Last month I was in Nigeria for a week with the main purpose of bringing Hackidemia to Maker Fair Lagos. What was supposed to be a single workshop evolved in a trained team of 50 volunteers, 25 participating schools, and 400 trained children in one week. I think the recipe of this week was a very successful one and I shall try to reveal you the magic ingredients below. 1. Always look for connections
After having the opportunity to be the education teaching fellow last summer at Singularity University I decided to work full time on the he Hackidemia project. Many of the former Singularity students that I advised last summer stayed in touch with me and helped me to bring hackidemia to their countries. Some of them like Andre Wegner made a huge effort to find local funding, partners and volunteers. Hackidemia Nigeria would have never been possible without Andre and Joe's help and I really thankful for having the opportunity of meeting them. Many friends, my former boss and even my family were upset with me working non-stop last summer to help the Singularity students succeed with their projects and make a social impact. It turns out that all that hard work created one of the most beautiful communities which has a common goal of positive social impact.
Another interesting geographic connection was the fact that I was going to Nigeria from Brazil and those two countries are historically connected. The Yoruba tribe from Nigeria had a major influence in Brazilian culture and was at the base of Samba music in the colonial period. On the other hand some of the most prominent families in Lagos were Brazilian and there are many similarities in traditions. Unfortunately these days there is no direct flight between the two countries and very little people know about the influence the Nigerian had on the Brazilian culture. So, to get to Lagos I had to fly through Istanbul and after a 24 hours journey hope my visa on arrival request would be approved.
2. Local team goes first
Once I got to Lagos, after many emotions (visa on arrival works!), I went to Andre's house and we made the plan for the week. In a couple of hours we were about to meet and train the local volunteers that Joe recruited in Universities and visit the first schools. I was very tired after crazy Hackidemia sessions in Brazil and the long trip but meeting the volunteers filled my heart with joy. Many young graduates and students came from all across the country to participate to our workshops although we could only reimburse local trips and food.
I was amazed that all of these bright engineers, nurses, sociologist were still looking for a job and were so mild and modest in every gesture. I guess that in the beginning they were a bit surprised that I was a short and skinny girl who wanted to teach them how to solder, program, make conductive dough, robots and electronic jewelry.
The methodology was very simple, they had to practice the exact workshops that the kids would do later the same day and figure out how they would explain what they just learned. I tried to get them out of their comfort zone and show them that it doesn't matter if they don't know something and they could always figure it out together with the kids. I also encouraged them to work in groups and share what they know or what they just figured out by experimenting with each other.
Each volunteer had to take charge on one workshop and pick the activity they liked the most. Like this they would get better and better at explaining it and would become responsible for the whole process of buying and replacing the materials, organizing the tools before and after the activity. We also managed to break a few stereotypes as some girls got interested in learning and teaching soldering although they never done that before.
3. Be curious!
I always wondered how one teaches curiosity... I think that is the best skill that we can pass on to each other and it's a life changer for any person who has it. I realized that curiosity in a group is contagious. Sometimes it is enough to have freedom of action and some examples of good practice in order to get people curious.
I encouraged the volunteers to be curious as much as I could by sending them to the electronics market to explore and find local components, by encouraging constantly to talk and ask questions to people around them, by teaching them how to reply to a question with another question. I knew that this could benefit them immensely once I leave and that they could inspire the children they were training to do the same.
During the Maker Fair I asked them to go and explore the fair and work in shifts with the kids, to try what they never tried before and take every opportunity to learn something new. Some of them surprised me with their will and motivation of learning.
Ifeoma, who was a nurse by training, was the first girl who learned how to solder, went in her breaks to help Olivier with the DIY bio experiments, came in the evening to prepare workshops for second day, was reading any magazine or material I would leave around. She got one of the prizes of the best volunteer and I was impressed and touched by her perseverance and pure motivation of helping the others.
4. The tone makes the music
At the Maker fair there were other stands that had robotic kits for kids but they had very little interaction with the children. One of the main conditions in getting them interested in anything is not to give them a cool gadget but to give them attention and make them believe all their questions are brilliant and they are able to do the most amazing things, because they truly are.
The volunteers observed how I transformed into a kid myself and get super excited every time any child would learn how to do anything. They saw that I would always have patience to explain the same thing in different ways until I was sure my exploration colleagues would have an "Aha! " expression on their face and would be super proud of themselves.
The first thing we are learning from each other in the Hackidemia workshops is not about technology, art or science but about self-esteem and our limitless power of learning from each other. Learning has no age, nationality, sex, social status, we are all gifted to be able to learn from anyone and anything around us throughout our entire life.
5. Opportunity for doing something meaningful
There are 50.000 private schools in Lagos and many of them have no infrastructure for organizing experimenting workshops although they would be willing and able to pay an external team to come once a week and organise these activities with their students. The people organising these paid workshops could use the same materials and make additional free activities for poor public schools and local communities in their spare time.
For the brilliant volunteers I met, this is the perfect opportunity to create their own job and to work on a topic that they like and experiment with kids. Together they can create new solutions for local problems like access to energy or clean water. Like this the kids and young people working with them would learn not only how to prototype new solar panels or generators quickly and cheaply by applying key scientific concepts but they would also see an immediate impact in their local community.
As we have seen at Maker Fair Lagos and many other similar events in developing countries necessity is creating the most outstanding innovations and people just need an opportunity to help themselves. That is why I dream of creating local invention centers which will become social hubs where people of all ages can come and learn how to solve their problems together with their youngest and their oldest. The change belongs to Nigeria and will be made by Nigerians and I feel lucky that I was there to witness it.