In times of crisis, and times of exodus, it is the sides of the roads that reveal the true costs of refugee flight. The margins along the routes that lead from conflict to safety bear witness to the harrowing passage of fleeing masses, and the physical traces of those who could not complete the journey. They harbor ditches and last-ditch efforts, littered with abandoned articles, hope--and in the worst cases--even family members.
Chase Lewis, a thirteen-year old from North Carolina, has devised a solution to this heartbreaking reality of refugee flight. He has created a Refugee Travois designed to carry children too weak to keep pace with parents. When children grow too weak to travel, and their parents are unable to carry them, they are often abandoned, relegated to these roadside margins and left to die. A travois prevents that desperate measure.
A travois is a basic, load-bearing device that has been around for hundreds of years. The standard design consists of a weight-bearing netting or platform lashed between two poles. The poles come together in a triangle, the point meeting near the person or animal pulling the load, and the wider ends dragging on the ground. The travois enables the transport of a load markedly heavier than can be carried on one’s back, and thus allows for extended travel.
Chase’ modern Refugee Travois aims to accomplish the same purpose. He has designed the device with the families using them very much in mind. A travois distributes weight along its force-bearing triangular beams, and his version travels on wheels, further reducing the load to the puller. This way, a mother can pull several children on wheels, even while carrying a child, and children can pull other children. The netting slung between the beams is parachute cloth, strong and resistant to tearing even after the stresses of the road (and squirming children). Rather than securing around the shoulders, the support straps to pull the travois lash around the waist, freeing the puller’s back for a sling to carry a baby, for example.
The Refugee Travois is designed to be as compatible as possible with relief efforts: it is made of inexpensive parts and is easy to assemble, ship in bulk, and supply to remote areas. Chase fashioned the device to ship easily in a bundle with instructions, as part of a flat-shipped or airlift relief kits that arrive along high-volume refugee routes. He included instructions with pictures to make assembling the travois easy for anyone to accomplish.
He tested the ease with which the travois could be assembled and pulled while bearing weight by bringing it to a local playground near his home. There he asked children to put the device together using the instructions--a process they completed handily--and demonstrated the ease with which each child could pull her fellows about.
Chase designed the Refugee Travois specifically with children in mind, but it serves many other purposes in a relief effort. The device also provides transport for the elderly, the ill, and pregnant women, as well as extra food or supplies. As an obstetric device, the travois could help women in distress stay off their feet and arrive more quickly and safely to emergency facilities.
Chase is currently entered in the Smithsonian Invent it Challenge--his Refugee Travois is a finalist, and could use your vote! We can't wait to see the evolution of Chase’s life-saving invention, which has the potential to save the lives of refugee children and perhaps women in obstetric distress the world over. The key, of course, will be how to ensure enough of these handy carts get to refugee points of origin. Help his idea come to fruition!
By: Lizi Jones