African Influencers For Development 

Stephen Wamukota

Jawam foot-operated handwashing machine


Semi-automatic invention, created by child prodigy – 9 year old school boy Stephen Wamukota in rural Western Kenya.

Stephen named this product after his dad, James Wamukota.According to Stephen’s dad, the idea of devising the foot operated handwashing machine came from the realization that users could still get infected while opening and closing taps after washing their hands. His idea of the design was inspired by a TV series on National Geographic called Mega factories which features on Zuku. The programme highlights the assembly of various products and iconic designs. James also feels that the recently launched Competency Based Curriculum in lower Primary Schools played a part in the invention. “I think it also contributed because they (teachers) normally teach how to build structures through carpentry and give children an opportunity to build it for themselves.” His dad who deals in electronic repair offered his support to see Stephen’s idea to fruition. Clearly, an apple does not fall far from the tree!

Noting that majority of the residents in his village are poor and cannot afford to buy the 10litre jerricans for handwashing, the invention has attracted the attention of residents who come to their homestead to wash their hands. Resource constraints mean that Stephen cannot scale his $30 innovation. “Most people want the boy to make more machines for them, but he has no financial resources to buy timber for additional structures.” Additionally, making the handwashing machine from timber presents a durability challenge. “With the right support, financially or in the form of raw materials, we can make more metallic structures and distribute them to health centres and public places like markets.” This will ensure that the handwashing machines last longer.

Stephen would like to be a Priest in future. According to his dad, “he wants to pray for people during future pandemics so that they do not perish as much as they have during covid-19.” His father respects his wishes, “I cannot force him to be an engineer if he is not willing to be an engineer” but nonetheless hopes that his son finishes schools and accomplishes his dreams.

At the tender age of 5, Stephen could dismantle and assemble parts of electronic appliances to his dad’s disbelief. “I could come home from work and ask who was responsible and they all looked at Stephen. Looking back, I realize Stephen’s ingenuity began earlier because he has been doing many unique things for a boy of his age.” James revealed that this inventiveness is not only limited to their home but also in school. “Sometimes he can make a table or a chair at home then take them to school for the teachers to comment.”

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