Who killed our inborn maker culture?

What kind of toys do your child play with? Who chooses those toys for your child? Kenya Universities today, over 50,000 Engineering students graduate annually but how does this translate to actual productivity? This is no different from most African countries. Very little manufacturing is taking place locally and this has contributed to among other reasons, lack of practical experience in our education system. Most graduates are not confident enough to try to make things but instead would prefer explaining the theoretical version of how those things work. Growing up in the rural Africa was the most exciting experience one would want to have a taste of. Kids in these regions had no choice but to decide their own happiness by building their own playing toys. The resources were so scarce, and the urban life was just a fantasy.

I grew up in the rural parts of Western Kenya region of Africa and this was my story too. When I joined school, the entry level was tested by children being asked to fold their hands over the head to touch the ear on the opposite side. The school was far enough and so as a little boy I had to rely on joining older people to walk to school. Some of the classwork, I remember at my early days included drawing sketches; we were taken out of the classroom to the bare ground to draw on. Others included moulding toy domestic animals, houses, cars and other household items. As I was growing much older and experienced, my peers and we started building things which mattered to us. I could spend many hours making toy cars using wires, or tangle – a plant bearing lots of rounded fruits which we were using as wheels. At some advanced level, were able to build a locally made wheelbarrow-like bearing automobile using waste materials. These equipment could be used for transportation of farm harvests to stores, enjoying the rides at no costs, or ferrying water which was fetched a distance away.

While sent to a shop, I could use my Nyangee – a hand-made ring-shaped transport equipment rode by tapping on it to roll on the ground while the rider runs chasing it just like you can roll a car tire. On this journey, you could hear me reciting the items I have been sent as sukari kwota, majan gi change – meaning 1/4kg sugar, tea leaves and the balance until I reach the shop. This was to ensure that I get to the shop faster and to avoid detraction by my friends on the way. When I reached upper primary level, I met more related lessons which pushed us into more making. They included Art and craft where we had to build musical instruments, do mosaic, stitching among others but that seemed to an end. Going to high school, there wasn’t much practical subjects even though as an individual, I remained interested in making and repairing things


My life took a different angle when I became a community social worker fighting Gender Violence and promoting children rights. I remember one day when I was working at a child care center and the Irish volunteer lady bought LEGOs for the kids; this became my biggest duty playing with kids to help make various toys out of them.

Later while working trying to establish a Gender Violence Recovery Centre (GVRC), we decided to do a survey and I went to the field to collect data. I met and talked to so many girls and young women in their early 20s who were either single mothers or divorcees or married but suffering the Gender Based Violence (GBV). As a social worker, I did not have so much to give other than Counseling and hope. They were in a suffering situation and they needed more. They found themselves in the vicious cycle of poverty. Their spouses who were also very young school drop-outs – men who had turned to drug addiction and beatings due to frustrations. What kind of support do they deserve? They all agreed that they need hands-on skills that would help them generate their own income.

Quoting from Seymour Papert’s The Gears of My Childhood, “What an individual can learn, and how he learns it, depends on what models he has available. This raises, recursively, the question of how he learned these models. Thus the “laws of learning” must be about how intellectual structures grow out of one another and about how, in the process, they acquire both logical and emotional form.” I can relate well my childhood engagement with the challenges we meet today. This inspired me to undertake the Fab Academy (Digital Fabrication Course) which then rekindled the maker-fire in me. This then led to the establishment of FABrication LABoratory Winam – an innovation makerspace where makers can share both tools and knowledge to custom make things they would like while learning too takes place.

Working in Fablab Winam with different makers, learners, professionals and kids have provided me with unique opportunity of seeing how Making and Constructionism learning theories are applicable. But where did the rains started beating us?
Will the efforts of makers who are focused on working with children as well as enabling innovation hubs which are currently fast growing in Africa revive this dying culture? When more young people will get a chance to gain courage to make things in their early lives and walk through their lives with same enthusiasm then we will probably change our story. The maker culture may turn around the economy of our country by encouraging a lot of local manufacturing cottage industries hence reduce the youth bulge crisis facing the government currently. This maker culture can have impact in individual lives as they choose to make their own things rather than calling for technicians for as simple activity as fixing a bulb.