A self-powered maker box for refugees
over 6 years ago by decaturmakers
Which problem are you trying to solve?
Refugees need a sense of agency and control of their lives since they left their home country. They are also a highly
mobile population which would benefit from a sustainable and low cost power source
How are you going to solve the problem?
Rather than making something that others think will meet their needs, we will create a self-powered maker box which
contains tools and materials so that refugees can make whatever they want and need.
What is the impact of your project?
Physical needs of refugees are recognized, but less attention is given to promoting creativity and imagination. Tools
for inventing and building give hope and help community members realize potential
How can the project be manufactured in the OpenLab?
The box itself needs a strong simple design, given that it must be self contained, portable, and hold many different
items. Some of the materials such as gears, wheels, etc. could be made there, too.
Describe your project in detail
We propose to build a custom maker box with a goal of providing materials and tools for refugees to create and build
whatever they want. It will be of value to anyone, but we will especially focus on fostering hope in younger refugees.
Refugees have typically had to leave their homes and belongings behind, and they need a sense of agency and control of
their lives. The box will inspire and empower them to build something that solves a problem, to share their creations
with others, and to explore their creativity and imagination as they design and invent new things. The benefits are
both immediate (e.g., mental well-being, fostering spirit of independence and ingenuity) and long-term (e.g.,
recognition and development of transferable skills). For children, the development of skills during formative stages of
their development are critical and irreplaceable. As such opportunities for the development of capacities (including,
but not limited to, eye-hand coordination, spatial awareness, and pattern recognition) that comes from building and
creating cannot be overstated.
The precise contents of the box is still being determined. We imagine something
that’s not too large, but will have a wide variety of materials and a curated selection of tools to make things. The
box may be filled with gears, wires, motors, small hand tools, low power electronics, needle, thread, rechargeable
batteries, LEDs, rubber bands, wheels, zip ties, duct tape, electrical tape, velcro, glue, switches, art supplies, etc.
It will also have some sample projects which are described in purely pictographic fashion, so as to transcend the
ever-present challenge of many languages in refugee communities.
We expect that one of the sample projects will be a
switchable LED light. This is something that we often take for granted, namely the ability to generate light in the
darkness. It may be dimmable to allow for various uses (e.g. saving power and using as a nightlight vs turning it up
all the way to look for something in a dark area).
Not all the projects in the box will require power, but for those
that do, we propose to include a small power generator with each maker box. The power generator would not be designed
for large consumption, but rather to provide, for example, a 5v source that is typically used for electronics projects.
Such a source of power can also charge a small device like a cell phone or tablet.
We anticipate that power itself may
not be easily available, so we intend to use something more readily accessible in almost any location, namely
temperature differences and/or mechanical energy. In particular, there are heat gradients near fire, so we plan to
include a Peltier (or other similar thermoelectric device) as a raw power source. For mechanical energy generation, we
may develop a simple crank charger. And of course, we have not ruled out the use of solar powered photovoltaics. These
methods are not the most efficient, but they use simple and available sources of energy, which is important given the
design requirements that refugees live in low resource communities. We will endeavor to include some way to store the
generated power, such as a rechargeable battery.
The box itself along with many of the components can be fabricated
at Olab Hamburg. The design of the box is important. It needs to be secured, and also portable. In addition, it needs
to hold a wide variety of materials, so it may need several compartments, drawers, specialized clips to secure certain
items, etc. In fact, the box itself may be used as material for a project that the refugee makers decide to build!
Some of the materials such as gears, wheels, linkages, etc. could be made at the FabLab, too.
Another sample project
which we would like to include is a stuffed animal project. Something that really helps a child after a trauma is a
‘sleeping buddy’ or stuffed animal. They give the children a sense of security, and even ownership if they make it
themselves. Sewing can be seen in multiple cultures, and it is a wonderful talent to have in the long term. If we give
the children felt or cloth, needles, stuffing, and some thread, they can learn how to sew, and as a result of having
that talent, they can sew their own sleeping buddy.
Our proposed maker box has some parallels with a recently
introduced “Art-in-a-Box” gift option that is available through UNICEF USA’s Inspired Gifts Program. It is also
called the Adolescent Kit for Expression and Innovation, https://inspiredgifts.unicefusa.org/gifts/art-box). This art
box is UNICEF’s first created kit “to provide adolescents with an outlet for creative expression to help overcome
their trauma” and offer “guided activities proven to promote psychological healing through art, cultural traditions,
problem solving, experimentation and innovation.” Our proposed maker box has several parallels to this tool and we
believe that the opportunity to build and be creative is invaluable to all people, and especially adolescents and
children. In addition to the known therapeutic benefits which arise from the creation of personal expression via art,
the maker box will add additional tangible benefits since the people will be able to design and build things that have
functional value in their lives, too.
At Decatur Makers, our core values are to Build, Share, and Explore. People in
our community create, tinker with, and invent things in both the physical and digital worlds. Our community is
entrepreneurial and innovative. We love to learn new things and teach people what we know. We share our knowledge with
classes, intergenerational mentorships, and informal social collaborations. We are curious and creative. Sometimes what
we make serves no practical purpose except the pleasure of creating. It may be art or just doing something for fun. We
also want to explore and understand the world around us by using science, mathematics, engineering and technology.
These core values enrich our lives and we believe that the lives of refugees can also be enriched by making. The
proposed Maker Box helps to remove the simple barrier of tools and materials, and opens up the opportunity for children
and adults to fully realize their own personal potential.