August 8, 2004: Headlines: COS - Kenya: Inventions: Engineering: Sanitation: Water: Charleston Post Courier: Kenya RPCV Lauren Stanley says Inventor of simple hand pump changed her life

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Kenya: Peace Corps Kenya : The Peace Corps in Kenya: August 8, 2004: Headlines: COS - Kenya: Inventions: Engineering: Sanitation: Water: Charleston Post Courier: Kenya RPCV Lauren Stanley says Inventor of simple hand pump changed her life

By Admin1 (admin) ( - on Wednesday, August 11, 2004 - 2:29 pm: Edit Post

Kenya RPCV Lauren Stanley says Inventor of simple hand pump changed her life

Kenya RPCV Lauren Stanley says Inventor of simple hand pump changed her life

Kenya RPCV Lauren Stanley says Inventor of simple hand pump changed her life

Inventor of simple hand pump changed volunteer's life

Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service

Charles D. Spangler, 92, died last month at a hospital in Silver Spring, Md.

I never knew Mr. Spangler. I had never even heard of him, but he managed to change my life nonetheless.

You see, Mr. Spangler, a specialist in water and sewer projects, was the inventor of simple hand pumps that today are used around the world in wells. His hand pumps were made to be simple, easy to use, easier to fix and cheap as all get-out. When I was a Peace Corps volunteer in the mid-1980s in Kenya, working as a water technician, I was trained to use hand pumps that were the descendants of the one he invented.

And I loved them.

Because they indeed were simply made -- even I could put them together. They were both easy to use and easier to fix -- even I, the journalist with no real engineering training, could train anyone to use and fix them. And they indeed were cheap, so cheap that even remote villages could scrape together the money buy one.

The pumps I used probably were not created by Mr. Spangler -- he had invented his first one in the 1960s and refused to patent it. According to his family, quoted in his obituary in The Washington Post, Mr. Spangler didn't invent the simple pumps for money. He created them so that poor people around the world could have access to clean, potable water. Patenting the pump, according to his son, would have made the immediate family rich, but it also would have made the pumps prohibitively expensive.

So he passed up the money in order to help those truly in need.

Which is how Charles D. Spangler, a man I never met, never heard of, never even knew existed, changed my life.

Before I went into the Peace Corps, I had never been one for owning a lot of things. My mother had made plain to me that things didn't bring happiness, so I truly wasn't into gimmicks and latest technologies and all that. But I was, after all, still an American, used to having oh-so-very much in comparison with the rest of the world.

Serving as a Peace Corps volunteer, seeing how people not only made do but managed to thrive with so little, made real for me what before had been simply an idea: You don't need it all, and having it all doesn't make you a better person, just a person with more clutter in her life.

The little red hand pump became my symbol of simplicity. When I was first introduced to it, I was afraid of it. I was not, after all, a real engineer, and I worried that I might need to become one in order to understand and use it. But my teacher assured me that it had been invented with people like me in mind, and that I would be able not only to use it, but to teach others how to as well.

My teacher was right: Within minutes of receiving my first hand pump, I had taken it apart and put it back together.

There were only five or six parts, including a rubber gasket that, if it broke or wore out, easily could be replaced by one made cut from a car tire (in the developing world, everything has several lives -- car tires become gaskets and sandals and ropes and all sorts of things we can only begin to imagine).

When one of the pins got lost one day, we simply replaced it with a round piece of iron that a local worker made for us. The pump took only minutes to install on top of a well, and seemed to work forever with very little effort or care.

I fell in love not only with the pump, but also with the idea behind it: Simple is better, and you still can help a whole lot of people.

When I returned from the Peace Corps, that little pump continued to live on in my mind.

Every time I thought I "needed" something, I would remember that pump and its striking simplicity and, consciously or unconsciously, compare it to whatever it was that I so desperately "needed." Which meant that I don't buy a whole lot of things, and when I do, they tended to be used and reused, and often almost on their last legs. Whoop-tee-do gadgets declared to be the latest "in" thing are not for me: too complicated, too expensive, too unnecessary for life.

What Mr. Spangler taught me, through his little red hand pump, is that you don't need a lot of money to make a difference.

You don't need to make things complicated, or use complicated things, to help others. And you don't have to make money to be rich.

All you need to do is care for others, and remember to keep it simple, silly.

I never met Mr. Spangler, and until he died, I'd never even heard of him.

But he managed to change my life nonetheless.

The Rev. Lauren R. Stanley is an Episcopal priest in Virginia.

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Story Source: Charleston Post Courier

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Kenya; Inventions; Engineering; Sanitation; Water



By Anonymous ( - on Thursday, December 13, 2007 - 7:26 pm: Edit Post

This is so interesting i'm a 7th grade student learning about africa and its poverty.My selected country to reaserch is Kenya and this is the MOST interesting facts i have had to write down i will probably remember this at the fact my step dad is a inventor and runs his own company.

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