Linz Craig shares his experiences as a lone American in a new African brand of technology lab, similar to Maker Spaces and Hackerspaces, called Fundi Labs.
Leah Buechley, creator of e-textiles, inspiration to a generation of Makers, and all around nice lady, recently (OK, sort of recently) gave a speech at EYEO about Maker culture and the lack of diversity therein. This may be (sadly) true in some parts of the world. I applaud Leah's efforts to make people aware of this trend, but let me share with you a different narrative taking place half the globe away.
Technology exploration happens all over the world and it often looks similar, no matter the culture.
I'm not sure where it all started. Most likely, as most worthwhile things do, it began as someone's childhood dream. Perhaps inspired by a fascination with robots, an interest in taking apart electronic toys, a love of trucks, a flying princess, a particular video game, or a book about Japanese technology, coupled with a parent, an uncle, or a friend with a stockpile of strange gizmos that they excitedly shared after school. From there it grew. Possibly it was passed on to someone else, or maybe it was kept and nurtured, with the flames fed by each tidbit of new knowledge that made the world both more understandable and yet more wondrous at the same time.
The Fundi Lab culture is a welcoming environment where all learners and teachers are equal.
I don't know exactly where or when this story started, and I'm not aware of even a small fraction of the plot lines, but I do know one of the continents where the particular narrative I am talking about is taking place -- Africa. To be more specific, in a country called Uganda.
The Fundi Lab before it moved out of Solomon's spare bedroom.
There is a special place -- a sort of laboratory -- in a district in Uganda's capital called Ntinda. The lab just opened at the beginning of September, but they're already helping students place in the top ten in African-wide scholastic competitions, doing outreach to Rwanda and running the nation's only robotics camp for the third time. It's a space where old electronics are repurposed into robots that trundle along on bike chain treads, and people work on energy solution prototypes such as bike mounted battery chargers. It's a place where new ideas are explored until either their feasibility has been proven or they birth yet more ideas. There is no head instructor; there are simply people who believe in themselves, in each other, and in their capability to change the world. They explore ways to bring large-scale electronics production to their country, how to help blind people navigate the world, and what it takes to inspire and educate a generation of kids who are growing up in an environment that nurtures an inherent intelligence and ability to innovate, but that does not provide many structured environments for learning about technology.
Teaching transistor based logic gates to adult learners in Kampala.
There are piles upon piles of saws, soldering irons, electronic components, schematics, informative books, multimeters, and an occasional laptop. The whiteboard is strewn with diagrams outlining radio communication basics, kinesthetic technology education activities, or perhaps an inverter diagram depending on the latest conversation. There is a half built electrical wheelchair waiting to have the motor drivers installed. There are T-shirts that use Leah's e-textile technology, people working with infrared receivers, people designing Arduino clones in Eagle, all with friendly smiles to greet the curious and knowledge seekers. There are teams, individuals, projects, jokes, local Ugandan food, newcomers, and seasoned veterans. Sometimes the soundtrack to this scene is dancehall, sometimes it is 1920s romance songs, sometimes it's electronic, sometimes it is reggae, sometimes it is hip hop, and sometimes it is rock and roll, there is no common theme to the culture other than innovation and equality. There are video games, microcontrollers, informative movies, AC and DC circuits, pneumatic-based valves, transceivers, and Bluetooth technology. The only thing not present seems to be a sense of limitation and non-inclusiveness.
Here's a video showing the moving of the Fundi Lab.
And here's another video showing Solomon and myself chatting.
With regard to the picture below, it was my honor to be one of the people seated in this room, and it's one of the narratives that often gets overlooked because of the humbleness of the project and its participants and because not a lot of people (even locals) expect to find technology research and education in Uganda's capital of Kampala. You may have never heard of it, but it does exist -- this beautiful place is called Fundi Labs.
The Fundi Lab does outreach to many local schools and even over to their neighbors in Rwanda.
This is a common and beautiful dream -- one that flits through most technology educators' minds throughout their lives. It's my goal to help these wonderful people as they educate students, entrepreneurs, artists, educators, farmers, and dreamers. All of this leads to my Kickstarter Project, because I'm hoping to find people during this holiday season that also believe technology education and accessibility is paramount for the entire world's younger generation.