Jean-michel worked as a senior consultant for the Fab Foundation, as a professor of the practice at Tufts University, and manages Fab Connections - teaching about digitally controlled tools, creating and developing fab labs, and making connections between old and new spaces and communities. He lives in France with his wife and 3 kids.
quite some years ago I helped open a Fab lab in Grenoble, France (it was burned down by anarchists not long ago, but that makes for another fun story..) where we eventually developed really wonderful communities of people making guitars, skateboards, printers, all sorts of electronics, and even stuff for biology. I often did projects to show people what was possible and to inspire (at least, I hope I did), and tried to show it was good to look at personal things and the world around them – what would YOU like to make? And what do YOU need? And others? What could help the people around you?
One of the projects I did was make wooden glasses – I broke a pair of my glasses, and instead of throwing them away, I got the lenses out and made wooden frames for them –
Getting into Gaza is an experience in itself. Basically you have to cross 3 borders.. bag scanners, little cabins with people who want to see your passport and ask questions, turnstiles and camera’s – Israeli border, Fatah border, Hamas border.
Between them you take a little bus, and a taxi (2 shekels), because if you’d walk they might shoot you (I asked, I like walking).
When we signed the deal to set up a fab lab in Antananarivo, the capital of Madagascar, I was excited. They are going to do so much cool stuff with the technology! I had been working with laser cutters, CNC mills, 3D printers and much more for a long time, but always in ‘wealthy’ and ‘safe’ environments. People made cool stuff; skateboards, guitars, little portable speakers… but nothing life changing. Oh boy, seeing all that is possible, this is going to change peoples lives in Tana!
Or so I thought.
One evening, after installing a part of the new lab in an SOS children’s village, I left the compound to go to the hotel. On the curb there was a girl, sitting in the dirt, with two little babies in her arms. Above her head, the spikes of curled barbed wire warned the less fortunate to stay away from the house on the other side. She must have been 14, maybe 15. It hit me all of a sudden that her main occupation that day, and most likely the ones in the foreseeable future, was survival. Her’s and that of the babies, none of whom wore socks, or decent clothing.
“Let’s first focus on IDP’s – perhaps we can produce some WASH items…”
“Isn’t DRC working on that? I think one of the guys at DAH knows.. Let’s check with him first!”
If you don’t know what’s going on here, welcome to the club.
According to UNHCR there were 68.4 6 million displaced people in 2017 – meaning these people are on the move, or in camps – most importantly, they are not ‘home’.
In 2017, 44,000 people were newly displaced every day. And for those of you new to all this (like me) the average time people spend ‘away from home’ (to say it in a nice way) is a staggering 18(!) years. If you are 36 (like me) that’s half of your life. And your entire youth.