Interview with Roy Ombatti


Roy Ombatti is a Kenyan mechanical engineer social entrepreneur. His projects Happy Feet and DIY ShoeLab aim to use 3D Printing to combat a horrible disease. We leant Roy an Ultimaker 3D Printer and helped him a little with the files. We interviewed him so he could tell us more about his projects.
Roy Ombatti HappyFeet

Roy Ombatti HappyFeet

Why did you start this project? Because I am an idealist who believes in making the world a better place…no matter how small my efforts are. And for me it starts with my country. And there are more than enough problems that my country is facing. I figure if each of the Kenyans (myself included) do something leveraging our skills and creativity to help the country then we wouldn’t be experiencing the problems we face. And if we had collaborative efforts with the more developed world then together we would certainly be able to overcome all of the world’s problems. So it starts with me…this is me trying to make a difference.
That answer is to the question on a greater scale. On a more specific not, the jigger problem is a result of poverty as the people who are affected cannot afford water for proper hygiene and neither can they afford shoes. Those who are affected have deformed feet and cannot fit into a normal shoe. So my solution is about providing affordable and custom-fitted shoes for the people who are affected by jiggers, as well as tackle the issue of poverty.
Why is this project important? We are all one people and the gap between the poor and the rich is strikingly painful. I always say that it is amazing that the world has developed such futuristic and high end technologies that can do such amazing things to make life better…but sadly I feel like our priorities as a people are misplaced and so we have failed as humanity. If we instead focus our efforts and redirect them towards helping each other then the world will truly be a better place. This project is important to me because I want to help out. Like I said, it starts with me but I cannot do it alone and so I am telling people about it and asking for help. I am not asking for money (yet) but I am asking for help!
More specifically, the shoes are important because they prevent reinfection (which is very prevalent) by the jiggers which cannot jump. An affordable source of shoes would be great as it could empower the community and the solution would be even more effective if the community are engaged as part of the solution. Ideally they should make the shoes themselves and hopefully even sell them.
Roy Ombatti Happy Feet

Roy Ombatti Happy Feet

How many people does this affect? 265 reported deaths so far, 2.7 million registered infections (1.5 million being school children) and tens of thousands of school drop-outs daily. But these figures are grossly underestimated as there is a lot of stigma and shame around having the jigger infection that many people hide it and very few come out to be helped.
How does this disease affect people?: The jigger measures about 1mm in size and feeds on the flesh and blood of it’s warm-blooded host. The female jigger burrows itself inside the flesh where it lays eggs. The infestation results in pain, itchiness and discomfort as a result of the sores. People are rendered immobile and cannot go about their daily duties such as tilling their land and thus cannot earn their daily bread. Children cannot go to school. The stigma and shame prevents people from seeking help which only contributes to the spread of the infestation. Infestation results in pain, inability to walk and function properly and can ultimately lead to death if not attended to.
How do you hope to help?  My proposed solution involves providing customized shoes from recycled plastic, using 3D printing. A scan of the deformed foot can be made in my ‘mobile shoe shop/lab’ after which a frame or skeleton of the shoe is printed. A normal shoe is then built around the frame using locally available materials. The community should ideally be the ones making the shoes themselves, including the recycling of plastic to make filament. The collection, sorting, cleaning and extruding of filament can be run by the community as well as the actual shoe construction. There would only be need for some technical support in terms of the shoe-frame design.