BERLIN—What do Coachella goers and refugees have in common?
At first glance, there wouldn’t seem to be much common ground between the revelers who spend loads of money on a once-in-a-lifetime concert experience and those fleeing war and conflict with little more than the clothes on their back. But they share a momentary struggle: They are transients in an unfamiliar, sometimes filthy terrain who are often in desperate need of a shower.
One young innovator is hoping his invention can suit the needs of both and even help festivalgoers do refugees a favor.
John Godfrey, a 22-year-old student at the National College of Art and Design in Dublin, has invented a collapsible shower and hygiene bag that he hopes to sell at festivals. For each one sold, another will be donated to refugees—a one-to-one charity concept popularized by Toms shoes.
“This is a very current solution, a lot more modern, because in the past you had charities asking for money to give to a cause. Nowadays it’s hard to ask people, especially young ones, to give money, because they don’t have any,” Godfrey told TakePart. “So giving people something in return for what they’re giving is an attempt to bridge the gap between charity and young people.”
The foldable and easily transportable hygiene kit combines a standard hygiene pack—complete with soap, a razor, a toothbrush, and other items—with a shower curtain, a showerhead, and a 10-liter water reservoir that allows the user to take a private shower almost anywhere. To help refugees—who may hail from Africa or the Middle East or farther from Europe and speak a variety of languages—a set of simple images printed on the plastic provides instructions on how to use the shower.
Godfrey has attended his share of festivals, and after a visit to a refugee camp in northern France, he came up with an invention that could work in both worlds.
“It was an eye-opening experience, something you’re never going to learn just by watching the news. To say that the conditions there were atrocious is an understatement,” Godfrey told TakePart. “What took me aback was the people there, obviously they had been through incredible hardships, and those were people like myself, just in vastly different situations."
Seeing how refugees longed for the normalcy of hygenic conditions "makes you aware of some things that you would think are basic human rights,” he added.
In January Godfrey volunteered in Calais, where 9,000 migrants are living as of July 2016, many in the wastelands surrounding the Eurotunnel linking France to the United Kingdom. Those who are stranded in Calais, some for years, wait for an official decision on their refugee status and, in most cases, determined to cross the channel at any cost. Despite constant evacuations by French authorities, the camps reappear on the same sites, one of many constant battles fought for dignity.
“This migration crisis will certainly not be the last one. It’s going to happen all over the world on a regular basis, so it has to be understood by everyone, everywhere. Before, [the refugees] were just these people on TV that you never encounter, but after having been to Calais, you see things differently.”
Godfrey started deejaying when he was 17 and built up eclectic musical tastes, ranging from electronic music to psychedelic rock, over the years. Now a designer, the Dublin native is hoping his invention can improve hygiene wherever large numbers of people are gathered. Being both a student and a volunteer, Godfrey found it hard to balance helping and bringing his project to life: “You’re on the distribution end, so you’re trying to do your part for refugees and for your team while at the same time trying to find out a solution.”
Godfrey spent months researching and designing his product, bearing in mind the needs of migrants whose journey has no definite duration.
“The entire process is a learning curve. There were about 12 to 15 iterations of the pack before the final form was decided upon. Of course there were failed ones,” Godfrey said. After asking people to test the product, he got a better idea of what worked and what didn’t.
“Things that may have been overlooked during the design process are usually quickly pointed out when user testing is done,” he said. The choice of material was equally important, and he decided to use a mix of polyurethane laminate for its breathability.
Now that the kit has been developed, Godfrey hopes a major manufacturer takes an interest in backing the project and selling the item for a market price in the $15 range.
Godfrey knows his innovation isn’t the solution to the issue of hygiene in refugee camps, and only one of the things needed to restore dignity and comfort to a transient, vulnerable population. “It’s not meant to be a permanent solution,” he says. “The real question is, Why aren’t there any proper showers? What I provide can only be temporary.”