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Makerspace and engineering teaching laboratory for youth

Creating an open space, practical science & engineering curricula for youth to enhance locally produced products and job creation in Rwanda.

Photo of Alphonse Habyarimana
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Kepler Tech Lab runs an innovation center to high school graduates to become innovators and makers by providing them with a more cost-effective method for teaching practical science and engineering to address mismatch of practical hands-on experiences. We are looking for creating a network of makerspaces, "[places] where students can gather to create, invent, tinker, explore and discover using a variety of tools and materials," and train local workforces to innovate solutions based on community needs and the world as a whole. Youth & community members will be enrolled in engineering classes and workshops to develop skills and prototypes using tools, such as 3D printers, laser cutters, ShopBot machine, computers, and wood and metalworking tools.

Sustainable development is one of the key factors promote peace, especially in developing countries. This is often misunderstood to mean that anything that grows the GDP will bring peace to a country. If the economic development is not sustainable in the long run, it may even cause conflict if a crash occurs. One of the main methods to ensure that development is sustainable is to build projects that develop resources locally. For long-term economic development, without local designed and produced products, no country will ever be able to truly participate in the global market as an equal. It also means that practically oriented education, especially of scientists and engineers, is central to any self-sustaining development plan.


High school graduates are our primary beneficiaries because ~20% of Rwandan college age have finished high school but only 5% were able to go to university. We're looking for how we can help youth get jobs through practical education. Since February 2016, we have been providing engineering skills to high school graduates through electronics, plastic and paper recycling, energy, electrochemistry, computer programming, and independent projects, and about 40 students have benefited the lab.


Alphonse Habyarimana is manager & developer of Kepler Tech Lab, an open space and engineering teaching laboratory in Rwanda. He's also a member of International Development Innovation Network and fellow at Stanford FabLearn, a program that supports an international community of educators and makers.


  • Rwanda


  • Yes, for more than one year.


  • I’ve worked in a sector related to my idea for over a year


Reaching out to beneficiaries encouraged me to iterate the idea of introducing a first makerspace in Rwanda and 1) consider youth living in base of the pyramid communities or underserved communities and below the poverty line, 2) work closely with beneficiaries to figure out the problems they are facing, 3) make the space accessible all days throughout the week, 4) focus on the world problems as a mean to finding solutions, and 5) encourage youth to come up with creative ideas as they design prototypes. Interacting with beneficiaries for feedback changed my perceptions in which most of them suggested that youth should experience things on their own by encouraging them to tackle projects from multiple ways which would result in creative problem solving. Additionally, while conducting feedback, I learned that students should get connected to internship opportunities to apply the best of knowledge and skills they get at the Tech Lab. Beneficiaries recommended that in order to encourage gender equity in digital fabrication and making, the lab should extend its curriculum to students from primary school level in order to have them experiencing engineering skills from their early ages.


The idea is unique because it is encouraged by the needs of the community in which we train local workforces who innovate solutions and/or be ready for employment opportunities. Our students, during independent projects, are facilitated to go through the design process, identify the needs in a community, get ideas, design, building and test prototypes for their ideas. If they fail, they go back and identify improvement until they get working prototypes. Students spend about two months taking engineering lab module and use five more weeks to work on their own projects based on human-centered design in accordance with community needs. Apart from that, there no makerspaces in Rwanda where youth can go, take engineering classes, invent, tinker, be trained for Creative Capacity Building, and get involve in co-creation activities in order to eradicate challenges facing their communities and keep working on their projects to turn them into business opportunities. We envision to run programs that match experts with students for individual project mentorship.


Given that few high schools in Rwanda have science labs, a large number of students do not get a chance to practice what they learn and they graduate with little to no technology skills. If it happens, which is likely, that high school is their only highest level of education, they work informally or unemployed due to the fact that they don't have skills employers are looking for. As of 2014, ~>20% of Rwandans of college age have finished high school, but only around 5% attended a university of any kind. The Tech Lab mixes both science & engineering and soft skills, such as communication, critical thinking, and problem-solving for youth to be ready for employment opportunities.


How can we bridge the gap between girls and boys in engineering fields? Have you [beneficiaries] ever been in any makerspace before? If so, what did you make and why did you make it? For the 1st question, beneficiaries didn’t specify exactly what could be done. Most of them reflected on Rosine Mwiseneza who successfully, at the Tech Lab, worked on an auto-irrigation system with her partner and turned it into a business opportunity. We’ve to learn from others who passed a challenge of gender inclusion in their spaces. For the 2nd and 3rd questions, most beneficiaries’ answers were “no” because they' ve zero experiences with makerspace where they can get a freedom to explore and make anything.


The idea of makerspaces is new for me and my team but it's born from Kepler Tech Lab w've been developing since August 2015. We're looking for turning it into a makerspace in order to serve as many people as we can by adopting machines, tools, and materials, such as 3D printers, laser cutters, ShopBot machine, designing software, and some electronics, to address mismatch of practical hands-on experiences, encourage girls to pursue engineering career, and employers be able to find qualified employees. This will be possible by exposing youth and community members to an open-source, tools, and equipment to address their needs. Without any other support, our challenges would be to adopt equipment, assembling a knowledgeable team, acquiring money to pay their salaries, make the lab financially sustainable and scalable, and integrate the lab into the existing innovation ecosystem in Rwanda. In order to overcome those challenge, I am growing the team with electrical and electronics engineers, civil engineers, and computer scientists. We've started to participate in training programs at FabLab Kigali to acquaint ourselves with digital tools to be able to operate them.


Kepler Tech Lab is made up of 10 staff members: 5 full-time, 2 part-time, 2 advisors, and 1 volunteer. We'll be working together as a team to execute the idea of makerspaces in Rwanda. Arcie Ramos who is a volunteer is enrolled in an engineering and entrepreneurship program in Arizona and is volunteering with us for networking & fundraising opportunities. We'll also be collaborating with members of the International Development Innovation Network & Stanford FabLearn to share our best practices.

Detailed Project Idea

Higher education is essential for sustainable development in third world countries that can become independent from outside factors and can play a great role in introducing peace. In Rwanda, education has played a key role in the country’s recovery from the genocide in 1994. Now, the country is a regional hub for the internet and computer technology, but further development is hindered because higher education is not growing fast enough because practical hands-on skills are not provided to students from young ages. One of Rwanda’s best resources is its people, and according to the Rwanda's 2020 vision, the country is striving to educate its people in order to improve its other industries, such as agriculture, manufacturing, and plastics, not to forget service industries. There are growing demands for more scientifically educated personnel to address questions of energy supply, improve plastics manufacturing, and better deal with electronic waste.

As of 2014, according to the Rwandan Ministry of Education, slightly less than 20% of Rwandans of college age have finished high school, but only around 5% attend a university of any kind. Additionally, only a few high schools, named schools of excellence, in Rwanda have science laboratories. Not only are there large numbers of bright students who don’t have a chance to practice what they learn in theories, few have an opportunity to continue studying science and engineering. We are planning to work with schools to design a low-cost science laboratory course for their students (more specifically for high school students and high school graduates) who do not have or didn’t have a chance to turn what they learn or learned from theories into practice. While developing the course specifically for youth from high schools, we are trying to overcome challenges of mismatch of practical hands-on experiences. Since August 2015, we were setting up and piloting this open space laboratory, building equipment and finalizing renovations of the laboratory facilities.

Our Programs

  • STEM courses: we provide Science, Technology, and Mathematics-related courses (Electronics, energy, electrochemistry, paper and plastic recycling, and computer programming) to high school graduates and ninth graders in order to teach them engineering skills and enable them to work on different projects which can solve community pressing problems and turned into businesses. Those concepts help them to practice what they learn or learned in theories and be excited with prototypes they can produce.
  • Engineering workshops with refugee students (we did this in March 2016 and we hope to do more workshops with refugee students during the summer of 2017)
  • Co-creation activities and Creative Capacity Building: we invite students and individuals to come together and design solutions for community needs. We are also trying to include Creative Capacity Building to invite interested individuals to technical training programs and design process activities.
  • Workshops and projects experimentation: we invite experts in the field to help our students learn something new and potential job business ideas into STEM (Science, Technology, and Mathematics) fields, not forgetting individual project mentorship.
  • Recycling: We collect waste parts of electronic devices, paper, and plastic to reproduce something useful out of them.

 Main Challenges and Mitigation Strategies

Without any other support, our challenges will be to adopt advanced equipment, assembling a knowledgeable team, acquiring money to pay their salaries, make the lab financially sustainable and scalable, and integrate the lab into the existing education ecosystem in Kigali, where it is housed. In order to overcome those challenges, I am growing the team with electrical and electronics engineers and computer scientist in which I currently provide them with transportation and meal during working days. At the FabLearn conference held at Stanford University last October 2016, I met many promising individuals and Greg Herker who is the Fab Lab Coordinator based in Wisconsin was one of them. Due to his interest in makerspace education in developing countries, Greg has agreed to be our mentor in setting up the lab space whenever we get started. He will answer questions about room setup and materials acquisition Additionally, in order to be skilled on various tools, we use to participate in training programs at FabLab Kigali in order to acquaint ourselves with machines and tools, such as 3D printers, Laser Cutters, ShopBot machine, designing software, and some electronics. As a result of this, by the time we will restructure the space of Kepler Tech Lab, we will be having background knowledge on new tools and how to operate them. Due to my, Alphonse, interest to learn new skills in order to benefit other individuals and convince people to work on a specific cause, I believe it’s my best quality which would help me use provided support(s) more productively and efficiently.

Other Challenges and Mitigation Strategies

Other challenges are, but not limited to adapting science and engineering experiments to low-cost materials and gender inclusion. Firstly, most common pieces of lab equipment, such as an oscilloscope, or mass spectrometer are difficult for us to get or make. In that we are adopting, when it is possible, creative ways of substituting for unavailable materials. For instance, a computer can act as an oscilloscope and function generator, by sending voltages in and out of the audio input/output jacks and using a program like LabVIEW to process the signals. Secondly, we are facing the challenge of gender inclusion in co-creation and maker movements. We really wish to have students of both gender, but we fail to have females in our classroom because Rwandan girls seem not to be interested in an engineering career. In order to address the first challenge, we are planning, if we get funding opportunities, on purchasing tools and other lab equipment so that we can be able to bring about a huge impact on our beneficiaries (youth and other community members). For the second challenge of gender inclusion in making, starting October 2016, we are teaching 8th-grade students so that we can, at least, encourage girls' participation in engineering, fabrication, and making when they are still young. 

Tech Lab project is unique and innovative because the project itself is motivated by real needs in the local community to educate more youth who are future scientists and engineers in which we come together, develop and work on projects, such as bird-scaring shaker for rice fields, paper recycling & waterproofing, bike-powered generator, and auto-irrigation system, that are believed to solve the community problems. The most recent project developed in the lab is called Ivomerere, a Kinyarwanda name referred to as automatic irrigation. It is intended to offer farmers with efficient and affordable means of an irrigation system to manage and control irrigation automatically the amount of water being used and increase access to food crops in any season. Ivomerere system uses sensors to detect dryness and moisture of the soil. It sends a command to an electronic system for the system to turn water pump ON and OFF automatically. This allows the system to manage the amount of water needed to irrigate plants in the fields and it helps to avoid floods. Additionally, the innovator of the system is planning on using Global System for Mobile communication (GSM) to detect weather and send data to the users so that they can be aware of effective agriculture season.

As a recap, the overall goals of this lab turning into a makerspace are, but not limited to 1) providing high school graduates with engineering skills which could enable them to work on different technical projects, 2) providing students with access to tools and open space to create solutions based on community needs, 3) alleviating mismatch of technical skills through educating future generations, and last but not the least, 4) engaging community members in designing and creating solutions based on Human-Centered Design through co-creation and Creative Capacity Building to address their needs.  These goals are important because youth unemployment rate in Rwanda increases day-to-day regardless the fact that they went to schools or not; employers do not find qualified employees with technical skills they are looking for, and the needs most of the community members depend on importing products to satisfy them. We believe that if we can educate youth as well as engage community members in fabrication and making we can encourage production of locally produced products and employment opportunities in Rwanda. As a result of bringing makerspace to life, youth will get jobs and employers will be able to get skilled employees


We envision to establish 3 more spaces to train 3,000 local workforces who can make products locally and turn them into businesses, which in turn will sustain the economy & help employers find qualified employees. To get there, we will be collaborating with members of the International Development Innovation Network, Stanford FabLearn, and possibly Amplify as we answer "how can market-based solutions be used to defeat economic challenges facing youth of both gender in the developing countries?"


  • Under $100,000


  • Within 50 km of where our team does most of its work
  • Within 100 km of where our team does most of its work


  • Less than 6 months
  • More than a year


I am interested in joining Amplify's portfolio of innovators because I want to develop myself as a social innovator and work toward improving lives of people around the world. As of 2011 and published by Anup Shah on, 1.4 billion people of 7 billion of the world population] live in under poverty line and fed by $1.25 a day. In that, it'd be an honor to be part of Amplify's portfolio of innovators who intend to change lives of many people and make the world a better place.
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Attachments (3)

KTL_User Experience Map.pdf

Here is the true story of Rosine Mwiseneza who were involved in the lab and successfully changed her life.

Kepler Tech Lab_Beneficiary Feedback (Responses).xlsx

This sheet contains feedback from beneficiaries from different parts of the country, Rwanda. I used different tools, such as interviews and surveys, to collect those feedback. Other beneficiaries (K-8 students and some local community members) answered questions on papers and their pieces of feedback were really helpful as well. I learned a lot about my idea from beneficiary feedback phase. It helped me to reiterate the idea and those responses contain much information than I expected before.

Tech Lab and one of its projects.pptx

This PowerPoint Presentation talks a little bit about the idea, what Kepler Tech Lab has been doing, and some projects developed in this lab space.


Join the conversation:

Photo of William

Hello Habyara Alphonse and Kepler Tech Lab,

Do you think grain moisture testing to reverse Postharvest loss like aflatoxin would be a practical science skill for innovative youths to enhance access to jobs market with meaningful agriculture? <>

Jobs for Youth to Reverse Cereal Grain Postharvest loss

Photo of Alphonse

Hi William,

You are right. It is important to bring such innovative solution in the field of agriculture and i think youth would definitely benefit from it. at kTechLab, , we are also developing different projects and agriculture is among of our themes. We managed to develop an automated irrigation system and we believe that it can benefit East Africa Community and the continent as a whole. What do you think?

Photo of William

Hello Alphonse and Makerspace,
Thank you for the reply. Does Makerspace want to exchange email and then user experience maps and collaborate so the experts can see how our innovative team would help youth implement, learn and established business that reverse aflatoxin?

The moisture testing project believes aflatoxin indicates a very weak link in the African grain value chain. 

Jobs for Youth to Reverse Postharvest loss

Photo of Alphonse

Hi William,

That's something we have to think about.  Basically, we are establishing this makerspace,, to encourage locally produced products and employment opportunities for youth. Let see how this is going to work in near future.

Photo of William

Hello Alphonse and MarektSpace,
Yes I can see marketspace. However, when properly dried and stored, high calorie grain, feeds most of the human labor and animal power needed to produce densely nutritious food. 
So the question for me is how can locally produced products have meaning if the grain aflatoxin remains?

Photo of Alphonse

Hi William,

I totally agree with you. As long as an environment is not safe due to aflatoxin, lives are hard to achieve. Can we exchange emails via so that we can discuss a little how makerspace,, and your invention can work together on this matter? You can also reach me through Skype (habyaraa is my username.)

Photo of William

Hi Alphinse.
Thank you for the reply. Moisture meters are not my invention they have been around for 30 years but somehow the benefits of applying them have been ignored in Africa.
Thank you for email and sending next,

Photo of William

Hello Alphonse and MarketSpace,
William (NeverIdle) hopes you are doing well and wish to invite MarketSpace to the "1st All African Postharvest Congress and Exhibition (March 28 - 31) Nairobi" <>. We hope to meet and discuss more about Moisture meters and testing to Reverse Grain Postharvest Loss."

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