In a quiet neighborhood in Makindye, a suburb of Kampala, the Ugandan capital, seamstresses are busy making school bags that may redefine classroom furniture.
In the sewing room, a former car garage, some bags in different colors are on display.
Arnold Mugagga, a Ugandan innovator and team leader at Zetu Africa, a design-based social enterprise, is the brain behind the school bag (SeatPack) that morphs into a classroom chair.
In rural Uganda, many children study under trees and some sit on the floor of their classrooms because their schools cannot afford desks.
The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) says that research shows school furniture is too often unavailable in Africa, and when available, it may be poorly designed, inappropriately sized for a student’s age, or disproportionately expensive.
Mugagga told Xinhua in a recent interview that his team back in 2016 perceived the idea of making a SeatPack to address the school furniture problem. While his colleagues moved on, he persisted to ensure the SeatPack is developed in an effort to ease the learning of children especially those in remote areas.
“We are stuck with desks, it is large, expensive to make and expensive to move, and so we took the functions that a desk provides, seating and writing, we put these functions inside a bag,” Mugagga said.
The pack is made out of locally sourced materials: canvass, bamboo and a board. The bag is made out of canvass, then a seat is made out of bamboo and canvass and a board which is a writing surface to help the children read and write in a more comfortable way.
Mugagga said in comparison with the traditional desks, which require a lot of timber to make, bulky and expensive, the SeatPack is affordable and environmentally friendly. Bamboo is used to make the SeatPack as opposed to timber which involves cutting a lot of trees in a world that is striving to protect the environment.
“With the current lack, over 95 million children (in Africa) are going to school without a place to sit or write, the largest reason is cost of furniture, which is timber,” he said. “The SeatPack avails every child a school bag and when they arrive at class, the child arrives with their classroom furniture.
So the child’s presence is already a classroom, they do not need a tree to go down for them to become a classroom, this is the gap the SeatPack fills.”
Some schools in the northwestern Ugandan district of Arua have started using the innovation.
“I like this bag because it keeps my books, mathematical set and other items very well,” Kevin Amony, a pupil of Abiki Primary School, told Daily Monitor, a local newspaper. “It also has everything that I need like the seat and slate. It is not very heavy. It is better than the previous bags that I carried to school.”
Drani Ronald Bileah, the Arua District senior education officer, said the SeatPacks will be cost-effective in terms of affordability.
“A traditional wooden desk costs 260,000 shillings (about 70 U.S. dollars) and with this amount, you could procure four SeatPacks, which serve more purposes than just sitting,” Bileah told the Daily Monitor.
Mugagga said Zetu Africa in partnership with other organizations is on a popularization campaign that will see 10,000 SeatPacks distributed to 10,000 school-going children by the end of this year.
The SeatPack team won the UNICEF Uganda Innovation Fund Challenge competition and was awarded about 21,000 dollars in prize money.
Mugagga is hopeful that the SeatPack innovation will be adopted beyond the Ugandan borders and across Africa, where the availability of school furniture is a challenge. Enditem