Creating a Vibrant Community “Fundi Space” One Step at a Time
Left to right- Samson Kasozi, Linz Craig, William Odokonyero, Arnold Ochola and Cathy Tushabe
On the first of September seven people wearing black shirts gathered at a particular residence across the Northern Bypass from Kamwokya, in a section of Kampala, Uganda called Kyebando. On other days when this group of people would gather at the residence they would convene around humming motors, glowing lights and communication devices silently speaking in strange coded languages across distances. Soldering irons were wielded with authority, sand paper and saws caressed roughly hewn wood grain revealing ingeniously crafted dreams hidden, not within the materials, but within the minds of these seven people. The activities were largely accompanied by an intangible atmosphere of excitement and camaraderie on those other days, but that atmosphere paled in comparison to the energy that was present on the first of September.
There was a lot to move
On this day there would be no discussion of electronic circuits, no hammering on prototypes nearing completion, no sketching of designs to convey a particularly ornery aspect of a design. The group was moving their tools and meeting space to a larger, more central location. Most importantly, to one man, out of the house of the founder and into a much larger space with room for community workshops, a proper mechanical workspace and, most importantly, a visible presence that will serve as a beacon for young Ugandans interested in joining the leagues of technological pioneers.
Samson, almost done dis-assembling the electronic wheelchair prototype
There were jubilant exhalations as the electronic wheelchair was disassembled, tools were crammed into cardboard boxes and load after load was hoisted to shoulder and carefully (or not so carefully) walked down the flight of stairs for staging in the living room. The staircase overlooked the neighbor’s backyard where a larger than normal trash fire raged, reaching over the twelve foot wall towards the heavens. A fitting juxtaposition of one of mankind’s oldest technologies next to this house of dreams and components. Beaming radiant smiles at each other, the participants emptied desk, cupboard and room, categorized resistors, dremel bits and microcontrollers, man-handled furniture and finally, swept the dust from the empty room with slow, wistful broom strokes. The dust they had tracked in over the years. The room that had birthed devices, imparted knowledge and served as the epicenter of their fledgling group was now just that, an empty room. The jokes, the mounting store of information, moments of puzzlement, inspiration and insight would no longer be constrained to the single bedroom, but allowed to stretch in a space eight-fold larger.
Arnold and William mid-unloading the truck
There was a hired truck. It was swiftly filled with everything but the 3D printer, laptops and some bottles of water. This other precious hardware was clutched in the laps of those that followed in an SUV. The truck lumbered on dirt roads, complete with triumphant Samson, the group’s head mechanical engineer, riding perched on top of the cargo in the back of the truck, surveying the Ugandan landscape as it made its way to the new location.
Post-move relaxation, Samson searches for tools
Unloading took a total of seven minutes. I know because I timed it mistakenly by taking footage of the inside of my pant’s pocket for the duration. The new Fundi Space is on the second floor. There was the accumulation of multiple years worth of equipment and hardware. We had been packing and moving for five hours beforehand. Unloading the truck and moving everything into the new space took seven minutes from the time the lock was first taken off the door to when the last box was placed in center of the space and I finally realized I had left my phone’s video camera running.
Overlooking the streets of Ntinda, Kampala outside of the new Fundi Space
Overcome with wonder and subdued now that the move was done, the Fundis danced, sat, joked and Samson, always a source of strength and energy, unpacked the wheelchair, found tools amid the mess and commenced to reassemble the prototype. Food was run from a local restaurant. Naps were taken. Some time was spent on the balcony, which lacks a railing, overlooking the streets outside. Victor, the lab manager and I imagined a future with DIY solar cell testing and automated greenhouse prototypes littering the balcony. Solomon made a speech and the enormity of what was happening probably escaped us all.
In the weeks that followed the move, despite the lack of furniture, there were many late nights in the Fundi Space
It’s a couple weeks later. As I write this post my cohorts clean windows, work on the wheelchair prototype, write code in Processing and mop the floors in preparation for our first official workshop in the space tomorrow. This is how change occurs. By moving one box at a time. By broadening the horizons of one mind at a time before moving on to the next. By focusing completely on the task at hand. All the while accompanied by joyful conversation, puzzlement over non-functional code, the sound of power tools and the persistent smell of sawdust.
Sometimes these things start with one man- Solomon King works diligently in a nascent Fundi Space