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Self-Taught African Teen Turns Trash into Electricity

Self-Taught African Teen Turns Trash into Electricity

Necessity can be the mother of invention as the case of 16-year-old Kelvin Doe amply illustrates. Using things he’d found in trash bins or around his house in Sierra Leone in western Africa, Doe started making batteries and generators when he was 13 years old. The generator not only provides electricity for his house — which otherwise would get power about once a week — and for his neighbors to charge their mobile phones, it also powers Doe’s own FM radio station, outfitted with a recycled CD player and antenna and a music mixer.

For his innovation and invention, Doe was invited to be part of a “Meet the Young Makers” panel at the 2012 World Maker Faire this past September. He has also become the youngest person ever to be part of the “Visiting Practioner’s Program” at M.I.T.; students at M.I.T. and Harvard, and the President of Harvard, have heard Doe talk about his inventions.

Doe’s ingenuity was discovered thanks to a program called Innovate Salone, a national “innovation challenge” for high school students in Sierra Leone sponsored by an international nonprofit, Global Minimum. Students were asked to devise solutions to problems in their everyday lives. 300 submitted applications; ideas included new agricultural programs and ways to provide quality education through the radio.

David Sengah, a Sierra Leonean who studied biomedical engineering at Harvard and is now pursuing a Ph.D. at M.I.T., helped put together Innovate Salone. At the M.I.T. Media Lab, he is developing the “next generation of prosthetic sockets and wearable mechanical interfaces.” His own experience of Sierra Leone’s needs has fueled his work. But it has also made him aware that, when he brings his prostheses to his country, it is crucial that people there be able to use and maintain them, without the technologies available at M.I.T.

In other words, technology is great and wondrous but its recipients need to be able to use it on their own, with the materials they have readily at hand.

Doe’s batteries — made by combining acid, soda and metal in a tin cup, letting the mixture dry and wrapping tape around the cup — exemplify this goal. He made a generator from a rusty voltage stabilizer found in the trash. These creations would be the stuff of science fair projects here in the U.S.; in Doe’s case, they have play a vital role in his community and not only by providing electricity. For his homemade FM station, Doe has friends (average age 12) serve as reporters and station managers, to interview soccer game spectators and keep a calendar of requests for his DJ services.

If you’re not impressed yet (not to mention inspired to see what you can make yourself!), you can listen to Doe in a video produced by’s THINKR YouTube channel.

As the completely self-taught young engineer says, “They call me DJ Focus because I believe if you focus, you can do an invention perfectly.” Doe says he plans to share what he’s learned at M.I.T. with his “friends, colleagues and loved ones” — and, let’s hope, the rest of the world. Great ideas and inventions like those of Kelvin Doe are something we can all learn and benefit from.

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Image from a screenshot of a video uploaded by thnkrtv

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10:50AM PDT on Apr 3, 2013

Very interesting!

8:24AM PST on Jan 27, 2013

Awesome young guy!

8:23AM PST on Jan 27, 2013

What a great and admiresome guy! I hope MIT and others will sponsor him and others to get more knowledge.

6:31AM PST on Dec 28, 2012

What an inspiring young man! He is so humble, too. An example to everyone. Well done, Kelvin.

7:40AM PST on Dec 22, 2012

Thank you

7:26PM PST on Dec 19, 2012

thank you!

3:16PM PST on Dec 16, 2012

Wow, amazing :-)

3:24AM PST on Dec 16, 2012

Thanks for the article.

8:16AM PST on Dec 15, 2012

Using your time well, and applying yourself. You are a wonderful kid - a wonderful human being!

1:03PM PST on Dec 14, 2012

Thanks for posting.

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