Design-a-Thon with Bamboka Andrew in Kawempe, Uganda.

I was excited to work with Bamboka Andrew and his schoolmates and to see how they would experience the Design-a-Thon process and what kind of ideas they would have. Our theme for the workshop was ‘To Overcome’ with the plan to look at some inspirational stories and inventions and then through a series of design worksheets and a great collection of making materials to allow each child to come up with an invention which would help them overcome some daily challenge they themselves experience.

Andrew & Collette, classmate. Photo by Emmanuel Museruka

I had read about Andrew’s life story, his families poverty and his handicap of dwarfism, but that still didn’t quite prepare me for just how small Andrew is, he is about the size of my 2 year old neighbour here in Amsterdam, yet Andrew is 11 years old. But Andrew is not phased, he gets on with things and ambles in to the workshop space, so we can all get started.

Andrew at work on his prototype, classmate. Photo by Emmanuel Museruka

The group of children are a little shy, and from their point of view of course some foreigners have just arrived with a photographer and they are not quite sure what to expect. We play a game and then start discussing inventions and challenges in life. Thanks to Kenneth Ngai of Lilliane Fonds and Sekovia whom I met via Action Aid, they help me translate to Luganda where needed and put the children at ease.

As with all children once they got working and thinking about their ideas the atmosphere changes, excitement grows and chatter starts about what their favorite places are, what they (have to) do after school, what their favorite animals are and what challenges they have. 

The children exploring and making.

Again I am taken aback, when the children describe their daily challenges, I see things written on their sheets such as ‘no lunch’, hunger,’ ‘being beaten at home’, ‘sore feet from walking to school’, and then to think that one would be also physically handicapped in an environment where hunger is just around the corner.  

The class and facilitators: Photo by Emmanuel Museruka

Hat’s off to Lilliane fonds working with these children with a very holistic approach, whereby the child gets help at school to be more accepted by both classmates and teacher, gets medical care and physio for their disability and furthermore advice to the family as to how they can help the child be accepted and helped in their community. Lilliane fonds also cover school fees, when needed. And to think that many such children would never even get a chance to go to school at all. 

Bamboka Andrew prototype design: A one person electric vehicle equipped with off the road wheels, lights and an alarm button. Specifically designed to help get him to school on the diffcult roads where he lives. Photo by Emmanuel Museruka

Bamboka Andrew further impressed me by not being satisified with having just lights on his vehicle he wanted a circuit to be able to turn them on and off. So we happily taught him how to work with the wire stripper and create a circuit. Andrew had said earlier that he would like to become a police man, now he also sees options as an electrician or some one who fixes mobiles phones and gadgets, in such a job his small fingers would be an advantage.

This project called ‘To Overcome’ took place in July 2015, thanks to the assistance, from Het Dolhuys Haarlem, Het Liliane Fonds, Kennneth Ngai, Sekovia, Faith Longwe, Tamanda Longwe, Maeve Kuitenbrouwer, Emmanuel Museruka, Ina Conkic and of course all the participanting children. The outcomes of the design process were displayed as part of an exhibition called “The Imperfect Human”, an exhibition to celebrate the 10 year anniversary of the Dolhuys Museum in Haarlem.

‘Designing climate education programs for children and their imaginations in a time of climate crisis’

On the occasion of Professor Tilde Bekker‘s Inaugural Lecture at the Eindhoven Technical University, on June the 10th, 2022, there was a public symposium with talks by myself, Professor Helle Skovbjerg and Rob Tieben under the banner: ‘Design for playfulness and learning – Combining theory and practice’
This is a summary of that talk.

June 10, 2022, Blauwe zaal, University of Techology, Eindhoven

This focus of the talk is the balancing act I and my team @designathon aim to perform between, on the one hand the wonderful imaginations of children; their natural empathy and their need to envision good futures and on the other hand the onslaught of bad news and future scenarios that is the climate crisis. How can we give these children hope or at least agency? The instrument we use to mediate these opposing forces is a design based learning methodology called the Designathon or (design hackathon) engaging children around the world through programs such as the Global Children’s Designathon.

Video impression of the children we work with, in different geographies and the design method, April 2022

A word on the methodology we use, which is based on design thinking and combined with maker education. In each Designathon event, be it in a classroom or global context, the children get informed and inspired on the chosen SDG (UN sustainable development goals) at the beginning of the workshop by sharing facts, the main problems clustered to make it understandable for the children and creative solutions to the problem area. Using their previous and gained knowledge the children in small groups brainstorm solutions to their chosen sub problem. They go on to sketch their ideas, then build models and prototypes and present them to an audience. We have done this for the last 8 years and reached 100,000 children in some 40 different countries across a diversity of cultures and socio economic contexts. In order to make this method available and usable in all these contexts we have an array of adaptable child and teacher friendly learning materials, tutorials and online training and a regular community cafe.

In the most recent Global Children’s Designathon 2022, our annual event, we were asked to tackle Climate Change and have it launch at the COP26 in Glasgow. Whilst we have already designed educational programs on SDG 7, Clean Energy and in 2018 on Deforestation (SDG 12 & 13), topics closely intertwined with environmental degradation, the 2022 edition aimed to tackle the topic of climate change head on. Once we started the designing of the lesson materials, I realised the enormity of this task. Where is the hope for the children’s imaginations to move towards? There is literally no good news, humanity hasn’t reached any of the Paris agreement targets; all the science is telling us that if anything the warming of the earth is proceeding faster than expected. The IPCC 2022 report states:
The scientific evidence is unequivocal: climate change is a threat to human wellbeing and the health of the planet. Any further delay in concerted global action will miss the brief, rapidly closing window to secure a liveable future.

How does one tell youthful curious minds that it’s basically a shit show? That their futures will almost certainly be tormented with extreme weather events, that currently already both animals and children are starving in the horn of Africa due to drought, that the warming of the planet will mean that many birds, insects and animals of which they are in awe may not survive.
What creative question can we honestly propose to the children in the face of these facts? It would have been unethical to invite them to use their imaginations to create and act on small local actions when so much more is needed, or indeed for them to campaign to adults and politicians when Greta Thunberg has been doing just that without the needed change happening.

Breakthrough 1: The first insight after a week of dread was that we could take an education angle. A UNESCO report found that 47% of national curricula globally, make no reference to climate education whatsoever. An education angle would mean posing a creative question such as: ‘What can you imagine and design to educate others about climate change ?’ Or perhaps better “What can you imagine to mitigate climate change and educate others?” In this article from the Global Partnership for Education they state: “Climate Change Education provides one of the most important channels to address inequities and empower children and youth globally as proactive drivers of change” Yet this route, especially in the context of a designathon seemed to expect children to submit and accept that climate criss is their lot.

Breakthrough 1: Next we stumbled on a UNEP’s ‘Generation Restoration’, program with the mission to prevent, halt and reverse the degradation of ecosystems worldwide. By taking this angle we could connect the children to an ecosystem they care about and invite them to imagine it’s restoration and ways to support it. Finally a way forward, a glimmer of hope. The creative question became:
‘How can we tackle climate change through ecosystem restoration?’ using the strategies:
Reimagine how and what we consume; Restore nature; and re-educate ourselves and others.

The wonderful thing about this approach was that it offered paths towards possible and beautiful futures. It spoke to our ability as humanity to work with nature instead of against it.



outcomes hope

Children in Cote d’Ivoire at their Global Children’s Designathon, April 2022

It is imperative that children in the Global South get the chance

While I am through this topic all the more aware of the ethical considerations in helping children to become changemakers in their own right.

I still fully believe in the need and appropriateness of giving children knowledge on these world topics, helping them to cultivate their imaginations, their ability to collaborate, to make, to design, to use technologies.

Include more children speakers at (online) conferences. Some ‘how to’s’ on making it work and keeping it authentic.

Children’s voices are largely missing from debates and conferences, even when they themselves are the subject matter. How can we ensure that more children get to contribute and be heard?
In this post I share lessons learned at Design-athon on how we have included children as speakers in a variety of offline, online and international conferences.

Francis from Tanzania, Nora from the Netherlands and Joppe from Belgium, who spoke at the Cinekid Professionals Festival (online)

Inviting Children, be inclusive
Depending on the time you have and the topic at hand, make a shortlist of children to invite. Three is a good number, if you are making a panel. Aim to have a mix of boys and girls and cultural backgrounds. In the case of the Cinekid Festival we had Francis, 11 years from Tanzania, Joppe, 12 from from Belgium and Nora, 13 from the Netherlands. In the case of the Ashoka Changemaker Summit we had two children, Breno 12 and Mijntje, 11 to join a panel of adults and other young people.

At designathon we work with children, through schools, after-school programs and events we host ourselves in this way we know many children in a variety of contexts who have worked on the Sustainable Development Goalss and thus a variety of topics. If you don’t work with children yourself, reach out to a local school, or a children’s NGO and invite them to propose a child to take part in your event.

Child safety and legal permission
Child safety is paramount, furthermore a legal guardian must give their consent for the child to take part and or have their photo or video published. Typical documents to get signed are a ‘Quit claim’ or ‘Consent form’ It is good practice to limit the publishing of the child’s photo or video to the context of the event or the website of the event organiser.
To further protect children, we only ever publish their first names and age. Don’t include any address or contact details. Do make sure the the child is included in the program lineup with their expertise (not just as a child) For example: ‘Lya 10, Inventor’ The atmosphere and context at the event should also be child friendly.

Practicing with the child/ren
Children, especially the first time they speak are naturally nervous. You can help them by explaining clearly how the session will go, what’s expected of them, how long it will take and encouraging them that people will be eager to hear what they have to say. I often work with an interview format, and discuss the kinds of the things the child would like to tell beforehand and then we role play practice a few times. In general in my work the children are telling about their own invention for an SDG Design-athon challenge they worked on.

Lya, 10, speaking at ‘Youth with Dreams’ (online)

Multiple languages and translating
Many international events are in English, and not all children of course speak English fluently. This doesn’t have to be a problem. You have two main options:

1. On zoom (or other video conferencing tool) you can use ‘closed captioning’ whereby an adult (or teenager) who speaks the language the child speaks plus English, sufficiently well, does simultaneous translation. They type the child’s words as they speak and this appears on screen as subtitles.

2. A translator is included in the panel or video conference and translates what the child says to English immediately after the child has spoken. With a bit of practice this can be done with flow, although it brings a time cost factor with it.

Spontaneity, authenticity
An important reason for including children in debates is because they often are the ones to ‘hit the nail on the head’ about an issue. They ‘tell it like it is’ So while you want to help the child feel confident by practicing or rehearsing. Do also leave time and opportunity for the audience or moderator to ask the child/ren questions. So they can speak their truth, a truth which is so valuable to hear.

Rosa, 7 Amalia, 11 Shira, 8 Tessa, 10 at ‘We Make the City’ (live)

Do you work with children and encourage their inclusion at events and or create opportunities for them to speak and be heard?
I’d love to hear how you make things work or if you have questions, please post them below.

Let’s hear more children’s perspectives on our shared futures.

Kosovo, Creating the Future.

Dafina Morina is working on a prototype which would help blind people to have better access to the Museum of Kosovo, where she works as part of the Designathon Works training in Pristina Kosovo. Dafina is one of a team of curators at the museum in Pristina where they share the cultural artefacts and contribute to developing the identity of a country, which is only 10 years old.

Dafina Morina, photo by Ina Conkic

Thanks to Dr. Dennis and Dr. Julia Watkins, Julia is the former President of the American University in Bulgaria, who connected us (at Designathon Works) with the team at the museum, we spent three days together with, the team of curators and the museum educators, teachers from the European School of Kosovo and children from Pristina.

Most museums presumably share the history of the country and extrapolate to the future. But what if your country was born out of conflict and has been only recently established? What we learn was that the museum see’s it’s role to cretae the future and who better to collaborate with? Children of course. And so we found ourselves, myself and Ina Conkic, sharing our Designathon Works method, working with the children of Pristina and imagining how our design thinking and maker education method could help them achieve their aims.

The first step was to train the educators and museum staff in the method and test it with local children. The first day is all about the adults, through a “Learning by doing’ process, peppered with background infromation and some theory, they design, build and present their own inventions. Myself and Ina were suitably impressed by their technical skills, everyone was comfortable striping wires, connecting motors and constructing their designs. In Holland it usually takes considerably more convincing! In good MakerEd fashion they didn’t want to stop. At the day end reflection the teachers and museum educators shared that they loved the approach and would very much want children in Kosovo to have this learning experience too.

On day two, together we led a group of children through the same process. In groups the children designed and built prorotypes for mobility issues in the city, most chose to tackle either the air pollution in the city, which is quite a problem due to the nearby coal mines, or mobility challenges of the elderly.

The ideas included a smart filter to clean the air of co2 and smog, a special electric vehicle for elderly ladies to go shopping and above you see the happy creators of a hot air ballon to avoid traffic jams.
Now, going forward the next steps are to go through the program options we discussed to see what’s possible and how the museum can continue to create the future with the children of Kosovo.
To be continued!

Seeing the beauty in your students.

As a self-taught teacher I have thought and read a lot about the role of the teacher, and have discovered that something I do well, is to see the good and best in people, to see them as people who can outperform what they are doing and then I speak to that part of them, demand it even.
And they rise to the occasion every time.
As outsiders when we started Nairobits, we weren’t aware of the negative connotations that people from slum areas and backgrounds might have of themselves or each other, so we didn’t speak to them like that but just as young people who of course could be come great web- designers, they just had to apply themselves. Later on I began to apply that belief and expectation consciously.

One is never only where they are born, but is always also all the possibilities and dreams they have too. And if another sees that in you, you begin to belive it for yourself and make it more possible. So education and teachers need to see that part of their students and speak to that part of them in order to illicit it. This applies to small chidlren, teenagers and adults, it’s a universal.
Converse with the better part of someone’s nature, with their aspirations and they will materialise before you.

I found this talk from Victor Fankly, who says the same,
This man survived the holocaust in germany and became a well know pyscho-therapist.