A Fab Lab in Burkina Faso?

Humanitarians form our own community. We eat together, talk together, drink (sometimes entirely too much) together. As in any community, there are hierarchies. Part of the hierarchy is traditional – do you work for a prestigious organisation? How many people do you manage? Do you have a big budget? But in addition, there is a humanitarian-specific hierarchy related to the difficulty of a posting. South Sudan is high on this list– not only are you supporting vast numbers of displaced people, but you are doing so without electricity, running water, internet. Jordan is comparatively easier – the caseload is huge, but you go home to a hot shower and Facebook. Greece – easier still. After all, it’s in Europe.

Tdh implemented a FabLab in Greece. It was successful. Terrific. But how robust is the concept when you try to apply it to countries that are higher up on the hierarchy? Will it survive lack of infrastructure? Will people come if they are not literate? Will it be useful to youth who have nothing?

The second phase of Tdh’s pilot is to implement a humanitarian FabLab at an artisanal gold mine in Burkina Faso. This context rates pretty high on the humanitarian hierarchy. Infrastructure is poor, and while there isn’t any conflict, people who work in artisanal gold mines are constantly moving as multinationals buy up concessions, close artisanal sites and start formally exploiting mines.

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How, exactly, can a FabLab help youth?

It was my first day at Tdh. I was sitting at a pretty desk in Switzerland with hot water, electricity and a box of chocolates. Tdh had given me millions of documents to read. I had a clear task – figure out how to use FabLabs to help young people in situations of conflict.

Everything about my life – the internet speed, the clarity of my task, the chocolate – was significantly better compared to Afghanistan. Or Somalia. I was happy.

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Time to learn new tools

I’m a technological dolt. An absolute dud. I can’t keep a phone. Apple products are too complicated for me. I don’t have WhatsApp. Twitter is … well, what is Twitter?  

My excuse for being technologically useless is that I’m doing humanitarian work. I’ve spent years in countries that most people consider scary. Somalia and Afghanistan, for example. Most people can’t read or write – 63% of Somalia’s population, and 69% of Afghanistan’s population are illiterate. Unsurprisingly, internet penetration is low (1.7% in Somalia, 6.8% in Afghanistan).

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