Faculty Member Penny Herscovitch Shares Safe Agua in Peru & Revisits Families Who Helped Shape the Project

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August 13, 2013

Penny Herscovitch is a Los Angeles-based designer and design-educator. She co-leads the design studio, Padlab, and teaches at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, CA. Padlab’s work encompasses materials research & innovation, illumination and spatial installation design. She has lectured and taught internationally, with work published extensively. Penny conducts research and writes for renowned institutions and firms, including Morphosis Architects. She has co-lead international collaborations including the award-winning Safe Agua project, initiated in 2009 between Art Center’s Designmatters and the Innovation Center of N.G.O. TECHO. In 2003, Penny received her B.A. in Architecture, Magna Cum Laude from Yale University.


Interview on Peru TV Canal E with Ricardo Alcazar

I’m very pleased to share my experiences during an incredible four-day visit to Lima, Peru: presenting Safe Agua in Spanish at two conferences during Peru’s National Innovation Week organized by CONCYTEC, the Peruvian government’s National Council on Science, Technology & Innovation; leading a workshop at the social enterprise NGO NESsT (who hosted my visit); doing Peruvian TV and web interviews; and most meaningfully, visiting the families in Cerro Verde who worked with our Safe Agua team in 2011.

The 300+ person Innovation week audience of NGOs, industry, governments, and educators was incredibly enthusiastic, loved Erik Anderson’s award-winning Safe Agua documentary film,  and were really inspired and engaged by the Safe Agua mission, projects and everything that Art Center / Designmatters / Environmental Design is achieving.


Leading a workshop at the NGO NESsT on applying design thinking to foster social entrepreneurship with Base of the Pyramid communities

I am grateful to the NGO NESsT for inviting me to participate in the Innovation Week events. It was inspiring to spend the day learning more about NESsT’s work fostering social entrepreneurship with Base of the Pyramid communities in Peru and worldwide, and leading a workshop with NESsT’s staff to applying design thinking to advance their mission.

The highlight of my trip was spending Saturday in Cerro Verde, visiting the families of Karina, Luz, Elsa, and Rosa, and speaking with Kristina by phone. Thanks to our NGO partner, TECHO for arranging the visit and to directors Claudia Marcos-Sanchez and Elita Rosas (now at United Way Peru) for joining me. It was a big surprise for the families, and they were delighted to hear from the Safe Agua team. Everyone said that even though two years have passed, if feels like yesterday, and that the students are each in their hearts and prayers.

It’s amazing to see how much has changed in two years, as the community continues working hard to overcome challenges and move forward. The community now has legal, consistent piped water! Most everyone can now run a hose to a communal spigot, with enough pressure to pump the water to their own storage containers — and no longer have to go up and down the steep hillside to carry water. The families worked together to save money for the installation of the pipes, and to organize to get legalized water. The women also are working together to cook and sell meals to raise money. The community is rallying together to help those who are struggling with health issues, which can make it difficult to work and to afford medical treatment. The community leaders, Luz and Karina, have both seen Erik’s documentary film, and enjoyed it!


Visiting families in Cerro Verde, with letters and care packages from student teams.

Our students’ letters and care packages for the families of Cerro Verde were truly touching. It means so much to the families to know that we care and are working to make a difference. As the students and alums have launched the social enterprise Blue Barrel Concepts to continue to develop Safe Agua projects–including the GiraDora washer-spin dryer and the Balde a Balde portable faucet–we hope for an ongoing relationship of co-creation with the families of Cerro Verde. Luz, the community leader, says that knowing that we came from the other side of the world to work with her community gives them hope that anything is possible. I’d like to leave you with a message from Luz — she says, “keep fighting, keep striving, because what you all achieve will be a benefit for us!”

To learn more about the Safe Agua Peru Project click here.