Innovating to combat COVID-19: Arega’s story

Wednesday 3 June 2020


Here stands 28- year-old Arega Antonious Maru. He lives and ran a construction finishing work business in Addis Abeba, before the COVID -19 pandemic. 

Arega had graduated from Addis Abeba Science and Technology University in General Manufacturing two years ago. After receiving his Bachelor degree, he faced the hurdle most fresh university graduates face; joblessness. He spent one year with no job, income or prospects. Then he saw some glimmer of hope on the horizon. He heard about Save the Children’s LI-WAY Training opportunity by EMD construction finishing works and training center from the local district office. He applied, succeeded and was granted a full scholarship in the program.

The training centre also provided him with technical assistance on how to succeed on the business of construction finishing works. These support gave Arega the necessary skills to earn a living. Arega, being a creative person strives to come up with ideas and methods that would make life easier for those in his community. These ideas that he worked on during his free time had earned him recognition and awards at different levels.

Upon hearing about ‘African Youth Innovative Lab’ workshop, in partnership with Save the Children LI-WAY Program; he applied, succeeded and was granted a full scholarship. Then, he attended the workshop at Nairobi, Kenya, which was organized by Save the Children’s Regional Office. He used the opportunity the workshop had given him as a platform to show case his innovative ideas. He ranked 2nd out of the African youth innovators who participated in the workshop .

Nonetheless, despite having the necessary skills and innovative ideas, Arega was at a loss on how to proceed next. He still had his own construction finishing business but his ambition exceeded his grasp. His creativity wanted a way out. He yearned for innovative endeavors yet he did not have the capital to chase his dreams. ”I admit life had gotten better,” says Arega. “But I am not someone to be satisfied with what I achieved and call it a day. I set my sights on making my innovative ideas to real.”

Nowadays, the COVID-19 pandemic created a challenge for most entrepreneurs as income weaned and businesses collapsed. However, some of the target youths are shifting their responsibility on combating the COVID-19 impact. These young people  are involved in urban agriculture, volunteerism works, production of pedal hand washing equipment and so on. 

Arega hadn’t remained idle during these times. He had contributed his inventive ideas and his creative mind into combating COVID-19. After observing the way people washed their hands in business areas, such as banks and hospitals, he realized the unique opportunities where his talents could be of use. He tinkled with some ideas; finally coming up with a hands free hands washing machine. This invention was necessitated by the fact that people used their hands to operate this hand washing machines; creating a further contamination.

Arega gave the prototype of this device to Commercial Bank of Ethiopia, Hayat Mekedoniya Branch for use. “This is the way to show my creativity for others,” he proudly claimed. His efforts were not left unheeded, as The Branch's Manager, appreciated his creativity and now the customers are washing their hands more frequently and efficiently then ever before. “The bank was so satisfied with the prototype that it ordered other units for use in its 132 East district CBE branches. We plan to have more in the future;” stated the Branch Manager. .                                           

Betsega Hospital was the next organization to get wind of this new invention. The manager; who had heard this information contacted Arega.  Arega replied promptly to produce another prototype to be used at the gate of the hospital. The Manager of the Hospital couldn’t be more pleased about this. “Then, my phone has been busy, since some organizations are visiting and asking me about it. I hope to improve the design and make it better. Then I would have contributed my part to the fight against COVID- 19,” Arega says.

Arega also has a plan to design and produce facemasks to be used by health professionals using 3D Printer Machine. Now, he is working on the design and  needs support to get input materials for the production. “My main challenge is finding working space, as renting a house with three to six months’ advance payment is too expensive for small business owners like me,” he adds.