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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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