Educators, orthopedic professionals, nurses, patients in need of a wheelchair and their family members "worked together, willingly and in community, focused on the good of all and regardless of the social hierarchy", recalls the designer.
Thanks to this idea, objects such as old bicycle wheels, pieces of wood of all kinds, fragments of already useless wheelchairs and even broken plastic seats, common in bars and “that are everywhere there”, found a second life.
Romaní estimates that 85% of the elements used were recycled waste, while the remaining percentage came from the wood sector, "a fairly strong industry in Rwanda, thanks to which we get different pieces."
The promoters of this company contacted the University of Architecture of Rwanda to obtain their collaboration in the continuity of the project but, as they did not obtain financial aid, "it was impossible to return to continue promoting it."
Subsequently, the idea won the 2015 Catalonia Ecodesign Award in category C of Strategy for “its awareness of ecodesign” reusing easily available common elements, as well as for “the great added social value” and its possible application in other developing countries .
For this reason, the designers do not rule out the possibility of resuming the activity in Rwanda or "wherever it is needed", provided that the necessary investment to sustain it is achieved.
Meanwhile, they continue to work on other environmental work, the most recent of which is a process of recycling plastics to make ecological lamps.
Photo: A group of people with repurposed chairs in Rwanda. Photo provided by Clara Romaní.