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.
In my previous column I introduced the Fundi Lab, which is located in a district in Uganda's capital called Ntinda.
The people at Fundi Bots are a varied crew. There is Victor, the quiet lab manager who -- by his own admission -- will sit and observe a conversation silently for hours on end until the topic of electronics comes up. Then he will speak with authority and, if the conversation can be steered towards transistors, capacitors, and oscillators, his eyes twinkle, a smirk appears and the jokes pour forth as he is truly in his element. Victor currently works on prototypes that harvest energy from a bike, including automating the wire-wrapping process necessary to create inductors, motors, and transformers. He's pursuing these forms of automation with the hope that one day Uganda can produce its own electronics instead of importing them. Victor bikes through the chaotic streets of Kampala in the morning to open the lab, and spends his free time watching informative movies on anything from quantum physics to green energy.
Victor works to fix Carnegie Mellon Rwanda's 3D printer.
Then there is Arnold, who dances to a soundtrack that often only he can hear. Providing laughter and cheer in the lab, he explores programming and sensors with a ready grin and an imaginary dance floor. Arnold is happy to admit that he is learning constantly. Always willing to stop and explain his work to those who don't understand, he rejoices in teaching and will expound for hours on the capabilities of a child who has started to learn programming in Scratch at a young age.
Fundis understand the power of introducing programming to a younger generation with Scratch.
The person most likely to wear the hat of Official Mechanical Engineer is Samson, an energetic young man with a shaved head and a friendly yet powerful presence. He prefers the sound of machines to music and works with projects that contain pneumatic valves, motor drivers, drive shafts, and gears, and he also works with infrared applications. When Samson arrives, he is often quiet, but it is impossible to miss the enthusiasm with which he launches into his work -- sawing, soldering, and banging away on the mechanical aspects of the various Fundi Projects. Samson's main project right now is the electronic wheelchair that is often seen bumping into chairs and tables in the Fundi Lab of its own accord.
Samson, bridging the gap from bits to a bit of movement.
Cathy is an electrical engineer in training whose dreads can often be found dangling over a soldering iron and a PCB, a breadboard, or a video game. She is a smaller woman with a somewhat serious demeanor that is belied by a gigantic smile and seemingly limitless energy. Cathy's presence with students is reassuring, knowledgeable, and gentle. She revels in logic gates and PCB design when her school work load allows her to be present in the lab.
Cathy works with Arduino, Processing, and Bluetooth.
Kuhltims works in a hospital during the days as he finishes up a degree in the medical field. What little free time he has is spent in the Fundi Lab. He dreams of integrating technology with medical practices so that Ugandans can create and fix their own biomedical tools. Kuhltims' most often observed mannerism is a high pitched "Ehh!" and a shake of the head in wonderment. This exclamation is often followed by something along the lines of "but Lindsay, this is wonderful! We can use this for..." When Fundi Labs starts to make moves towards biotech research and development it is my hopes that Kuhltims will lead that particular arm.
Henry was extremely excited to mill his own PCBs with the Othermill.
Henry is the person who opens and maintains the lab when Victor is traveling giving workshops. He is a short thin man who has a smile for anyone with an open mind. Henry's background is in wireless communication, and he is partially responsible for inspiring Victor to pursue electronics. The two of them used to go to Henry's house after school where there were piles of old electronics waiting to have new life breathed into them. I recently had the pleasure of having the magic of radio waves further illuminated by Henry. His current work includes designing transceiver PCBs and helping Samson with infrared applications.
Click here to see my video Who are the Fundi Bots?
There are also plenty of newcomers, including Charles, Mordikai, Hillary, Matthew, Tom, a younger Solomon, and others whose names elude me, but Victor knows them all. There are high school and university students who stop by asking for help on projects or to see if they can join the Fundi Bots in their almost non-existent free time. Also there are the once and future members who attend university too far away to be constant supporters -- such as quiet and knowledgeable Mackenzie -- but who work with Fundi Bots on projects and hope to head a satellite branch of the technology education organization someday.
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