Two solid weeks of techie bliss at a high school in Uganda

by Lindsay Craig

I’m starting a robotics toy company called QuestBotics (which is another story), but in my copious free time every year I go to Uganda, Africa to teach a Technology camp with Oysters & Pearls – Uganda. It’s a two-week event and kids in northern Uganda flock to a school called Gulu High where they get to play with sensors, tiny robot brains (microchips), Legos, video games, motors and virtual reality.

With over 120 students and 50 staff members at the camp in Uganda, we have our hands full just getting the power turned on, but that didn’t stop us – this year, we found the time to add four new subjects for the students–shortwave radio, audio, art and solar energy.

Pushing the boundaries in Uganda Tech Education

We’re always pushing the boundaries of what we can teach at the Gulu Annual Tech Camp. The second year of its existence we were teaching printed circuit board design as a part of the prototyping course. Students had clamored in the past for the opportunity to work with Bluetooth and other wireless technology. So, we bought a bunch of low-cost short-wave transmitters and receivers and hooked them up to Arduinos. It was easy for the students to get the units functioning and then came the fun part of running around outside testing the range limits.

Tech designed specifically for the sight impaired allows our students to write and use computers

I’ve also been promising the blind students at the camp (~25 of our students are sight impaired) that I will do my best to get them the tools they need to get into audio production. Every year a group performs a song and they are amazing singers! This year they were able to record backing music for their performance with the help of two sighted students who excelled in our audio workshops.

Affirmative Art Team – Kids Draw their Dreams!

The Affirmative Art team was a great addition to this year’s Uganda camp. The kids and instructors were encouraged to draw their dreams and spend some time expressing themselves without electronics. The artist in me relished the time spent with instructors Khalid and Nyeko. The engineer in me kept thinking that it was really a design process for the intangible. A cool side note is that Nyeko had actually attended Gulu High as a student some years ago before he decided to team up with Affirmative Art.

As well as robotics, students make and play video games or spend time exploring art and virtual reality

Solar City – Engineering that Lights Up Learning!

A huge hit at the camp this year was the Solar City. We started off with an introduction to solar by local engineer, educator and Fundi Bot, Kasozi Samson. Then Samson led the class as we built the solar powered houses in the RechargeLabs’ Solar Town. In some cases we added donated Nokero Solar units as well. This was probably the most fun the students had all week (possibly with the exception of the video games and virtual reality). Students then took it a step further by building a miniature city and a solar array. The solar array had positional control using some light sensors and a servo so that the solar cells would always point towards the greatest source of light, no matter what time of day.

Kasozi Samson – Instructor and True Maker

I’d like to dedicate a paragraph to the instructor, Kasozi Samson. I met Samson three years ago when I spent four months in Uganda teaching Fundi Bots instructors. Samson was one of those instructors. His journey to the Fundi Space where he teaches can take more than three hours on some days. But he keeps showing up for three reasons:

  1. He loves the kids he teaches.
  2. He loves the people he meets at the Fundi Space.
  3. He loves the technology he works with and believes it will help make the world a better place.

When he’s not teaching, Samson, who is a recent university graduate, works on his own business at home. He employs four or five people doing structural welding projects for local buildings. While others are busy using the welding skills he’s taught them, he is working hard on his many CNC routers which allow him to build the parts he needs to build more machines.

The reason I have so much admiration for Samson is because he’s an example of how fast someone in the Maker Community can dive deep into a subject and apply their skills in a real-world environment.

Using microcomputers such as Raspberry Pis or pcDuinos students dive in deep the first day

Uganda Camp is a Great Opportunity for Teachers and Students Alike!

The camp is an opportunity for educators and students alike. For some of the students, it is their first chance to work with computers. They dive deep into sensors, motors, video game design and play with virtual reality. No one knows what is difficult and we don’t tell them, so they take it all in stride as an introduction to technology. Short wave radio? Microcomputers and microcontrollers? PCB design? Yeah, they may think everyone learns that on day one. But the Ugandan instructors that we recruit from local schools know better. This is evidenced by the 14-16 hour days the instructors put in for two and a half weeks straight.

We teach some instructors in shifts while the others teach the students. The instructors who show a lot of dedication even walk away with hardware to take back to their schools to continue teaching. It’s sometimes hard to tell which group is more difficult to pull away from the tech as the camp gets ready for sleep in the quiet African night… the students or the instructors.

For more information or to figure out how to get involved my contact can be found at the bottom of LinzeeCraig.com.