Open for biz!

29 06 2018

The construction work at Bugembe is finished: walls are up, verandah on, floors are poured and the temporary roof is on.

Why the temporary roof? Because we wanted to use the classrooms before the second story is put on the classroom block. The school is growing so fast!

The slab roof needed for the second floor will not happen anytime soon and we decided when we began this project to use the lessons we learned on building Nanso, our first school and build it room by room. So while the current temporary roof looks very patchwork, it was very cost effective and does the job. (Plus it’s using recycled materials!) This class is a huge upgrade in space for the grade 1s who are currently packed into one wooden makeshift room and really need two, not to mention it is a safe and weather-proof structure to learn in… The teachers and students are very eager to move in and will do so this week as soon as the chalk boards dry!

They grade 1s will be next door to the classroom we built last year which is currently occupied by 84 grade 2 students (and one teacher!). Good thing we made this room a double classroom anticipating a real need for space! Eventually there will be two rooms for each grade, but in the meantime this is how it is. Teachers are used to these class sizes and somehow have excellent classroom management despite the challenges of these numbers. Still, it’s not an ideal learn environment and it was addressed in the school design. Change is coming!

The next class to be built will be on the opposite side of the grade 2 class, which will be the corner room on the classroom block. So this school is designed to be shaped like an “L” on this side much like Nanso.

We spent some time discussing the plans with the future makerspace & computer lab that are part of the plan for this school. The rooms for these purposes are built now and located on the second floor of of the office block. This was selected during the planning as the most secure location. We were mostly concerned with looking at layout and where the electrical conduit will run before they plaster and seal the inside of the walls in these rooms. It’s really exciting to be building this school to include modern learning spaces and this will be our third of such facilities. However, let’s not rush, we are still at least a year away from this being ready!

Our belief in equity and not limiting opportunity for students in Uganda due to lack of access to facilities and equipment is a big part of this school project. Equipping students with relevant modern skills is vital to progress everywhere, and Africa is no exception. Combined access to education and technology empowers youth to solve problems.

Working on reducing class size is also a significant part of the development plan in place for Our Dad Elementary and one that we are working closely with director Michael to make happen sooner than later.

We are also looking ahead to developing the technology spaces of the school facility to offer access to the community in computer & tech skills training. This was the other reason for choosing to locate this part of the school away from the regular classrooms. We anticipate this after school hours/weekend programming will be aimed at older and out-of-school youth in the community in Bugembe much like the Jinja space.

Quality education opportunity and improvement is one of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (#4) for 2030, which we are proud to say aligns with JCEO’s vision and goals as well. Good things are happening – and it’s thanks to the generosity of donors, volunteers and organizations that believe in our work & support us. Thank you. On this same note, we also really need to thank our families and friends for being such long term (endless) support to us and the work we do with Just Cause. Without a great team on board none of what we do is possible. Thank you to all who have been involved – together what we’ve made happen is pretty amazing & we can’t wait to see what we can do next!


Vision & a vision

27 06 2018

We took teacher John from Nanso Primary to Jinja town to have a proper eye exam. The results were some significant astigmatism in one of his eyes and nearsightedness in both eyes. He really needed eyeglasses and we were happy to help him.

It’s hard to imagine that he has gone for 38 years without seeing an actual eye doctor and tried to find his own glasses which were reading glasses to fix his vision. This was obviously not sufficient so we ordered him the perscription and he happily selected some frames. He was very emotional as he looked at the chart on the wall through the testing machine and again as we left after we placing the order for the glasses. He was clearly very grateful, which wasn’t the point – we can’t picture trying to do our job as teachers without being able to see – that’s just not okay! Alex is going to bring them to Nanso by boat himself on Tuesday next week when they’re ready. The whole part and parcel was about $100 Canadian dollars (exam, perscription lenses & frames) which is way out of reach for the majority of people who need vision correction in Uganda; a sad reality. We are happy we could help and look forward to his big moment next week when he can finally see clearly and look forward to his continued service as a teacher at our school in Nanso. Anyone with eye problems can relate to how big of a deal this day will surely be and what it’s like to get your first glasses! 👓😎

We then headed over to check in with the kids at Hackerspace and found Picavet and Adelaide absorbed in the drone, Shadrach, Hillarious (yup.) and Lawrence revising their robot design and Baker, Ronnie and Pius working away on their current mobile app project. In terms of the app, we knew they had one ready with almost 2 years of ongoing effort, and that they had been working hard to have it ready before we left in the hopes of us getting it up on Google Play for them. So, thanks to a donation specifically earmarked for the J-Robotics students, we were able to make this happen.

You can’t sign up without a credit card so in addition to the financial setback had they been able to somehow come up with the money, they wouldn’t have been able to follow through as credit cards aren’t really an option in Uganda for most. The programming students were pumped to be an official startup biz & offical app developers at last when we hit ‘submit’ on their Google Play Developer account! They will have 2 completed apps posted (both security related – one for shared phones and one for personal phyaical safety) in the next 10 days. We’re proud of them for this initiative and the hard work it took to get to this level. It’s great to help them take this step towards achieving one of their big goals! We’ll share more on their apps as soon as they’re live – they really are quite interesting! In short, both of these apps address concerns relevant to Ugandans and provide solutions to real problems… Created by Ugandan youth. We love this!

The power of passion, community & mentorship

25 06 2018

There were drones, there were robots, videography, photography, interviews, demos, teaching, learning and a whole lot of fun! A day that none of us will forget!

Emma from Malaika Media in Kampala was the person we reached out to that got back to us and helped us with the missing drone parts last week. (This surprised us as it was!) While we were at his office, we invited him to come visit the students, see their diy drone & robotics projects and check out the Hackerspace where we run our programs….and asked for a flying lesson before the students tried on their own! He was actually interested and even offered to bring his professional drone to let the kids fly it for practice and a media crew to document their story! He said it depended on his schedule and we weren’t sure how serious he was… But Saturday night, he messaged us and as it turned out, he was serious and Sunday afternoon was amazing for all of us!

Emma shared his experience with us and let the students fly his Phantom 4 all over the Hackerspace! We were nervous at first because it’s a professional drone and very valuable annnnd these are kids…. with no experience… We were kind of shocked that he just handed the controls over to them with confidence after brief instructions. They had no problem catching on and were airborne almost instantly! All we could say while seeing this go down was “OMG this is actually happening right now!” (It’s pretty impressive to watch this thing fly)

Watching Emma interact with the team and seeing their faces as they listenex to him and then got to take flight was just amazing for us to sit back and watch. Many of the students took an interest in the sweet camera and video equipment that Michael from Malaika Media was using to shoot the scene and got to ask him lots of questions and check out his gear too. Also very cool for them as it was some very new high tech equipment they had never seen! Double win!

So the day was what we have been striving to find to give to our students – authentic experiences, real people, and skilled mentorship, from Ugandan role models and professionals. We want to see them both encouraged and inspired. It’s just so difficult to find here, so this connection gave far beyond a drone flight!

Emma and his crew took interviews with many of the students and us. They listened and documentated the story of Just Cause Education Outreach and the individual journies of our students over the last 3 years with our programs and with the Hackerspace. We shared the connection between our organization, Johnny and Hacker’s For Charity and how together we’ve been able to empower kids with technology programs both in the Hackerspace and outside in the surrounding regions – places where youth have minimal/no exposure to technology and how it can help them reach new potential and futures. We know that all the youth here really need is access and opportunity and they have the interest, drive and talent to develop tremendous skills in STEAM fields. They want to learn and are very aware that tech can leapfrog development in their country.

It was moving to see the kids have the chance to use their voice and we were so proud at the things they spoke about during their interviews. (Of course we were eavesdropping the whole time) Blessing was great at getting the kids to speak freely!

Some of the things we heard were along these lines:

What does technology mean to you?

“It means a better future with skills that I can use to get a job or start a business”

“I’m not interested in football like most so for me technology means my passion”

“Technology will mean progress for my country and the ideas I can create come from it”

What is your message to girls your age with technology?

“That we need them to be involved”

“They have very many ideas”

Why do you like working with this type of equipment/place?

“Because it makes me think and I get to use topics I learn in science and math classes”

“This place gives us opportunities and skills that we can’t learn in our regular school”

It’s not often that those students with a passion for technology get the chance to shine and have a captive audience who can “talk shop” so this was a very special day. They asked tonnes of questions about drones and how to approach their project that actually by the end of the day meant they could actually get their quadcopter project in motion! What a great day!

They also got to show off their current projects with robots and app development. While they continued flying Emma’s drone around, Emma was absorbed in driving their VEX bot around the place. It was a fun exchange to watch!

Malaika Media is going to produce a video from the interviews and footage they took during the visit and share the photos with us so we can share our story in a way we haven’t before! We are so proud of the kids and very thankful to Emma, Blessing and Michael for their time and mentorship and for coming all the way to Jinja to hang out with us! We still can’t believe our luck in this connection with these awesome people!

The Fusbots & Sera’s Caring Place

24 06 2018

Yesterday we spent the morning out at St. Mathius Kalemba Secondary School, home of our Nazigo Makerspace and the Fusbots Robotics team. We wanted to congratulate the students on their amazing performance as rookies at the GISU Tech competition in Kampala in May and hear all about it, let them demo their bots and show us their medals! They were ready and waiting for us as soon as we pulled in as they were watching for our car from the back window of the makerspace/computer lab! We knew they were also very eager to see if we had come through with the replacement parts they needed for their VEX bots because they had no working motor controllers since competition. Thanks to Just Cause’s amazing ongoing support from Karthik Kanagasabapathy and VEX Robotics we were able to hook them up with not only the motor controllers but lots of new and exciting upgrades and parts like speaker modules and new sensors, gears, motors, metal and fasteners….as well as 3 laptops! The students had somehow managed to make do with just one laptop for all of their maker projects and competition bots this whole year which meant theirs Arduino hardware control project, VEX robot, Lego Sumo, Lego Line all had to be coded on one machine and rotated around during competitions and exhibitions. They somehow pulled it off and even won 2 silvers and 2 bronze medals at the Kampala competitions. They lit up as soon as they saw the 3 bubble wrapped rectangular objects we had as we unloaded the car… 😉

Their work and progress in less than a year since we established and began to equip their makerspace is amazing! The independent learning that they have done, just like what we saw in Jinja with the students we work with there is nothing but inspiring to us! They are so passionate about the projects they are working on and as they shared their ideas for the next event happening in December we knew that the laptops and the new equipment was definitely in the right place. After some demonstrations and many storys about the ups and downs of the competition we had a good conversation about the schedule for this year, and what they could improve on. They immediately identified that they need to be more prepared and organized if they are to be successful in competing and they also identified on their own that using C to program would allow them greater flexibility, skills and control as well as relevant knowledge for their futures or in higher education than drag-n-drop software.

After a team photo and a lot of selfies (as usual with the Fusbots kids!) we were off back to Jinja for the afternoon program.

Now back to Jinja for the afternoon… Three of our founding members, now J-Robotics alumni/mentors, Ronnie & Picavet & Baker, and one of our senior students Lawrence, have eagerly taken on new roles with us in an effort to sustain the J-Robotics team and to continues support and access to the Hackerspace. The bi-monthly outreach will involve them returning to their own elementary schools in town to deliver tech programs like we modeled and tested out for them at Nanso this week. We have put together a 6 session package for them to use and have been working with them on teaching, organization and program design skills. This will begin in July.

This afternoon was the start of our weekly 2 hour “STEAM Saturday” sessions at the Hackerspace in Jinja. A large group of over 50 young people live with an amazing young woman named Sera. The children range in age from 3-22 but most are in the 10-16 range. These children are all in school and live at Sera’s Caring Place in Buikiya and came to live there as a result of being runaways, orphans, abandoned or from homes that were unsafe situations. We have visited them several times and knew Sera through Alex very well.

He knows all of these kids and has worked with them for years, many finding this home thanks to his efforts. When we met with Sera’s kids back in December to put out feelers as we wanted to grow our outreach and team access in the area, they were so interested and had so many, many insightful questions after watching videos, that we had extended them the possibility if they were still interested upon our return in the summer months, to come check out the Hackerspace. in technology and hearing about what we were doing with young people in Jinja when we met with them in December. With the leadership and enthusiasm to run programming on their own, we had prepared well in advance this year at home for this STEAM Saturday program to happen with the J-Robotics leaders. Thanks to tremendous donation from VEX Robotics made possible by long time JCEO supporter, robotics expert & STEM advocate Karthik, we have 3 brand new (giant!) VEX IQ kits & equipment to get this program going! In addition we have the 3 Lego robot kits from team 4525 over the last 2 years to work with so we were set to host 18-24 kids with an intro to robotics, programming and STEAM!

We went out the night before to deliver school supplies, books and footballs to Sera’s kids at their home and had a great visit with them. We also took this time to re-extend the offer and see if they were still interested. Of course we had already made the arrangements with Sera, knowing this was a for sure go, but the kids did not know and we wanted to hear it from them that they wanted to proceed…and WOW did they ever! They all started talking at once and it was a pretty special moment. They told us they wouldn’t sleep that night because they could not stop thinking about it! These kids never have the chance to do much outside of school and chores and their hours of boredom was something Sera often expressed concern for throughout the years we have known her. So, Sera was thrilled when we offered this opportunity to her children. Beyond the science, math and engineering skills they will gain, the problem solving, critical thinking, responsibility and teamwork aspects of the program are huge benefits to them.

Watching Sera’s kids engage in technology for the first time and seeing the J-Robotics students step up as leaders and mentors to younger students made us step back so many times throughout the 2 hour (which really became closer to 3 hours) session. The amount of teaching and learning happening was incredible! We had 8 junior J-Robotics kids in their robot build program with Lawrence, the 20 STEAM Saturday kids learning to follow instructions and how robot parts connect with Ronnie and Picavet and 4 veteran members learning to use Android studio with Baker. In addition we had 3 little siblings of Sera’s kids building a Lego Duplo masterpiece all at the same time! Including us and Sera and her helper Peter, we had over 40 people in action at the same time at the Hackerspace! It was a hive of activity and….well, just AWESOME!

We all can’t wait for next Saturday!

It doesn’t get better than this!

24 06 2018

This project is incredible. And incredibly DIFFICULT. We have been working with kids in Canada and the kids in Uganda to see if it is possible to develop a system where we can control one another’s robots from overseas. The idea came about during one of our many online Skype and Google Hangout events between the students in both countries as a “hey guys WHAT IF…..” and it got everyone thinking… It also was a great solution to the access problem to competitive robotics opportunities for international locations that may be able to get equipment and mentorship but cannot afford to travel.

Our Ugandan teams are very restricted by their location and there is minimal opportunity to have a equal experience in competitions that students in the west and at International Schools worldwide are able to be a part of. There are so many other kids worldwide who miss out on these kinds of experiences so we really wanted to push this one and pursue it for the potential it could bring to students everywhere. The Ugandan students were all in with this as they could completely relate to these very limitations, and the Canadian kids have become friends with the Ugandans over the years and have been responsible for most of the online competitions and curriculum development but know the chances they actually can compete beyond what they already have are small. Both groups were as a result, invested in this project and our Ugandan students took the lead.

After 2 years of talking about this, researching and learning about how it could be done, a lot of “it won’t work” or “it’s too difficult” from many “experts”, we made a big push back in December to challenge the kids to get it going and try and see if we could do something by June….After the last 3 consecutive days/nights of trials and trouble, IT WORKED!!!! The Ugandan kids controlled the Canadian robot from Uganda and the Canadian kids controlled the robot in Uganda! “We created an app, called “Arina” using Android Studio which then communicates via an interface in a Java built Apache Tomcat Server system”, according to project lead and developer Abubaker Katalo. The teams’ next step is to make it work as a two way live control system so that both groups can control the others robot at the same time. The decision to use Lego Mindstorms, both EV3 and NXT was made because of how world-wide this product is and the number of existing teams in various robotics programs that could potentially be connected.

It is so remarkable that these kids have figured this out all on their own by researching, asking questions and testing out their own ideas and theories. They have really honed their coding skills with the countless hours spent at the Hackerspace and they certainly do not have any doubt they will succeed in taking this project to the next level and following through with initial idea fully. We love the collaboration that has happened and the moment of success is one that none of us will forget. It was some serious maker magic!


STEAM comes, spiders go!

24 06 2018

The construction work at Nanso is complete and the roof is secured and the classroom walls are much improved. The water is hooked up and working once again. All that we had to do still was bring the exterminator out to spray the school for the spiders that had infested the roofline and remove the bats that were inside the school. Once these bats are out they won’t be coming back because we have sealed all of the open gaps in the roof now.

The students were writing their beginning of term exams in all classes so it was a good day for this to happen because they were only in school for the morning. The afternoon was going to be full school activities. So, we decided to try out a STEAM program with the new teacher, John and all of the grade 5, 6 and 7 students while the 1-4s had sports in the afternoon. This left the school vacant so that the bat removal and insecticide could be sprayed without having kids in danger.

We borrowed an amazing “Little Bits Workshop Kit” that Johnny, the Hackers for Charity founder had brought to the Hackerspace but that had not seen any action as of yet. This is a really simple snap-together magnetic kit that teaches kids to build many different concepts and inventions of their own. We were familiar with the product as we have used our own smaller kits many times for outreach days but this one was enough for a LOT of kids.

Together with the classroom teacher and our man-of-every-role Alex, we came up with some curriculum links that would reinforce prior learning and current learning for the students in their Science and Mathematics classes. Teacher John had told us that the technology component of the curriculum is something they only briefly talk about as there is no equipment and the concepts are beyond the kids since they have zero exposure out in this remote village. We all saw this as an opportunity to change that and we created a two hour session that introduced the concept of “what is a circuit”, input, output and control/sensors and their teacher made all kinds of links to their curriculum in the areas of body systems, feedback, reactions, motion, electricity, light and sound. He was terrific to work with as he caught on so quickly to how the technology worked and identified the areas it crossed over into his teaching. It was true collaboration between educators with different expertise and a great first time with team-teaching at Nanso.

The kids were very afraid at first to touch the equipment and just looked at the parts. This surprised us as usually we are trying to get students to hold on until all instructions are given so that they don’t break anything or they end up not really understanding what they are doing or how it works. It would really surprise you to see the lack of emotion and general confusion and legitimate fear from the kids as to what was happening because having hands on equipment has just absolutely never happened for these kids. We knew we would have to adjust our “open-ended” and “inquiry” model of teaching in this intro lesson as the school is very rote and very, very structured and that style of learning and teaching needs to happen gradually in this context. We wanted to work with the teachers and not impose ourselves and take the best of both and make something successful today. So after some group guidance and subtle gradual release of responsibility, we saw the students finally engage. Soon, there was a rainbow of lights and buzzers sounding and fans spinning and wheels turning all over the classroom and the initial fear and hesitation from the kids became intrigue and awe!

They were pretty quiet because they were mesmerized and most definitely engaged. It was just a very different reaction than working in a North American context with the very same equipment. The debrief with the teacher we worked with was very positive and eye opening and we really were impressed with how well he worked with us to make sure the students were understanding and connecting the activities and challenges we gave them to their classroom learning.

The spiders are no more and neither are the bats! We are very happy about the improvement to health and sanitation once more at the school and the students were very happy, especially the very little ones who were afraid of the corners of their classrooms. Before we departed, we had a staff meeting with the teachers and did an inventory of all of the school equipment. The teaching staff were overjoyed that we had managed to locate all but one of the curriculum documents and teaching guidebooks for the subjects and classes that were missing. Since there was no P7 before this year we were able to bring the full set of books for that as well as the PLE (Primary Leaving Examination) student preparation and review books. We also delivered the mandatory “Literacy 1-3” books to the lower years primary teachers which the government education inspector had demanded to see in the February inspection but that we did not have. So all is well at Nanso and we are pleased with the progress and how far they have come in improving the quality of the education of the children.

Our last bit of work will be an eye exam and getting proper glasses for the new teacher John, who is struggling so badly with his vision. He needs to be able to see to do his job and he is managing, but it is very difficult. We have an appointment to bring him in to a good eye doctor in Jinja and will be going ahead from there to see what we can do to help him.

Quadcopter Quest in Kampala

22 06 2018

We spent the better part of Tuesday morning on a traffic ridden drive to Kampala on a mission. This was because unfortunately, the drone kit contained ask the parts except the propellors!!! So the students working on this hit a major road block and were feeling pretty disappointed!

We of course got online to try and solve this problem but our attempts to locate any place that sells drone parts were futile. This is just not a hot ticket item in Uganda…. Who knew? Still no solution. But then we came up with one other possibility, contacting aerial photography companies and pleading our sob story…. We sent emails to 4 different companies and got a response from one – within ten minutes of sending it! One of the drone pilots, Emmanuel, from a media company in Kampala “Malaika Media”, said he would help us, we just had to come there to meet him in Kampala.

So we did, and sure enough he had 4 routers that with a bit of diy adjustment for attachment, would fit our machine! Not only that, he had even posted on his quadcopter group channels for us to see if anyone had closer fits just in case we got there and his weren’t going to, so he had a lead all ready for us of a drone pilot also in Kampala, selling some propellors that he thought were closer. So then, we made arrangements to meet to check them out.

Well this guy turned out to be so enthusiastic and excited that students were doing up a DIY quadcopter that he spent a solid 45 minutes with us…. giving all kinds of instructions, suggestions and examining our half built drone and all its parts on the back of Alex’s car on a dirt road in Kampala!

We invited both of these drone experts to come help the kids learn to fly theirs and they both were really into it! So we made arrangements for them to meet the students in Jinja this weekend for a flying lesson with their drones and some testing and trouble shooting and teaching of some safely protocols as well.

We went to two book stores to locate the missing curriculum documents, teacher guides and updated “Primary Leaving Examination” review and preparation books for Nanso. They did not have P7 until this year so we had not previously purchased any of the books for these classes and there were a few that we had not been able to find in previous years so we tried to get again. This was a quick success and we were in our way back to Jinja.

When we returned, we immediately went to the Hackerspace where Ronnie, Picavet and Baker were so surprised and so pleased that we had gone through this effort for them and that out worked out! When we were sending the emails out Picavet was not very hopeful anything would come from it. The students are all are really looking forward to now finishing the project and having flying lessons from professional drive pilots! We love the mentorship connection we made from this initalally very deflating situation of missing parts that were impossible to buy here!