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Co-Creating Hands-On, Project-Based Learning Opportunities

Twende will teach our design workshops to refugees, aiming to create modules together for participants to teach others how to 'Build It.'

Photo of Debbie Tien
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What problem does your innovation solve?

The average lifespan in a Tanzanian camp is 14 years because of a lack of income-generating opportunities outside, resulting in dwindling resources and drastic action (e.g. reduced meals). Many great vocational training centers exist, but there is a gap between learning the how of doing and the how of identifying challenges and creating solutions. Additionally, here in Tanzania, government laws prevent the use of national curriculum in refugee camps, preventing effective learning.

Explain your innovation.

The Twende team proposes using our hands-on, project-based, independent workshops. We have been running these workshops for 5+ years to groups of school students and youth/streetchildren/women's/farmer's organizations, reaching 1000+ people in Arusha and nearby villages over the past few years. We focus on asset-based community development through design, creativity, and entrepreneurship workshops. All of our workshops are designed to build creative confidence through sharing examples and pushing participants to identify challenges in their communities and make possible solutions. See photos for some examples. After the workshop, participants tell us how 'We have so many resources we could use that could change our lives; we have assets that we are not using but someone can wake you up, and make you realize that you have gold and silver, stop crying.' We believe our asset-based community development model would be especially relevant in refugee camps, as outside resources are limited. We propose a three-part solution: 1) Twende runs a series of workshop in the refugee camps. 2) Enthusiastic participants are consoled for designing the rules and tools for a makerspace, similar to Twende's in Arusha, with handtools and some machinery. 3) Participants are encouraged to design and teach their own 'Build It' workshops - where they teach others how to make life-improving technology, with Twende staff assistance - while continuing to use & govern their makerspace.

Who benefits?

Twende has a policy against discriminating against anybody with passion & commitment to creating technology that solve community challenges. We plan to offer workshops in groups: first for the older community members, to establish trust. Then to youth under 18 years old and to youth 18-29 years old. We separate by age mostly to address different styles of learning, and we will select specific participants based on community input. That being said, we know we must intentionally counteract traditional gender imbalance. If suitable to community, we will run girls/women-only workshops. We are also developing women-specific Build Its (i.e. Batik tools, reusable sanitary pads). We will track number of makerspace visitors (disaggregated by gender, age, and other indicators according to community preferences), workshop participants, new Build It workshops created, and technologies being used and/or been sold. Depending on capacity, we'd also track time/money saved from technologies.

How is your innovation unique?

There are organizations that set up 'fablabs' - these are generally rapid prototyping machines such as 3-d printers and laser cutters. These are great, but Twende focuses more on machines that are more available in the majority of Tanzania, such as hand tools, welding machines, and grinders (yes the last two use electricity - Twende is partnering with solar providers to overcome this challenge). If someone learns how to use a 3-d printer in a refugee camp, then leaves, the chances of accessing another 3-d printer right now are low. Should this fact change, Twende is happy to adapt. Additionally, many organizations offer STEAM workshops, most focusing specifically on national curricula. This is great, and we also run some curricula-based workshops in local schools. However, we believe we should compliment these workshops with more free-thinking, problem-identifying, solution-making workshops, such as our very practical workshops, designed for resource-limited environments.

What are some of your unanswered questions about the idea?

We have many questions, and we are working on getting a permit to visit the TZ camps, though we have begun conversations with UNHCR to learn some basics. What is the day-to-day life of different individuals in a refugee camp? Who would be most interested in our initiative? How much machinery/hand-tool experience do refugees have? Is a completely-refugee-run makerspace feasible? (safety and equity concerns) What are some ideas people in camps already have? What resources actually ARE available? (wood, metal, nails/screws, clay/mud, excess-trash, etc.) Are there bigger legal concerns for selling self-made items in weekly markets? Are there both people who want to teach and who want to make? Do they have time and drive?

Tell us more about you.

Our permanent team of 6 engineers, designers, strategists, and education-passionate is supported by ~20 volunteers and interns each year, from students to experienced businesspeople from Tanzania and 10+ other countries. We are an AfriLabs innovation hub and also work closely with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology as part of the International Development Innovation Network - giving us connections to innovation-minded folks in Mexico, Indonesia, Republic of Korea, Turkey, and Australia.

What is the primary type of emergency setting where your innovation would operate?

  • Prolonged displacement

Emergency Setting - Elaborate

We would start in northwest Tanzania, in Nduta, Mtendeli, and/or Nyarugusu refugee camps, where the most common language is Kiswahili. These camps serve mostly refugees from Burundi and Rwanda, and they have been supported by humanitarian support for the past 23 years. They are looking for other ways for sustainability. The specifics of which camp we will start in will be determined by upcoming assessment visits and continued conversations with refugees and UNHCR representatives.

Where will your innovation be implemented?

See above. This solution will likely need to be slightly tailored to be effective in other locations, for instance, do other refugee camps have similar need for hands-on, project-based workshops? Do other refugee camps already have workshops with hand tools and machinery for people to use? Additionally, most of our current staff is Tanzanian, speaking Kiswahili and English. To move to other countries outside EAC, we would hire & train local staff and create language-specific materials.

Experience in Implementation Country(ies)

  • Yes, for more than one year.

In-country Networks

All of our permanent staff are based in Arusha. We have begun building a relationship with the innovation unit of UNHCR supporting the Tanzanian refugee camps. We also have working relationships with a number of private in-country solar companies, as well as Tanzanian government science/technology agencies (i.e. COSTECH, CAMARTEC, TEMDO) and universities (i.e. Arusha technical College, Sokoine University of Agriculture) - potential places to find more technical support.

Sector Expertise

  • I've worked in a sector related to my innovation for more than a year.

Sector Expertise - Elaborate

Twende was registered in 2007 as a Tanzanian NGO, originally to alleviate poverty through appropriate technology development. We added training in 2012 both in and outside of Twende, and in 2014, we started supporting innovators longer-term. We still develop our own technologies, to understand the challenges innovators face when developing and disseminating products and to offer life-improving technologies to the general public. Our vision is to see more local solutions to local challenges.

Innovation Maturity

  • Existing Prototype or Pilot: I have tested a part of my solution with users and am iterating.

Organization Status

  • We are a registered non-profit, charity, NGO, or community-based organization.

Organization Location

Arusha, Tanzania



Join the conversation:

Photo of Kathryn Zaniboni

Hi Debbie, fantastic idea. I just love it. Tinkering and exploring with materials is not only helpful for skill building, but it has a therapeutic aspect to it as well. My experience is limited to the Balkan Peninsula. So, is a fablab/makerspace run and organized by refugees in Northern Greece. There is also a makers space in a community center in Athens called the Khora Center. You can reach out to both about how their spaces works within he refugee community. As for maker spaces in camps, I've only see community tool sheds where tools are checked in and out and residents of the camps are welcome to build, fix, and design what they want. Displaced designers was set up on Lesvos Island by a group of refugees that are designers by trade. They would be great to talk to about what they are seeing and learning. - again these are all located in Greece, but there could be some valuable lessons learned there. I've been to several camps where community centers have been completely designed and build by the residents - they were just given the materials. Good luck! I support your project 100%.

Photo of Debbie Tien

Thanks for the feedback and support @Kathryn Zaniboni! So exciting to hear this has worked so beautifully in the Balkans. I look forward to researching these models and understand what lessons learned can be applied our context. On another note, we host a variety of volunteers here at Twende, and one is from Sofia (I saw your profile :) ) as well. Small world!

Photo of Saad Latif

I would second Daudi on this!
I particularly like the fact the team is bringing their experience here from their time in Arusha to make this effort sustainable. Eg to start with the elders in the camp and then go on to younger groups.
Given that these camps in Tanzania have been making headlines due to the increasing influx of refugees and diminishing allocations from donors, these "build its" can help the residents of these camps can go back with a set of skills that could help them reintegrate with the socioeconomic setup back home.

Photo of Debbie Tien

Thanks for the feedback Saad Latif ! Yes, we are keen to use our existing knowledge of how to work with communities to ensure as much sustainability as possible. Of course, we'll have to see if our Arusha-area knowledge makes sense for the refugee communities as well!

Photo of Daudi Msseemmaa

This work is such a perfect fit for refugee settlements, where young people's creativity and innovation so often lack outlets. Beautiful idea!

Photo of Debbie Tien

Thank you for the feedback @Daudi Msseemmaa ! Your support is appreciated. Please let us know if you have any suggestions for better impact.