​SIPvengers and the Khophile Mixer
Name of village: Khok Kham
Location:

At the start
When I first applied to join the Learning Express Programme, it was with the intention of finishing the Social Innovation Project (SIP) module in 2 weeks versus the 6 months project my classmates were doing. I had never gone on an overseas community trip before this so I was unsure of what to expect there. The first briefing we had was the first time I met all of my group members. They seemed friendly enough but I still hoped to get this project over and done with so that I could focus on my other modules.

Design Thinking

I was late on the day of the Design Thinking (DT) training and was met with the awkward decision of “who do I sit with” since everyone was scattered around. I am not the most outgoing person and was surrounded by people I barely knew which made me uncomfortable. However one of my group members recognised me from the briefing we had and invited me to sit with her. I was extremely relieved and was probably a bit too excited when I agreed. As the training begun, I slowly talked to different members of my group and got to know them.

The DT training was interesting as I learnt how to look at a point from all angles. I have a one‐track mind thus this was an eye‐opener for me as it taught me how to identify needs and think of different solutions to solve the identified need.

We had a practice where we went out to hawker centres to apply what we had learnt from the first 2 stages of DT – sense and sensibility and empathy. On the topic of food wastage, we interviewed customers, hawker stall owners and the cleaners. After gathering information, we headed back to form insights. Practising definitely helped because going through it once in Singapore would make it easier when we had to do it in Thailand as it would be familiar to us.

After gathering our insights, we tried out the ideation stage by contributing any ideas related to our need even if it was an impossible one. It was challenging at first because we were trying to think of rational and possible ideas. However when we let our imagination run wild, it was actually easier for the ideas to flow out as one crazy idea would spark another idea that was actually possible.

We then discussed how to implement the solution into people’s lives and drew it out since we didn’t have much time to actually build a prototype. We presented our ideas to the other 2 groups and when we looked at the other group’s ideas, it was refreshing to see such creative ideas from them. This DT workshop was extremely helpful as it aided us in our identification and problem solving we had to do overseas.

Issues and Problems
Khok Kham village is known for their shrimp and salt farms. In a salt farm, after the salt is collected, the land is left to dry to prepare it for the next harvest. During this period, the farmers will clear the dried up soil also known as halophiles. If not, the halophiles will float to the surface of the water when the next harvest begins, causing obstruction as it reduces the evaporation rate.

The farmers would usually throw these halophiles away or use it as fertiliser for their other plants. Teachers from Rajamangala University of Technology Thanyaburi (RMUTT) did research and created a formula for bio fertiliser by mixing other raw materials, like rice or cow faeces, with halophiles.They have since passed on the formula to the chief villager, Boonlerd.

At the village, farmers use chemical fertiliser on their plants. Prolonged usage of these can cause destruction to the land and is not sustainable in the long run. Switching to bio fertiliser would be a better choice in terms of long term usage. To encourage farmers to use bio fertiliser instead of chemical fertiliser, Boonlerd gives the farmers free bio fertiliser after they produce it. However human resources are not readily available. Hence they acquire help from the students at Phanthai Norasing Wittaya School.

These students learn about bio fertiliser in class and carry out the processes of making bio fertiliser in school. The process of the bio fertiliser starts with the mixing of various raw materials. After mixing, they cover it with a canvas for isolation. This is to allow the mixture to ferment. Isolation usually takes about 15 to 20 days. After this period, stone powder is then added to the mixture to harden it. The more powder is added, the harder it will be after drying. The mixture is transferred to a machine to mould it into pellets for easier handling. The pellets are then laid out in the open to dry. Drying takes 1 to 2 days and will then be ready for packaging. Each packet weighs 300 grams and is priced at 150 baht.

However, through interviews with some of them including teachers and Boonlerd, we found out that they face a few problems. The mixing process is extremely tedious and labour intensive as only a shovel is used to mix large amounts of raw materials. The students also make bio fertiliser every Friday after school ends at 4pm. This would be very tiring for them as after going to school for roughly 8 hours, they still have to make bio fertiliser.

Another issue was that the machine tends to jam often and it takes up time to start and fix the machine. Raw materials are also not readily available through the year as some seasons do not yield halophiles. From these issues, we got to know our interviewees more and realised that the main issue was the students carrying out the tiresome process of mixing. It is not good to be doing such strenuous work especially at an age where they are developing. Having to bend over and lift heavy amounts of raw materials could harm their backbones and as a result stunt their growth.

Hence based on the Design Thinking tools, sense and sensibility and the empathy study, we decided to make our persona a student and the need statement being: “I need to make the mixing of raw materials faster and easier”.


Solution and Prototype
With the need statement being that, we needed to come up with a solution that makes the mixing process faster and easier. Thus, we went through the ideation stage and came up with the idea of a machine that could be made from simple materials found locally. This machine can hold large amounts of raw materials and only requires kinetic energy to turn. This would definitely make the mixing process faster and easier since large amounts can be mixed at one time with little effort required.

Caption: Our mini prototype, Khophile mixer!
If this machine were to be made in real life, it would be made of a 200 litre oil barrel and gear sets recovered from old engines. This will allow farmers to be able build this at home as these materials can be found around their area. The cover requires you to pull it up to put raw materials in. The pulleys are used to deliver power from the gear sets to the shaft connected to the tank and to increase the torque. The gear sets reduce the rational speed from the input power, while increasing the torque. Therefore, less effort would be required as compared to manually mixing the raw materials using a shovel.

We visited the village again to show them our idea and get feedback from them. After receiving positive and negative feedback, we revisited the ideation stage to come up with another idea on how to include the better suggestions made by our interviewees. Some of their concerns were that our door might accidentally open while spinning as it is a pull up door or that our choice of blade might not efficiently mix the materials as some might get stuck in the corners.

Hence taking into their considerations, we improved our prototyping by changing our door to a sliding one so that it will prevent any accidents from occurring should the lock break. We also changed our horizontal blade to a spiral one that will be connected to the shaft as it will prevent any debris from sticking to the tank.

Homestay

I must admit that the homestay at Khok Kham village was better than the time spent at the university. We had our Thai buddies with us during the homestay which made it even better. Going to the village was supposed to be for work, but we managed to squeeze in some play! Every day spent at the village was different.

On the first day, we visited the local 7/11 store there which allowed us to stock up on our snacks. We rode the chief villager’s truck there and it was an experience we can’t get in Singapore. All of us squashed on the back of the truck with the wind blowing in our hair, enjoying the beautiful scenery of the village.

On the second day, we visited the village’s salt farms. We stepped on the grounds of the salt fields and got up close with the halophiles. It was quite amazing to see the halophiles on the ground as for the mixing process, it is already in small pieces. Later on we went to the night market and tried the creative food of the locals – sausages with pandan cake and coconut shavings with egg on a thin pastry. It was nice to get out and experience the daily happenings of the villagers.

On the third day, we went all out to enjoy our time left at the village as we would be leaving the next morning. We visited the sea aquarium and it was surprisingly well‐kept despite being located in a rural area. We also went to a learning centre to compare the skies of the city area and the village area in Thailand. The comparison was astonishing as it was quite a big difference! The city area had not so blue skies, with more a grey look while the village area had beautiful clear blue skies. The chief villager then took us to a shell farm where we took a swim to fish for crabs, mussels, clams and prawns which we enjoyed for dinner! We ended the night off with a karaoke session and went back to our discussion since we can’t forget the most important reason we were there for.

The next morning, we headed over to the morning market as our last activity at the village. It was actually quite different from the night market. The morning market was full of fresh food and ingredients being sold, along with clothes and miscellaneous items. Getting back to the village, the wave of tiredness hit us and we were all hesitant to leave the village we had grown so fond of. It was difficult to say goodbye to everyone as their kindness had left a great impression on us. The chief villager had done so much for us. He brought us around the village when he wasn’t required to do so. He was just being a good host. The teachers at the school were also very kind and helpful in aiding us with our project, they had spent almost every night in our rooms answering the questions we missed out on and giving their opinions. We would never forget the time spent at the village as it was one of the most memorable experiences we had. Not to mention, we found kittens staying above us on the last day! It was even harder to say bye then.

The trip
My group had named itself the “SIPvengers”, a combination of the words for the SIP module and avengers. This trip had definitely bond me and my group mates together. At the start, I was just going on a trip for the sake of a module but I realised how blessed I was to be able to go on this trip. I truly enjoyed myself on this trip and it is partly because of the group members I had. They are extremely friendly and outgoing thus it was easier for me to open up to them. We had so much fun playing and working together. We faced the challenges together and worked through it by discussing reasonably and fairly. Going through all this just made us closer to one another. It will indeed be a tip that I will never forget.

Highlights of the trip would definitely be the home stay and the cultural activities we went to. We had a sword play demonstration at RMUTT and even got to try it out ourselves! We also went to the Grand Palace where the architecture of the buildings were so magnificent, truly fit for a king.

Bonding with our Thai buddies allowed me to forge friendships that are probably stronger than some we’ve had for years. Despite the language barrier, we all got along and had so much fun together. Facing real life situations was also an eye opener and I really learnt to appreciate what I have in Singapore. At the village, they were happy just playing with their friends despite the conditions at the school where their school field is just a patch of soil due to the flooding from years ago. Given the chance, I would definitely go on a trip like this again as it has given me so many learning experiences that I doubt I can get in Singapore. I am grateful for the opportunity I had and do not regret going on this trip at all.