About safeaguaperu

A trans-disciplinary studio for social innovation, with the aim to help families in Peru’s campamentos (slums) overcome water poverty. Safe Agua is a collaboration between Designmatters and the Innovation Center of Latin American NGO Un Techo Para mi Pais (“A Roof for My Country”). Safe Agua Peru will build upon the investigations and experiences of the 2009 Safe Agua Chile project, while working with a new community on the outskirts of Lima, Peru. The project will begin with a ten-day intensive field research trip from Los Angeles to Lima, Peru. Students will connect with poor families living in transitional housing, with no running water. Driven by field research, teams will design innovative water solutions and create full-scale working prototypes, to be tested by the community, and implemented by Un Techo.

Alex + Mari Reflect

As I await feedback from Mariana while she is away in Peru with Erik, I stop to reflect on the past few weeks. With the passing of midterms, prototype making, beginning modeling business strategies and sending my teammate all the way to South America by herself to field test the class’s prototypes, there is much to catch you all up on.

I’ll begin with my Midterm reflections and the feedback we received on our project, CLEAN + SMART. You are probably wondering after reading about the other groups’ projects, what the words Clean and Smart have anything to do with each other…

Our goal with the Clean+Smart project is to support children’s education while adding value to soap purchases. We arrived at this very specific goal through observation of Behavior patterns and Consumption Patterns we saw during our time in Cerro Verde. One of the largest behavior patterns was that parents highly value and strive for their child to achieve higher education. Already, they pay extra money for private schooling, as opposed to utilizing free public education provided by the government. A lot of the children also attend tutoring sessions outside of class which is an extra cost for a very valuable benefit. We then asked how we could help these families achieve their children’s educational goals by utilizing a consistent and frequent consumption pattern. We arrived at soap purchases as the vehicle to deliver support.

Clean + Smart supports child development in order encourage children to achieve academic success and reach their career goals. We propose to design a toy that will support children’s development by dividing it into the following groups:

BUILD: 0-3

“Building blocks stimulate problem solving and fine motor skill development increasing the potential for a toddler’s future academic performance.”

At this point in their lives, babies are exploring colors, textures and are building the necessary skills in controlling their actions which we hope will lead to improved physical abilities as they grow. Through thorough research we looked at existing products of building blocks and found that babies and toddlers respond to simplicity as a platform to curiosity and discovery. This leads us to the next stage.


“Cognitive games engage key recognition and memory processes essential for successful academic performance in primary school.” At this developmental stage, toddlers are beginning to grasp simple concepts and make cognitive connections between both shapes, colors and names. A simple toy that could be distributed simply through soap purchases are small tokens with printed graphics in which children can play “the original memory game”, collect their favorite tokens, trade and play with other kids. The graphics are simple, bold and provide us with an opportunity to create a visual language which will be consistent within our educational product lines. The graphics become more complicated as we progress to the next stage.


“Early exposure to a range of career options increases children’s motivation to reach their goals.” Research suggests that by the age of 10, children growing up in extreme poverty have already accepted their life’s circumstance and will no longer have ambitions to become a doctor, pilot, engineer, etc. Through soap purchases, we could expose children to a vast variety of career options which will inspire and motivate them to do well in school so that becoming a doctor, pilot, or engineer is possible.

By using a cycle that connects the soap purchase experience to improving child’s education from the customer’s standpoint, we hope to build trust between families and the soap brand. Based on the midterm feedback, we were encouraged to focus on specific attributes on our products aside from the multitudes of quick prototypes we brought to the table. The idea of supporting education was received positively all-around and sparked some excited enthusiasm in exploring this strange marriage of ideas. It is now our challenge to connect soap purchases to education in a clear and strong way. There is also big potential in aiming the project at ALL kids in ALL classes, but with the added benefit of being accessible to the BOP market, which is very exciting!

Unfortunately while we were in Cerro Verde last September, we did not know the scope and focus of the projects we would be working on. Now, with a focused lens towards education and children, I am excited to hear Mariana’s findings while she surveys families, teachers, and children in Peru. We found it extremely difficult to address the issue of improving education within the home because we did not know how education ran within the schools in the bottom-of-the-pyramid sphere.
Overall, I am impressed with the caliber of ideas and prototypes our class collectively brought to the table. I think that Askan as well as our other guest critics were pleased with our progress and had great, constructive feedback to help propel us into further.

With only 5 weeks left, we are in a race to the finish line, whatever the finish line will be. But first, we must await feedback from Mariana. I am super excited to have my group partner in Peru, testing our ideas and prototypes. Before she left, we created a kit of questions and tools to help facilitate co-creation with the people in Cerro Verde which will confirm the value of our project proposal. Although this process has been difficult, I have no doubt this project will be very rewarding. With the Clean+Smart project, we hope to change the world.


Midterms with Seth and Viirj

After a one week reprieve from midterms, Viirj and I have had some time to reflect on some of the feeback we received from our concept, CAJATESORO (Treasure Box). Our goal after the experience in Cerro Verde was to help empower the community to lift themselves out of poverty. We noticed several behaviors the women performed almost everyday. They would go to the market frequently costing them time and money. They would spend about $75 a month on food and house supplies which doesn’t sound like a lot to us but when their monthly income is about $200, it was quite shocking. Also, they have very few resources immediately available to them on a round the clock basis. After reviewing all these behaviours with a long and exhaustive download of the research we collected, we found that developing a tool to help genererate supplemental income will increase their chances of climbing out of the cycle of poverty. We want to seamlessly integrate our vending business into their current balance of life and routine.

With that in mind, we presented three concepts for midterm with the goal of empowering families to develop small businesses using vending machines to distribute common products to the community. They would gain experience and learn business tools by completing a BOP (Bottom of the Pyramid) Certification Program for Entrepreneurs. This would be a blanket program that would teach families to save money and build revenue as their vending business grew.

Our first concept is the BUILD-IT-YOURSELF model where a new owner purchases the mechanism as is and they then provide custom methods to dispense the products they wish to vend. They could use a bucket or a box to attach to the mechanism which will hold the products. They can also build-in safety features like a concrete block to hold the device and protect against theft. Through research we determined it would be possible to purchase the vending mechanisms individually, which would lower the cost for families and allow for a variety of Build-IT-Yourself construction plans.

Our next concept was Franchise Leasing where a family could rent a machine from a corporate sponsor like P&G or Unilever and choose from the variety of products they offer in which to vend. By partnering with a company like this, it would reduce the risk the family takes on by only leasing the machine and they have the brand recognition for the products they sell which will provide trust within the community.

Our final concept involves full ownership of a manufactured vending machine. A family could purchase the device straight from a partnered manufacturer and they will have full control and freedom to sell what they wish whether it be market products or major brand partnerships. Our proposal also includes a micro-loan program with Un Techo to help pay for the machine over time as profits grow. One disadvantage of this concept is the owners take on a tremendous amount of risk however it is meant to be taken on after the family has completed the entrepreneurial program.

The feedback we received was excellent overall with a lot of excitement about the potential market to bring vending to a Bottom of the Pyramid community. That being said, the critique seemed to point in the direction of concept 2, franchise leasing. This is a very challenging concept where we must now develop a plan of action to incorporate big business into the small market communities like Cerro Verde. We will be diligent about sticking to our principles and making sure our goal of empowering families and helping them climb out of poverty with the entrepreneurial program is our top priority.

Midterms with Kim + Carlos

So here we are. Midterms have arrived. It’s hard to believe it’s been seven weeks since returning from Peru.  Informed by the behavioral and consumption patterns we observed in our families in Cerro Verde, we decided to pursue a line of products that maximizes cleanliness while minimizing. We now present to you now our line of products.

First, the Soap Buddy, a soap bracelet dispenser that makes soap accessible anywhere, anytime. We found that children infrequently washed their hands with soap and water, even though that simple act has been found to decrease the risk of respiratory tract infection by 25-45%. Soap is found in all households of Peru, but is used mostly for cleaning clothes and dishes. Access to soap in school is also very low. The Soap Buddy can help families all over the world by supporting good hygiene, giving children a hand washing tool they actually want to wear and use, and instilling in parents a sense of pride in the cleanliness of there children.

Second, we have POP! a defoaming agent that is added to the rinse cycle of the laundry to eliminate suds, therefore minimizing the amount of rinses needed to clean clothes. Laundry uses more water than any other task by far, up to 55 gallons for one load. Washing clothing involves a huge investment in time and energy, and the environment did not make things easier. Some women had to carry multiple five-gallon buckets up dangerously steep paths, some up to 150 steps high. We saw that rinsing the clothes used the most water, often requiring 3-4 cycles to remove the soap. Though suds slow the rinsing process, families wanted suds in the scrubbing step because they equated suds with quality. By getting rid of the suds after the initial wash, with POP! we could reduce the number of rinses needed, thereby reducing the amout of water needed clean clothing.

Last, but not least, we present to you Balde a Balde, a gravity-fed faucet that can attach to any existing container, creating a flow of clean water from one container to another. We found that the traditional method of pouring water from pitcher made it hard for the women to control the amount of water used in washing food, clothing, hands and laundry. We also observed that people of Cerro Verde washed their hands in two ways, dipping them into a tub of grey water or holding a small tub of water in their mouths and pouring it over their hands. Our product improves upon this process by allowing people to wash their hands with ease and effectiveness. Balde a Balde helps save water by giving the user the ability to control its movement, and improves cleanliness by providing clean flowing water into the families.

We got many positive responses and useful suggestions for our products during midterm. From that, we’ve decided to move forward with Soap Buddy and Balde a Balde. We continue to work on improving our prototypes so we have the best possible co-creation experience when we send our projects down to Peru next week.

Midterms with Alex and Jia

After midterms and following 11 straight hours of sleep, more than I had received in the previous 4 nights combined, I am just now starting to wake up back into this world that is all consumed by Safe Agua. For 2 weeks, each team had been working furiously to get ready all that was required for our midterm presentations. 3 working prototypes, 15 minute presentation, incorporated animation, display environments and wall graphics were just some of what we needed to get ready for last Tuesday’s presentation. And why all this effort? Unlike other midterms that I had become used to, which were really just a progress check to see if we were on the right direction, this midterm was more of a pitch session.

Though our prototypes were mostly collections of roughly cobbled together odds and ends from a hardware store, the concepts themselves were much more developed. And rightly so, since we were pitching to several guests including a Medical Doctor with an expertise in water-borne illnesses, faculty from UCS’s business school, Department Chairs, guest faculty, and most importantly our NGO client who specifically flew in from Peru to hear these pitches and observe what progress we’ve made since we departed in early September.

Earlier in the term, each group had been tasked with a different challenge based on our initial observations and opportunities we discovered. With this challenge the groups were able to explore solutions that were related to the other groups but did not overlap or duplicate solutions. Ji A and I had been given the challenge of finding solutions for washing clothes. And so, after nervously waiting for the previous two groups to present their concepts, Ji A and I pitched our three ideas; Lava-Tech –  a more efficient and easier way to wash clothes, Seca-Tech – a companion device to Lava-Tech that is an entry-level spin dryer to dry clothes quicker and prevent the growth of mold, and RoLi – a new system of school uniform by parts where you only need to wash the specific parts of uniform that are dirty and leave the rest dry.

RoLi, which was to be a different way of approaching the laundry problem and the sheer volume of resources needed to wash clothes 3-5 times per week. Rather than find a solution with the process of washing, RoLi was to reduce the amount of laundry by allowing articles of clothing to be taken apart and washing only the parts that needed cleansing. Relatively dirty parts like collars, armpits, and pant cuffs could be laundered while the rest remained dry, to be cleaned another day.

While the concept of RoLi was well received, it was eventually decided that there were too many inherent problems to overcome in the remaining weeks we have left. Some of these problems include designing these uniforms to be so cool and fashionable that they would be desired by all, and not become the uniform of the poor. There were other more logistical problems with regards to fasteners and irritation and material characteristics. But with a product major and an environmental major in our group, honestly I am a bit relieved that we won’t be tackling high fashion this term.

Our second concept, Seca-Tech is an entry-level spin dryer. Our goal was to eliminate the task of hand wringing clothes, which is a common cause of arthritis and tenosynovitis, and to help inhibit the growth of mold. Taking inspiration from a salad spinner, the idea was if most of the water could be pulled out of the clothing after rinsing then the amount of time required to line dry clothing could be drastically reduced to prevent mold growth. This prototype also had other unexpected benefits, such as it being more gentle on knits and sweaters versus hand wringing clothes which can stretch and damage these types of clothing.

While we weren’t able to fully demonstrate Seca-Tech because it would break under the weight of wet laundry, the concept was still well received. Some of the viewers commented that this type of device would allow children to assist in some of the chores that they previously could not do.

Our last concept, Lava-Tech, is a new way to wash clothes to address several of the ergonomic concerns related to washing clothes. While in Peru, we witnessed almost all of the women washing their clothes either hunched over or squatting in front of basins on the ground. Though this can’t be comfortable on their lower backs and knees, what they complained about most was how painful it was to continually submerge their hands in the cold water. During the winter, the cold water caused their hands to become and dry and cracked.

Our prototype addressed these problems by attaching an agitator to a long handle. Now from a standing position, these women could wash their clothes in a 5 gallon bucket without getting their hands wet. Our system also uses less water both in the washing and rinsing process. It is also more efficient in that it agitates and washes clothes by the bucket-load instead of scrubbing each article individually against a washboard.

Of our three concepts, I believe our audience was most excited about Lava-tech. In fact Askan, our special guest  from Peru, was so excited he demanded a demonstration of Lava-Tech right there. Ji A was able to find a shirt, and with a little coffee to stain the shirt, our impromptu demonstration was ready. We filled Lava-Tech with some water, added a bit of detergent and gave the honors to Askan. With a motion more reminiscent of churning butter, he washed the shirt with great enthusiasm. Even spilling a good amount of water onto his shoe. At one point he even stood on top of our prototype to see if he could get more leverage.

Comments about Lava-Tech were very optimistic and there were several questions that we weren’t able to answer yet because of our lack of testing and research. One of the guest faculty suggested that we use Lava-Tech to wash all our clothes for the new two weeks to explore and discover any problems or situations that a user might encounter.

All in all, I think our midterm was quite successful. But the reprieve afterwards was short-lived as our group now has to focus on developing Lava-Tech and Seca-Tech further. This includes sending prototypes back to Cerro Verde to get input straight from the source.

Midterms with Cora and Thomas

After arriving back home, slightly overwhelmed by the various issues that the families we met have to deal with on a daily bases for basic survival, Thomas and I got to work on the issues we saw as opportunities that we could actually have some impact in.

While in Peru, it was very apparent that water sanitation and the issues surrounding it, only compound to keep people in poverty. In addition to carrying water from a storage container to their homes, the women must boil it before drinking or washing with. Even though boiling is the best option for killing microbes in the water, the fuel required to boil is costly and when money or fuel is low, women may not boil the water as long as necessary. The consequences can be illnesses related to drinking and bathing in unsafe water, requiring more money to be spent on doctors fees and medicines.

We decided our focus would be affordable and convenient access to clean, safe drinking water while minimizing the time and resources needed. Our ultimate goal is to reduce illness caused by inconsistencies in the process of sanitizing water.

Our first goal was to design a fool proof measuring device called Tapa Clara for using chlorine to sanitize water. (Some of the feedback we had received from the women we met in Cerro Verde was that using chlorine to sanitize water was tricky because knowing how much to use was an issue.) This product, we decided should be a re-usable lid that will fit on chlorine bottles, that measures the perfect ratio of chlorine to water.

Secondly, we looked at creating a container that water could be stored in while being sanitized. This container was a modification of the readily available 5 gallon bucket that we saw in every home we visited. The design is a “kit of parts” that can turn this ordinary bucket into a dispenser, with filter and built in timer to allow women to know exactly when the water is ready without having to keep an eye on the clock, allowing them to spend time on other chores or spend time with the children.

The third idea came to us through a rather unorthodox method. While researching natural water purification methods, such as using cactus, or sand filters, Thomas came across oysters, yes oysters, as a natural filter. He discovered that oysters filter up to 60 gallons of water in one day! Unfortunately, however, oysters would not be the answer to the world’s water crisis, because they don’t filter microbes (along with the other issues, like THERE”S AN OYSTER IN YOUR WATER BARREL!) We were fascinated with the little gastropod, however, and his magnificent abilities at passive filtration.

We wanted to develop an artificial “oyster” that embodied this idea of passive filtration that worked on it’s own with little effort by the people it meant to serve. Through a round of experiments, we developed Perla. We found that not only could this little guy be an easy way to sanitize water, it could possibly be a fun way to deliver flavor or nutrients to the water. Because purifying water is time and resource intensive, it is very common to see community members go to the local store after physical activity and purchase a Coca-Cola or Inca-Cola. Our hopes for Perla are to encourage healthier drinking habits for the people of Cerro Verde, especially the children that suffer from complications of dehydration and vitamin deficiencies.

We still have a lot of work ahead, but we are very excited about the direction of the projects so far and look forward to sending some of our prototypes to Peru next week!

Alexandra Reflects

As I try to adjust back to normal life, I find myself thinking back to the few days I spent in Pamplona. The memories of green rolling hills, the low humid clouds and the sounds of dogs barking are still quite resonant in my mind. I can still remember being greeted by the pungent smell of pig waste as we made our walk up to Cerro Verde. Elsa and her daughter Jemelit pop up in my mind throughout the day. I ask myself, what are they doing right now without us there? Life continues, special people come in and out of life and memories only remain. I wonder if she is making lei bracelets with the ribbon I left her. I wonder if the dog that bit Thomas is still biting passer-bys. I miss the families of Cerro Verde terribly. I miss trying to speak Spanish and communicate with people without words but just using gestures and empathy. But of the hundreds of stories I could share, the most memorable experience had to be when I joined Karina’s family for Sunday evening church service.

As the Sunday sun bid goodbye, we proceeded to an Evangelical Christian church with Karina’s whole family, along with Rosa who decided to give church a try with us. The whole experience is one I will never forget. My heart was captivated the entire time. Despite the differences of language, economic standing, culture and age, I felt so at home with these people. We all shared the same heart, the same fire for God. It was so amazing to be invited to their church. The church is small, only 20 people maybe, and their children. The service takes place in a small room with a few speakers, plastic chairs, and a guitar player and keyboard player as the worship team. There were lyrics to the music written on sheets of paper at the front. Everything was so humble and modest, inviting and open. We were greeted with open arms and cheek kisses, as if we were already family.


This Evangelical Church is the only one in its area. Most residents of Cerro Verde are culturally Catholic so this small, newly started church, is truly a gem. The pastor spoke so similar to the sermons I hear back home in the States, and the procession of events was exactly the same and the stories and interpretations of scripture were familiar. Thank God for Carlos who translated the entire sermon to me- I think I even learned a little bit of Spanish too!


During the service, Sarai (11) and Esther (8) borrowed my camera and ran out of the room we had main service in. I was afraid my camera was gone forever, but the girls ended up bringing the cameras to their bible study across the street. Now I have great footage of the children’s bible study!


KC’s Post

Here’s a sketch I did on our plane ride back to the states from conducting our intensive, emotional research for the past 10 days.  This was my way of capturing the all the laughter, tears and stories that were shared between the families and students in the short time we were there.  Having been a member of Safe Agua Chile and now serving as a T.A. for Peru project, I reflected on the harsh daily realities of Cerro Verde community and rehashed memories of my experience working in the  Campamentos, San Jose, Santiago, Chile back in fall of 2009.

There are polarizing similarities and differences between the two projects.  However, the warm spirit of the community, families and individuals from Cerro Verde and San Jose remains the same.  The families accepted us into their simple yet complex lives with open arms.  Friendships were quickly forged, which made our work slightly easier but made goodbyes very difficult.  I would like to thank Un Techo Para Mi Pais.  They have been doing amazing, inspiring work in the past decade to help the base of the pyramid overcome poverty.  The special bond, trust and relationship building with families in Cerro Verdo would not have been possible without the incredible work and foundation they have built over the years all over South America.

On another note, I was extremely happy to learn that my host family Maria O’Campo and her community are one step closer to moving into permanent housing within a year.  I hope to reunite with her and the community of San Jose one day.