Community collaboration
in Cambodia

Leadership Network member and Massey University lecturer Andrew Drain recently returned from Cambodia where he has been working with rural communities to create farming technologies for people with disabilities.
Andrew Drain

Andrew Drain: "The project is by far been the most meaningful thing I have ever done."

A lecturer in product design at the School of Engineering and Advanced Technology, Andrew's project, part of his PhD research, aims to help the community overcome challenges using a collaborative design process.

“The majority of Cambodians live in rural areas, which makes small scale farming a huge part of their daily lives. However, there is a large number of people with disabilities in Cambodia who find this environment challenging because of missing limbs, blindness or other impairments.

“For a person with a missing arm, caused by one of the tens of thousands of landmines still littering the landscape, using a piece of farm equipment in the traditional way is just not possible.

“Finding ways for these people to farm the land and find purpose can dramatically increase the wellbeing of not only the individual, but the community as a whole.”

A group of people standing around working together on a contraption

The project helps the community overcome challenges using a collaborative design process

Last month, Andrew returned to New Zealand after a stint working in a small village in the Kampong Chhnang Province, where he has been running workshops from a local primary school.

The workshops focused on collaborative problem scoping, idea generation, prototyping of that idea and finally the field-testing of equipment created.

During eight workshops run across three months, land mine victims, wheelchair users, visually impaired and elderly participants develop concepts and practical ideas. Concept ideas included rice seeding equipment for the visually-impaired, accessible chicken coops for blind users and mobility devices for walking through flooded rice fields.

The project helps the communities learn proven design processes so they can come up with designs that can easily be recreated throughout rural Cambodia, Andrew says. 

“We do this through practical workshops that engage them to solve their own issues in a systematic way, so that once we are gone they can replicate the process and solve the next issues they face.”

Large group of people

The work is only possible with support from the wider community.

Andrew says the story of one young Cambodian landmine victim is typical of those faced by the people he is working with.

The landmine left the young man blind and without one of his arms. Andrew says he would sit on the floor in his grandmother’s house all day and wait until his mother came to get him.

“He told us that he wanted the ability to work during the day, and provide for his family, but currently his family’s small farm was too difficult to navigate without help. This insight led to the creation of a project to design an accessible chicken coop for blind users.”

The project has “been by far the most meaningful thing I have ever done,” Andrew says.

“It still has some way to go to generate meaningful impact; however, the interactions with the community have been incredible. Also very challenging as we work out of a pagoda with no aircon or running water, usually mid 30's with high humidity. But its definitely worth it.”

Andrew is planning to return to Cambodia in November to continue his work. The Foundation is providing a Leadership Network travel fund grant to assist him.

Andrew's project is in partnership with Agile Development Group, Light for The World Cambodia and Engineers Without Borders Australia and is funded by The New Zealand Aid Programme and Massey University.