Stories from Our Program

Gulu Annual Tech Camp

Please read the article by Lindsay Craig about the class he taught in Gulu at the annual Oysters & Pearls Technology Camp.

I’m starting a robotics toy company called QuestBotics (which is another story), but in my copious free time every year I go to Uganda, Africa to teach a Technology camp with Oysters & Pearls – Uganda. It’s a two-week event and kids in northern Uganda flock to a school called Gulu High where they get to play with sensors, tiny robot brains (microchips), Legos, video games, motors and virtual reality.

With over 120 students and 50 staff members at the camp in Uganda, we have our hands full just getting the power turned on, but that didn’t stop us – this year, we found the time to add four new subjects for the students–shortwave radio, audio, art and solar energy.

Pushing the boundaries in Uganda Tech Education
We’re always pushing the boundaries of what we can teach at the Gulu Annual Tech Camp. The second year of its existence we were teaching printed circuit board design as a part of the prototyping course. Students had clamored in the past for the opportunity to work with Bluetooth and other wireless technology. So, we bought a bunch of low-cost short-wave transmitters and receivers and hooked them up to Arduinos. It was easy for the students to get the units functioning and then came the fun part of running around outside testing the range limits.

2016 National Technovation Challenge in Uganda

Please read the article regarding the “2016 National Technovation Challenge in Uganda” in which Oysters & Pearls sponsored the participation of the Gulu High School team.

Innovations  May 15 2016.inddClick to read an article about the Gulu Team from New Vision – “Girls Create App for Bodabodas” by Jeff Andrew Lule


New Vision – “Uganda will be technology hub for Africa by 2030” by John Agaba, 5th August 2016

The Minister for Science, Technology and Innovation, Elioda Tumwesigye said Uganda will be a hub for science and technology in whole of Africa by 2030 during a technovation challenge at the Makerere University School of Public Health-powered ResilientAfrica Network.

It was Tumwesigye’s first day out in the field after he was appointed to the office as inaugural minister by President Yoweri Museveni late June.

During the technovation challenge that attracted teams from over 15 girl secondary schools from across Uganda, the new minister reiterated the need for science and innovations, pledging support to the network. – READ MORE


Coverage also included the Resilient Africa Network website: “The 2016 Uganda Technovation Challenge”

This year’s challenge focused mainly on Pitching of submitted Innovations started with introductions of the schools, Institutions, Universities, other stakeholders as well as the RAN team members present. The parents, teachers, coaches and the judges were also recognized and applauded for their willingness to support the working teams and share knowledge among others.

With great excitement the challenge sparked off as the pitches started in style with; The Health Aid team from Bweranyangi Girls S.S.S as they boldly pitched their E-health App. It was followed by 9 more energetic presentations before everyone broke off a break.

With great honor the Chief Guest-Ugandan Minister of Innovation Science and Technology Hon Dr. Elioda Tumwesigye was warmly welcomed by Prof. William Bazeyo, Dean Makerere University School of Public Health and RAN Chief of Party/Lab Director. –

Uganda – Holiday Robotics Training Sept 2016

Above are the photos from the Holiday Robotics Training held in September 2016. Below is Ntananga Phyllis blog post (from Tech Women Uganda) describing the training.

In early September 2016, I got another opportunity to mentor a group of young people from Gulu in Mobile application development during the Holiday Robotics Training organized by Oysters & Pearls – Uganda at their Gulu town premises. Running for two weeks, this training covered areas like Video Game Design, Robotics and Electronics, Minecraft and Mobile Applications Development. Unlike the January camp, this training was not residential and participants attended from Monday to Saturday between 8AM to 5PM. 

A day before the official start of the training, mentors made preparations and arranged the different equipment to be used. It had been 7 months since I was last in Gulu and I couldn’t help but notice in awe the progress Oysters and Pearls had made in regards to their Maker Space – all thanks to Sandra Washburn for her love, dedication and motivation in equipping tech-savvy young people with technological skills to aid them become the change makers this nation needs.

The Maker Space is perfectly set up with all the requirements that anyone with a dream of changing the world using technology would need through their journey. I am talking about mentors, passionate people who will guide and help you whenever you need them. A bookshelf with technology books that range from technology magazines, beginner programming books for any programming language as far as books with trail projects and developing a world changing product. With different practical games that teach basic things like circuits, sensors, electronics among others. With this setup, someone could literally go with only the heart and brains to learn how to and develop a life changing project. “…why dream of going to Silicon Valley to change the world when I have a Silicon Valley in the making in my home town”.

To any student, a normal holiday means getting a lot of sleep, resting from books and watching lots of TV. For this three weeks holiday, students from different schools around Gulu town turned up for the training on a Wednesday with excitement and willingness to learn and discover. I personally think that for them to sacrifice their time and whatever fun they could have had, had they stayed home and instead chose to attend this training was really priceless. These holiday trainings often have an average of 15 students apart from the January Annual Camp, which attracts way more participants from all over the country. Numbers seem to keep going up with each edition of the program as there seems to be a kind of natural mechanism aiding this. For instance, when one participant brings along a friend, the new friend in turn often brings another to the next program. By the next holiday training, the number of participants multiplies. We could easily say that in the next two years for each two short holidays, over 120 students will be participating in these programs.

Moving on, or rather back to the topic, the first day opened with the introduction of the instructors. Instructors included Denis Obote Robotics instructor , Jacob Odur Electronics instructor, Andrew Mukalu Game Design instructor, Smith Minecraft instructor , Adeline Tushabe Game Design instructor and myself, Nassuna Phyllis Mobile App Development instructor. Participants were briefed on the four classes which were to run concurrently. Understandably, they had a hard time choosing which class to attend because they could only attend one class due to the limited time to cover everything during the training.

The students’ interest to learn often inspires their instructor to keep doing what they do. There is always a first time for everything and this is the best time to pick interest because it’s what pushes one to learn more and makes them more curious even when things seem to be very difficult. For most of the students in the training, it was their first time to be introduced to mobile application development. You could tell they were excited about learning to develop their own applications as all they could talk about was developing their own games on the phone.

At the end of the training, students presented work they did ranging from transaction and educational mobile applications, video games, robotics projects and creative Minecraft building among others. This also gave them an opportunity to horn their presentation and communication skills as for most students, this was their first time presenting to people.

Teaching STEM in Uganda, an indelible memory

August 14, 2013

I recently returned from an enlightening excursion to Uganda. I spent 3 wonderfully filled weeks in Gulu, a city 6 hours north of the capital, Kampala. My purpose for the trip was to teach STEM and Leadership to girls enrolled at Gulu High school, the second oldest school in the entire country. What made my trip even more significant was the connection this institution shares with ours: Both are celebrating a centennial of impacting lives through service. What an honor to have participated in dual centennial celebrations. I tell you, turning 100 never looked so good!

As an educator, I am passionate about the work I do to impart knowledge on the lives of future generations. More than just “teach”, I aim to inspire them to be bold, take charge, make decisions, and more importantly, impact society to advance us all. I carried that same spirit with me to Uganda, and connected instantly with my students. My classes consisted of 25 energetic, and eager-to-learn young women who were on the verge of a new journey. I say ‘new’ in the sense that they are aware of a global need for change, but struggled to find a way to bring the importance and significance of their role in the change. Enter JS!

STEM is crucial for global advancement. We are at the crossroads of taking next steps toward that journey. My work at Hockaday changes each day, as we bring in new ways to deliver lessons, through prezis and tablets, guest lectures and TED talks. In Africa, where I was situated, none of this is an option. They are primed for new initiatives, technology, and growth and most importantly, they are eager and capable of learning and leading.

What so many know and accept as their truth is the education systems of the “Global North” (i.e. here in North America) don’t do a good job at teaching students about how the world exists in its entirety. We in the United States tend to rely on stereotypes that uniformly categorize “developing” countries around the world as poor, miserable and disastrous. I spent the summer of 2013 in Gulu, Uganda, a space that is closest to the equator, but couldn’t be farther from different in 100 ways. Yet, this small, yet thriving community of self-sufficient entrepreneurs was richer in life, liberty and the freedom to be happy. These basic liberties are often sacrificed in developing countries. But here, you will find a community of progressive individuals who are making strides to an influencing factor in their countries economical and educational systems. I was privileged to be part of their process, and what an honor!

I know what I did there was important. Each day, my lessons included relevant science and applicable activities they could carry beyond the class day. I wanted them to know that science is not just a class – it’s an everyday experience that can engage and enlighten you. It was not without challenges, however. Although they speak English, it is a second language. Many of the students speak their native tongue of Acholi. So, often, there was a slight language barrier. But we managed – I came to learn more patience, and became adept at learning a few local words.

My time there was short. There was so much more I wanted to do. I could teach science all day! But, I am happy to have had the experience. I planted seeds, and I hope bring water each year to add to the students’ growth. Teaching chemistry, science education and leadership, was a good start. As you know, being a teacher allows us to ‘touch’ the future – our students. Now, we must ‘water’ those seeds of diversity through STEM and global awareness using partnerships to ‘fertilize’ the next season of generations to follow. What I did beyond being a chemistry instructor was to help them understand how to problem solve through collaboration. As we understand, a group/team often develops better and more complete solutions than individuals. Through experimentation I helped them design and execute investigations to collect and analyze data.

You see, science requires creative human endeavor. We know human curiosity sparks scientific exploration as each discover generates new questions. I was beyond blessed to have had the experience. I made new friends, new connections, new thoughts, and new ways of seeing the world. Beyond all the science I taught, and the lessons I learned, what touched me the most, was the fact that for all the students I worked with – those enrolled in my classes and the adults who were employed at the school – I was the first, THE FIRST, black, African-American person they had ever seen. This alone was worth every misfortune that befell me during my stay. That touched my soul, and makes me want to continue my work I do internationally. I’ve included several pictures and captions for your review. I’m happy to talk with you further.

– Click photos below to enlarge-
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By |May 26th, 2016|STEM Uganda, Ugandan Education, Uncategorized|1 Comment

Open Hardware, Software & Minds

By Linday Craig, Consultant, Educator, Technologist and Artist:

The people who attended the 2016 Annual Gulu Technology Camp found a doorway to future that they had never seen before — who knows where it will lead them?

Imagine a camp for 10 to 18 year-olds that combines robotics, microcomputers, pcDuino, video game design with Unity, self-defense training with an international kickboxer, Samsung’s virtual reality gear, Android app design, musical performances, quadcopters, and Legos. Now imagine this camp took place in previously civil-war-torn northern Uganda.

Just to make things interesting, throw in a small documentary crew and a large group of technically savvy instructors who wandered the grounds amongst the energetic students. Finally, add to all of this the fact that almost half of the camp’s 100+ students were blind. Even if you have an extremely active imagination and you can wrap your head around these foundational facts, I can guarantee that you can’t imagine the amount of sheer joy, inquisitiveness, and boisterous energy that inhabited Gulu High School in the form of children during the 2016 Oysters & Pearl’s Annual Technology Camp.

Robotics Camp by Oysters & Pearls – Uganda

(this is a reprint from Ntananga Phyllis’s article from her blog: Tech Women Uganda.)

IMAG0218On a very hot Thursday in the first week of January 2016, I hopped on a bus headed for Gulu. I was super excited. It was my first time to go to the North. Naturally, I had all the imaginations anyone could have about an entirely new place. The journey was long but to my surprise I was awake the whole time, thanks to the fear of missing out on the adventure. I saw different things like rare fruits that we barely have in the Central or Western region of the country and the sight of the Karuma Bridge, one of the many beautiful things of nature with which God blessed Uganda. Before sunset, we were in Gulu town for the Robotics Camp.

That evening, the trainers that had arrived for the camp all gathered to be taken through the materials and resources that were going to be used for the next two weeks in the camp. As a software developer without much knowledge in hardware/embedded systems, most of the terms and materials were so new to me – stuff like the PCDuino, Arduino, Breadboard, Linker Shield and so many other terms. However, I came to realize that engineering can be done by anyone no matter the background or experience one has in computing. All one needs is the willingness and love to learn.

IMAG0276Sunday evening, the Camp officially opened. Some of the students had arrived the previous day while others arrived on Sunday itself. As trainers, we’d spent Sunday afternoon organizing the rooms and setting all the materials up for the kick start of the Camp Sessions on Monday. It should be noted that students came from over 35 schools with some coming from other regions of the country and more were still arriving.

pracThe classes lined up included the Blind Annex class which involved teaching computer skills like Microsoft Access, Excel, typing, beauty tips to the ladies and other programs, with the Robotics Foundation class, studying Introduction to Hardware using Scratch and the PCDuino, the Advanced Robotics class involved doing hardware and electronics using the PcDuino and Arduino. The third was the Video Game class where students learned how to design and build/develop video games. All the classes were so exciting that the students got decision making conflicts regarding which class to take. They wished they could take all the classes but they were to take only one class.

scratchCome Monday, everything was set and the classes started with Introduction to the PCDuino Information of what the students shall be learning from the camp. The students in the foundation class found Scratch interesting with the drag and drop blocks that helped them in building their software projects. It became even more fun when they added in sensors, hardware like lighting the LED light when the programs run, using infra-red sensors to play football in the game with different sprites/objects.

legos-1-24-16In the middle of the week, the Art class was already set up and each class had an hour each day to go to the art room and draw, make paper circuits for lighting a tiny LED light, build Legos, fly drones (this was the coolest part 🙂 ), fly wooden planes and do turns of cool stuff. As a trainer, it was really an amazing experience for me because I had never seen anything of that kind. The activities in the Art room would make you think of and see everything in a different way. With the fun I had in the Art room on the first and following days, I was sure the students were having twice as much fun as I was having as some built amazing things with the Legos, others draw art as others went for the electronics. I even got to be guided by an already acquainted  student on how to make the paper circuits…it was really awesome.

This Robotics Camp is organized and sponsored for every January since 2010 by Sandra Washburn, the Founder of Oysters & Pearls. It started with working with caretakers of the visually impaired students to give them mobility training and providing white canes to help them navigate around their schools without hardship. Oysters & Pearls focuses on integrating technology and science in schools that are inclusive of the blind. It also advocates for women and girls’ opportunities in education and sports as well as promoting wildlife conservation.

People from different parts of the world can see the value of technology in the young generation and are willing to provide the resources and share the knowledge they have with us. This should be our obligation to carry it on and continue to inspire and share the knowledge we get with every one that is reachable and willing to learn. The onus is on us to either leave Uganda the way we found it or to make it even better. I personally am excited to see what these children shall come up with in the next few years, considering their passion and the skills they have gained from the robotics camp.

2016 Robotics and Animation Training

2016 Robotics and Animation Training

The curriculum for 2016 includes pcDuino, Raspberry Pi, Android Apps, and Animation using several open source software programs. We’ll be using laptops, Samsung Galaxy S5 and Galaxy Note 4 smartphones as well.

The program is open to beginners and advanced users. Several vendors have supported the program through donations and discounts. The teachers include Professor Carl Twarog and one of his students from East Carolina University, Linz Craig and 18 experienced programmers and teachers from within Uganda.

The program runs from Sunday Jan 10 until Saturday Jan 23.

Read the post from Lindsay Craig. You will read about half-way down in this article about his involvement with Oysters and Pearls! Thank, Linz!

As Uganda’s End of Year Exams Approach – 2015

As the Ugandan school year comes to a close, our High Schoolers are on leave for another week before returning for Third Term. For Secondary Four (S4) and Secondary Six (S6) students this will bring the moment of truth starting in October and November, respectively. A week or more of National Exams, in up to nine subjects for the S4 and three or more for the S6 students.

Performance on these standardized tests will define eligibility for continuing education, which can have a determining impact on one’s future. Leading up to this, students have been revising (reviewing) their notes which they made in the prior weeks, months and years. Most students don’t have their own copy of any textbooks and, in fact, sometimes teachers don’t even use books. Instead, a carefully cultivated set of notes is one of the keys to success.

The better schools will have prepared their students to think critically about questions while the majority have simply emphasized memorization of the 3-18 (depending on the question) bullet points which form a top-scoring answer. Those who learned critical thinking skills in the Ordinary Level (O-Level is comprised of S1-S4) will start their Advanced Level (A-Level is S5-S6) at an advantage.

The results of the Mock Exams, practice tests that don’t count, but are scored by the National Examination Board, will greet them when they return on September 7th. There is a short period of a few weeks to focus revision efforts to tune up the weaker areas.

We wish our students the best possible performance. We have supported you in all the ways we know how, now it is your turn! Good Luck!

Here is a synopsis of how the Ugandan Educational Levels work:
Primary: Primary Education is from Grade 1 to 7 which includes ages 7-13
Middle: Lower Secondary – Ordinary Level: Ages 14 to 17 (students must pass their O-Levels before proceeding further)
Secondary: Upper Secondary, Advanced Level is two years (A successful A-Level pass opens up the possibility of tertiary education for the lucky few who made it this far)
Vocational: is 3 years
Tertiary: This would be University but for those that qualify, only 50% can get in.
Please read more at Classbase: Education System in Uganda

By |August 31st, 2015|Ugandan Education|0 Comments

Holiday Training – January 2015

I arrived in Gulu on a Saturday afternoon, not sure what to expect from the next two weeks. As a volunteer with the Oysters & Pearls holiday training program, I knew about the class materials and basic program setup. As I quickly learned however, there was much more to the program than just the teaching.

Joining Sandra and the instructors, I spent the weekend assisting with logistics — the little details that I had never considered, but had to be completed. Where were all the plates for the dining hall? Could we borrow mattresses for students that didn’t bring their own? Why was the electricity off in the classrooms? These and a hundred other small-but-crucial tasks had to be settled, even as students started arriving on Sunday afternoon.

Classes began immediately on Monday, and continued through the week. Sighted students were sorted into one of three classes — Engineering for the Future, Introduction to Robotics, or Advanced Robotics. As the classes delved into new materials and lessons, I watched the projects grow increasingly complex. Since I constantly moved from room to room, I saw the classes develop in snapshots. What started on day one as a collection of wires and boards became a functioning light display, then a basic robot by the end of the program.

Learning new skills in robotics.

Learning new skills in robotics.

I was especially interested in the engineering class, where the class of high-school girls explored the engineering design process and learned the fundamentals of critical thinking. From testing simple constructions to building functioning water filters, the students rose to every challenge. By the end of the first week, the class groups proved their water filters worked by cleaning contaminated water. And the teachers proved their faith by taste-testing each group’s cleaned water.

Testing water filtration in preparation for the final day.

Testing water filtration in preparation for the final day.

By the second week, the program had firmly established a rhythm and working system. Classes continued, students learned, and I encountered new situations each day. Sometimes these situations would be so absurd, I couldn’t help but laugh. For example, one day I pointed out a man standing near the school gate. I’d noticed him around the campus every day and even at night. Trying to understand why this seemingly random person was always present, I asked a Ugandan and had this confusing conversation:

“Who is he?”
“He’s the askari.”
“…so what’s an askari?”
“It’s him.”

This redundant exchange could have continued indefinitely, except that a nearby teacher heard us and took pity on my confusion. As she explained, askari is the word for guard. During the two weeks of the program, I tried to keep this lesson in mind and phrase questions in ways that helped me learn more about the school and region.

After two weeks of programs, we gathered on the final day for student presentations and class showcases. Our students did a great job presenting — sighted students explained the main topics they had studied in class, and students from the Blind Annex presented skills ranging from poetry to Microsoft Excel.

Students were so eager to show what they had learned, they asked if they could present multiple topics and for extended periods of time. I remember dreading class presentations when I was in school — in contrast, these students wanted fifteen minutes per topic, and multiple topics each! One student even asked if he could do a demonstration of mechanical drawing.

Practicing technical drawing skills

Practicing technical drawing skills

After over two weeks in Uganda, I feel like I have barely scratched the surface of this amazing country. The classes were fantastic to observe, and it was so exciting to watch the students change from nervous beginners to confident critical thinkers. As the program continues to grow, I’m confident that students will have further opportunities to benefit from these valuable holiday trainings.

Engineering Camp at Gulu

It was great to be back in Gulu for my third time at the Oysters & Pearls holiday training. This was the first year we had an engineering camp designed just for girls! Eighteen girls attended the training, sixteen from secondary school and two from primary school level. In the beginning everyone was very quiet but they warmed up quickly by the end of the first day.

The first week the girls designed and created water filters. It was exciting and inspiring to watch their experimenting. Their engineering challenge was to:

Design a water cleaning process to provide clean drinking water to the girls’ dormitory.

The sample water we provided them was particularly unpleasant. We used tea leaves, mud, dirt, flowers and other various plant life, and some insects to create a nasty brew of “dirty water” that they had to clean. Their process had to include filtration and purification, and the success of their designs was evaluated based on budget, cleaning time, and quality of the water after cleaning. At the end of the week, a panel of nine teachers examined samples of the water after each team of students had cleaned it. The panel (including me) smelled the water, observed its appearance, shook it to see its clarity and particle content….and then bravely drank it to evaluate its flavor and safety. No one had diarrhea afterwards so that’s a testament to the girls’ success! But, boy oh boy, some of the water samples smelled downright terrible. And they tasted even worse. A few teachers refused to drink the ones that smelled particularly revolting. But the most intrepid judges (I am in this category, perhaps foolishly) tasted every single water sample. To my happy surprise, there was even one sample that had almost no discernible flavor at all, I was really impressed by the filtration quality that team had achieved.

Week #2 was even more exciting though! The second engineering challenge was to address the problem of limited firewood by designing and creating solar cookers using a very small budget. It was AWESOME. Seriously, very inspiring. Most of the teams ended up using metal rubbish bins they found around the school campus. They cleaned them out, lined them with leaves and soil for insulation, put cooking pots in them sealed with plastic wrap and created big wings made of cardboard covered in aluminum foil to reflect light into the cooker and onto the pots. We also put out a control pot all alone on its own with no cooker. In the heat of the first day of testing, the control pot got as hot as 35 degrees Celsius (95 degrees F) and the solar cookers got as hot as 42 degrees (108 degrees F). By the second day the control pot again went up to 35 degrees C but the solar cookers got up to 70 degrees C (158 degrees F). And by the third day, the control pot was still the same but the solar cookers were up to 85 degrees C (185 degrees F)!!! That’s not quite boiling yet but it’s hot enough to pasteurize/purify water. The girls had originally hoped to cook on their solar cookers but settled for bringing hot water back to the dorms to have hot water baths! There is no electricity in the dorms so hot water in their bucket baths is a huge luxury. They were VERY excited.

Accompanying the American teaching team were three teachers from Gulu Primary School: Teacher Chris, Teacher Kennedy, and Teacher Albert. I met these teachers over a year and a half ago when Oysters & Pearls first flew me to Uganda to teach engineering at their blind-inclusive school. It was so much fun to connect with them again and really humbling and inspiring to watch them lead many of the engineering lessons independently. The engineering education partnership between these devoted and hard-working science teachers and Oysters & Pearls has only continued to grow and strengthen! I am so thrilled to continue to be a part of it.