The Making of Oysters & Pearls Makerspace

In January 09th, 2016, I traveled to Gulu for the Annual Robotics Camps that was scheduled to start on January 10, at Gulu High School. I had traveled with my 4 students, and 3 former students had gone their earlier. The camp lasted 2 weeks and had over 80 high school students from about 38 schools, and it consisted of Robotics Class (Beginners), Advanced Robotics and Video Game & Animation class.

Despite meeting new people & learning new stuff, my satisfaction was not in any thing being learnt there. The joy & contentment of being around my former students was sure one of the best moments of my life. Denis, Jacob and Jennifer were all teaching at the camp, and are all graduates of our successful robotics programme at Lira Town College.

They are pursuing higher education at Gulu University and as an alumni there, I took it upon myself to introduce them to my former lecturers. So far so good. But that is not all.

After that Robotics Camp, the founder of Oysters & Pearls Uganda, Ms. Sandra Washburn was keen to take things a bit higher. With equipment from the camp and available office space, a dream ignited to start the first tech hub in Gulu-Oysters & Pearls MakerSpace.

Oysters & Pearls Makerspace

Oysters & Pearls Makerspace is an innovation hub and robotics centre located in Gulu town-northern Uganda. Jacob chose to call it a Makerspace because in his words, “it will be a community centre with tools that enable developers & young people learn, collaborate and build their tech projects.”

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Now, most of us who have heard of Outbox, Hive Colab and other tech hubs in Uganda will say this is copy & paste. I have visited their twice, but sincerely, what these young people are doing there is unique, different and a step forward for a better Uganda.

Right now, the O & P Makerspace is the best place in northern Uganda for developers, students & tech enthusiasts to meet, learn and build great apps and tech projects. They also host a range of events, workshops and trainings.

O & P Makerspace works with schools such as Gulu High School, Sacred Heart Girls S.S, and University students  and provide programming support and best robotics resources for free.

Oysters & Pearls – Uganda is a registered NGO in Uganda and has been working with the blind and visually impaired in Northern Uganda since 2011. In 2013, a program to robotics and advanced computing was developed for the sighted students. In 2015, a community office was opened in Gulu Town to serve a wider audience. Oysters &Pearls -Uganda works closely with several Ugandan partners such as Fundi Bots, based in Kampala, and U-Touch. O & P Makerspace is owned and run by Oysters & Pearls Uganda.

The Team

Oysters & Pearls Makerspace is still small entity, and runs with a small team who all share a common dream. The awesome team consists of Racheal, Jacob, Denis, Jennifer & Francis.

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Initiatives & Programmes:

Oysters & Pearls Makerspace has been involved in quiet many projects that include: Technovation Challenge (Global), Technovation Challenge (Uganda), Science & Technology Innovation Challenge (STIC), Africa Code Week, Gulu University Outreach Programme, Lira Outreach Programme & Special Programming Classes for Gulu youths.

Latest Technology

Oysters & Pearls Makerspace has the latest stuff in technology. They have Rasberry Pi, Arduino kits,  Virtaul Reality tools (Oculus), Android Programming, Scratch, PC Duino,   Smart Phones, USSD, Messaging Platforms, Soldering kits and many others.  Almost 50% of what they have today was not available during my time at Uni. It is great learning from these young ones.

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High Lights:

Throughout my service as a teacher, deep inside me, I have never wanted to betray my public duty to educate tomorrows future generation. For who are we, if we do not nurture tomorrows leaders today? The 3 former students I have talked about here are just a tip of the iceberg. There are many others scattered across the country pursuing different ambitions. Those who have chosen to contribute to this country through education, hard work and honest living. Many others.

I like the fact that Oysters & Pearls Makerspace  is a truly inclusive  place, supporting disabled persons, young women and old persons. According to  Jacob, they have a plan to fully integrate the blind & visually impaired students at Gulu High School & Ngetta School for the Blind into their robotics programme. This will the first of its kind in East Africa, will no doubt be applauded by numerous rights activists in Uganda and beyond.

This is a lesson to many of Uganda’s youths, that you should make a decision to focus on learning valuable tech skills, as a result of your own “intelligent choice” for a better future. These 3 have easily found “an opportunity to use their education” not only to liberate others, but also place themselves in the service of humanity (and Uganda).

With support of Dr. Benedict Oyo, I feel contented that Robotics projects have been accepted at Gulu University as final year projects in the Department of Computer Science.

As Charles Onyango-Obbo says, technological citizens are emerging. It may be too late for most of the current Uganda population, who still carry some of the old habits. But the little ones, those are the future. And that should be our focus.

The Future

A wide range of people believe that hubs represent a genuinely new and exciting model for supporting tech entrepreneurs. Considering, the long time I have spent with these young guys at Oysters & Pearls Makerspace, I believe they will no doubt have a commercially viable project by close of this year. It may be web application, android app, business model, open source project, Ugandan papers or whatever. All of them are accomplished achievers amongst their age mates.

I also believe that will disrupt the tech landscape in Uganda because at 23, 24 their best years are ahead of them. The future is bright.


Oysters & Pearls Makerspace




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‘Penalised’ In Primary, Privileged In University: East Africa Education Spending

August 21, 2016

WITH the youngest demographic profile in the world, African governments are doing well to invest a significant amount of resources in the education sector.

Universal primary education became a priority in the past decade and a half, driven by the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), and progress on this front has been laudable. There has also been significant progress in expanding access to secondary and tertiary education.

But the education spending disparity through the levels raises some questions. In East Africa, for example, governments spend an average of $57 per primary school pupil, and $127 per secondary school student.

At tertiary level education spending is more than ten times higher, at a mean of $1,493 per student, but even this masks huge disparities among countries – Tanzania is the clear outlier, spending an average $4,391 per university/college student.

The inequity in resource allocation is clearer when you consider that it is just a tiny minority of people who make it to higher levels of education in the first place. It East Africa, it is only about 5-7% of the six and seven-year-olds eligible for the first grade of primary school in any year that will eventually graduate from university.

Such dismal transition rates means that it is actually those in the lower grades of education – the bulk of the children in the school system – who are ‘penalised’ by low government spending.

And considering that it is generally those from wealthier backgrounds who will go to college and university, the impact on inequality becomes clearer.


Or as a recent report by the Society for International Development puts it this way: should countries that are unable to provide every child with a quality primary education cover the bulk of costs for students at the tertiary level (which is also the most expensive), considering that they will, for the larger part, come from more privileged backgrounds?

Even worse, data from the Inter-University Council for East Africa (IUCEA) concluded that on average, 56% of students graduating from East African universities lacked the basic and technical skills needed in the job market.

When broken down per student, it emerges that a large chunk of public investment is spent on the tertiary sector, it is worth interrogating what value for money citizens are getting in this respect.


New technology in buliisa, uganda!

By Simon Kaheru
A FEW days ago I received a short video clip via WhatsApp that I inadvertently opened almost as soon as it arrived. Normally I let these videos pile up till I have enough time to watch and delete them in a pile.
I was very pleased with this one. In the clip, a young fellow was manipulating a ‘wire car’. I put the phrase in quotes because when we were children we had a knack for finding bits of loose metallic wires either from clothes hangers (discarded or stolen) or broken up bits of fencing material, and we made wire cars.
There was always one boy in the neighbourhood who taught the rest of us and kept making modifications every so often without explaining where he had learnt them.
The first wire cars we made used ‘chokolos’ (soda bottle tops – I still don’t know why they were called that) for wheels and we had to squat to push them along. The upgraded wheels were cut out of bits of sapatu (rubber or foam slippers), then the ones above those had chokolo rims inserted into the rubber or foam sapatu.
The next level of tyres were made of metallic wire rims and had rubber tyres made from strips cut from the rubber inners of actual car tyres, wrapped around cuttings of buveera for the off-road variety.
It took us about an hour to fashion a good car complete with steering wheels to drive it as you walked along, axles and even side mirrors and number plates if the materials were available.
In my case that was thirty years before what I saw in this WhatsApp video.
The teenager in the video was operating a ‘wire car’ that was a fully operational excavator! Standing at one end of the truck, he actually had a boom arm lifting the soil carrying bucket an the other end, and drove it round picking and dropping soil!
The amazed onlookers made various exclamations in Runyoro and Luganda, proving its authenticity, and one fellow in overalls walked round the young technician to marvel at his creation.
Eno yagikola nga tatunulidde bu lad bwo!” (He made this without looking at your instructions/manual/readings!) exclaimed one fellow.
The commentators even knew the parts of the excavator such as the “boom” and “circle drive” (I had to google to learn them).
“New technology in Ngwedo, Buliisa!” another declared, before my favourite by one who was as overwhelmed as I was: “Eh! I love Uganda, allo!”
I can only guess that the young man had probably spent time observing some road construction for a while and worked out a way of replicating the truck.
Sadly, I am not sure if there is a village called Ngwedo (thats what it sounded like) in Buliisa, and whereas I will ask people at the district to find the young fellow, I fear success may be limited.
This is the type of chap that needs to be located, nurtured and supported to take his technical prowess to a level of global commercial proportions. Not only could he set up an entire industry of local toy manufacturing, if a wise entrepreneur funded him, but perhaps he could enhance technical education by becoming a trainer (NOT a student) at our institutions.
The automatic steps some would take would be to place him into a school or university, but without proper planning there is a high chance that his creativity and innovation would be stifled there.
How else can you explain the existence of so many qualified Engineers, some with Masters Degrees and Doctorates, with so few wire truck excavators of this nature?
In fact, this chap would most likely be the type to create a host of technical solutions in agriculture, manufacturing…you name it!
Simply by observing and trying things out.
And rather than pick him up and out of his village in Buliisa, we (you, me, an entrepreneur, a university, the government…) should pick up from people like Emmanuel Angoda and implement what he is seeking Ushs65million for.
Emmanuel Angoda is a teacher of ICT who has been at work in Lira Town College for the last five years teaching, training and mentoring young people in his chosen field of ICT.
I have not spoken with him yet but find him heroic for many reasons: over the years I have noticed his name popping up quite humbly in professionally elevated circles because of his noble work. His students have won Awards at the Annual Communication Innovation Awards, they have stood out during ICT and Academic events and also Science Fairs.
This week, he sent out an email unveiling his dream of setting up an ICT innovation hub in Lira Town, called Walktrack Innovation Hub, in which his partners are some of the said students. The cost of setting up that dream is only Ushs65million. That is 1,000 times less than the cost of tarmacking one kilometre of road, which process probably spurred the innovation of the Buliisa technician.
Seriously, people, read his blogpost here:
If we had a hub like Angoda’s in every district, imagine how many times we would hear the exclamation, “I love Uganda, allo!”
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