Awesome news from the HFC Hackerspace, reported by Michelle from the Just Cause Uganda Blog.

Yesterday we spent the morning out at St. Mathius Kalemba Secondary School, home of our Nazigo Makerspace and the Fusbots Robotics team. We wanted to congratulate the students on their amazing performance as rookies at the GISU Tech competition in Kampala in May and hear all about it, let them demo their bots and show us their medals! They were ready and waiting for us as soon as we pulled in as they were watching for our car from the back window of the makerspace/computer lab! We knew they were also very eager to see if we had come through with the replacement parts they needed for their VEX bots because they had no working motor controllers since competition.

Thanks to Just Cause’s amazing ongoing support from Karthik Kanagasabapathy and VEX Robotics we were able to hook them up with not only the motor controllers but lots of new and exciting upgrades and parts like speaker modules and new sensors, gears, motors, metal and fasteners….as well as 3 laptops! The students had somehow managed to make do with just one laptop for all of their maker projects and competition bots this whole year which meant theirs Arduino hardware control project, VEX robot, Lego Sumo, Lego Line all had to be coded on one machine and rotated around during competitions and exhibitions. They somehow pulled it off and even won 2 silvers and 2 bronze medals at the Kampala competitions. They lit up as soon as they saw the 3 bubble wrapped rectangular objects we had as we unloaded the car… ?

Their work and progress in less than a year since we established and began to equip their makerspace is amazing! The independent learning that they have done, just like what we saw in Jinja with the students we work with there is nothing but inspiring to us! They are so passionate about the projects they are working on and as they shared their ideas for the next event happening in December we knew that the laptops and the new equipment was definitely in the right place. After some demonstrations and many storys about the ups and downs of the competition we had a good conversation about the schedule for this year, and what they could improve on. They immediately identified that they need to be more prepared and organized if they are to be successful in competing and they also identified on their own that using C to program would allow them greater flexibility, skills and control as well as relevant knowledge for their futures or in higher education than drag-n-drop software.

After a team photo and a lot of selfies (as usual with the Fusbots kids!) we were off back to Jinja for the afternoon program.

Now back to Jinja for the afternoon… Three of our founding members, now J-Robotics alumni/mentors, Ronnie & Picavet & Baker, and one of our senior students Lawrence, have eagerly taken on new roles with us in an effort to sustain the J-Robotics team and to continues support and access to the Hackerspace. The bi-monthly outreach will involve them returning to their own elementary schools in town to deliver tech programs like we modeled and tested out for them at Nanso this week. We have put together a 6 session package for them to use and have been working with them on teaching, organization and program design skills. This will begin in July.

This afternoon was the start of our weekly 2 hour “STEAM Saturday” sessions at the Hackerspace in Jinja. A large group of over 50 young people live with an amazing young woman named Sera. The children range in age from 3-22 but most are in the 10-16 range. These children are all in school and live at Sera’s Caring Place in Buikiya and came to live there as a result of being runaways, orphans, abandoned or from homes that were unsafe situations. We have visited them several times and knew Sera through Alex very well.

He knows all of these kids and has worked with them for years, many finding this home thanks to his efforts. When we met with Sera’s kids back in December to put out feelers as we wanted to grow our outreach and team access in the area, they were so interested and had so many, many insightful questions after watching videos, that we had extended them the possibility if they were still interested upon our return in the summer months, to come check out the Hackerspace. in technology and hearing about what we were doing with young people in Jinja when we met with them in December. With the leadership and enthusiasm to run programming on their own, we had prepared well in advance this year at home for this STEAM Saturday program to happen with the J-Robotics leaders. Thanks to tremendous donation from VEX Robotics made possible by long time JCEO supporter, robotics expert & STEM advocate Karthik, we have 3 brand new (giant!) VEX IQ kits & equipment to get this program going! In addition we have the 3 Lego robot kits from team 4525 over the last 2 years to work with so we were set to host 18-24 kids with an intro to robotics, programming and STEAM!

We went out the night before to deliver school supplies, books and footballs to Sera’s kids at their home and had a great visit with them. We also took this time to re-extend the offer and see if they were still interested. Of course we had already made the arrangements with Sera, knowing this was a for sure go, but the kids did not know and we wanted to hear it from them that they wanted to proceed…and WOW did they ever! They all started talking at once and it was a pretty special moment. They told us they wouldn’t sleep that night because they could not stop thinking about it! These kids never have the chance to do much outside of school and chores and their hours of boredom was something Sera often expressed concern for throughout the years we have known her. So, Sera was thrilled when we offered this opportunity to her children. Beyond the science, math and engineering skills they will gain, the problem solving, critical thinking, responsibility and teamwork aspects of the program are huge benefits to them.

Watching Sera’s kids engage in technology for the first time and seeing the J-Robotics students step up as leaders and mentors to younger students made us step back so many times throughout the 2 hour (which really became closer to 3 hours) session. The amount of teaching and learning happening was incredible! We had 8 junior J-Robotics kids in their robot build program with Lawrence, the 20 STEAM Saturday kids learning to follow instructions and how robot parts connect with Ronnie and Picavet and 4 veteran members learning to use Android studio with Baker. In addition we had 3 little siblings of Sera’s kids building a Lego Duplo masterpiece all at the same time! Including us and Sera and her helper Peter, we had over 40 people in action at the same time at the Hackerspace! It was a hive of activity and….well, just AWESOME!

We all can’t wait for next Saturday!