Wood block phone charger workshop in Uganda

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On Saturday afternoon, Yvette and I headed to Mpigi in Uganda which is about an hour from the capital, Kampala. Watoto Church Vocation Training Institutein Mpigi is based at the heart of a village and is home to hundreds of students, most of whom are orphans and some of whom come from the nearby villages.

Many homes in the villages do not have access to electricity and use candles for lighting. While most people have phones, you need to pay 500 UGX ($0.20) to charge you phone in town. Like several places in Uganda, boda bodas (motorcycles) are used for everywhere transport. What if people could charge their phones using the battery from a boda boda that more easily accessible than a charging shop? What if boda boda drivers could build or buy these portable mobile chargers and earn some extra money? We ventured out to Watoto Church training institute to find out.

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Watoto Church | Vocation Technical Institute

Livingston Sebyatika, one of the institute’s administrators, gathered together 15 students from the technical school. These students, in their late teens, are currently studying carpentry, electrical installation and metalwork at the centre’s technical institute. Asked what they plan on doing after leaving the institute?  Most students want to become adept engineers and designers, something that come through strongly as we carried out the workshop.

Rolling up our sleeves and diving in

Our plan for the afternoon was to build a wooden phone block charger. How? Simply by using a 12v car/motorcycle battery, a car phone charger, wood, sheet metal, wires and a 13A fuse.

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We put together the tools and materials, split the students into two team, rolled up our sleeves and dived right in to the build-it session. A build-it is a guided design activity aimed at systematically teaching an engineering concept. It also teaches the use of hand basic tools and fabrication processes.

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The first step was to prepare the wooden block. This is where the phone charger would be plugged into so we needed to make 4 charging ports using a 7/8” drill bit. Alternatively, you could use a brace and bits of the same size (which is what we did when at some point we encountered a power interruption)

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Now for conduction purposes, we cut and bent the sheet metal to form cylindrical inserts for the four holes that we had previously drilled. The tabs from these cylindrical inserts would stick out of the board and form the negative terminal of the circuit.

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With the remaining sheet metal, we cut out the positive terminal for the circuit. This sheet was nailed over the holes. A second sheet was then nailed over the tabs for the negative terminal.

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Lastly, we connected the positive terminal using a wire and 13A fuse to the battery. After ensuring we had a complete circuit and  that there were no short circuits and went on to test and power up the phone. And it worked! The students were so excited that their first reaction was to build more phone chargers and start a business sell them in town. They could definitely see how these units would come in handy in the neighbouring town and village.

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Reflections

Great tools make everything run more smoothly, and the outcome meets the design requiremets of the build-it activity. Our team is deeply grateful to the vocation institute which shared their tools with us for the workshop.

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At some point, Timothy’s (one of the team leads) group’s wooden block broke in half as they were nailing the pieces, their first reaction was ,”That’s easy to fix. We’ll just hold it together with a metal piece and some nails.” And they did. And it worked perfectly.

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Having a smart, energetic and driven team of participants made the workshop have more meaningful and have impact as they were eager to learn a new technology that could solve a local challenge. What also stood out greatly was their dexterity and attention to detail, at every point of the build-it activity. I’m excited to see what they will have done with the technology months from now.

Future plans

Foondi plans to continue working with these students by following up on this phone charger project as well as conducting more creative capacity building sessions with them.

We’re looking forward to holding more workshops with relevant projects to the communities we work with. We want to see more people to make use of their hands-on skills and design background to develop tangible appropriate technologies for their communities.

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Our workshops will continue to provide a platform for problem setting, designing and prototyping entrepreneurial-based ventures.

~ Juliet Wanyiri (Founder- Foondi Workshops)