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Fab lab kakuma


A pioneer when it comes to innovative higher education in emergencies, InZone has just launched a new project in Kakuma Refugee Camp, the Uvumbuzi Tech Challenge

Inclusive and accessible higher education, innovation and empowerment are at the core of InZone’s work. Interested in exploring disruptive ways of teaching and learning and inspired by the open-source approach of the FabLab movement and design thinking methodology, InZone has in February 2021 launched the Uvumbuzi Tech Challenge, a pedagogic problem-solving exercise. The aim of this pilot project is to equip potential students in Kakuma refugee camp and Kalobeyei with knowledge and skills to find technology-supported solutions to problems in their living environments. This experience will, in the long-term, serve as a base to develop new relevant, cutting-edge and needs-based academic courses (certificate of open studies, COS). 

The RIF in Kakuma has been sponsored by IEEE Circuit and Systems Society in the context of their Africa initiative.

The project will culminate in July 2021 with the prototyping of solutions to pre-defined problems in a FabLab that is about to be installed in Kakuma Refugee Camp.  

Innovation, design thinking and co-creation

«Uvumbuzi» means «innovation» in Kiswahili, one of the most-spoken languages in Kakuma refugee camp. The tech challenge provides creative people living in Kakuma Refugee Camp and Kalobeyei settlement with the opportunity to act as drivers of social change by working on tech-supported solutions, in line with the SDGs, for issues they and their communities are confronted with in their daily lives. 

How? To stay true to the human-centered approach and aware that no one knows the problems these target groups face better than themselves, an open call for participation was launched within the camp and settlement in February this year. People were encouraged to document issues they encounter in their daily lives via short videos. At the same time, a series of training series was launched to familiarize potential participants with the design thinking methodology. 

A selection committee composed by experts from various institutions (e.g. Kenyatta University, ECE, IEEE, EPFL, Kenyan Red Cross) carefully reviewed the problems shared by people interested in participating to the challenge and selected seven as project subjects. 

The teams and their projects

In the realm of bridging distances and encouraging the exchange of knowledge and acquisition of skills, the idea was to compose teams consisting of both participants from Kakuma/Kalobeyei and engineering students from Kenyatta University and the Kenya branch of IEEE. Besides some minimum requirements to be eligible for the tech challenge (e.g. English skills), applicants were also asked to write a short motivational statement and select the projects they’d be most interested in being part of. The selection process resulted in the creation of seven teams composed of 5 to 8 people from Kakuma, Kalobeyei, and Nairobi. 

Through preliminary research and the conduct of field interviews (empathy phase) the teams got more familiar with the problem they’d work on and how it affected the lives of people in Kakuma and Kalobeyei. 

‘The Uvumbuzi Tech Challenge gives me the opportunity to scope the unrealized energy in me to solve the problems within the communities.’

My experience as a participant has been great so far. The interactions, online collaboration, and research into the topic assigned have been very intellectually and socially gratifying. Seeing how other professionals and experts within the challenge think and approach challenges and projects, has expanded my way of thinking as well.’

‘What I have been learning about? The power of teamwork. For a project to be successful, you need the input of various like-minded individuals.’

Overview of the Uvumbuzi Tech Challenge projects

Power / Electricity


Power in Kakuma camp and Kalobeyei settlement is obtained in two ways:

  • Fueled gensets: supply power into households. This is very costly as those gensets consume a lot of fuel and produce a lot of noise. Beyond that, maintenance is expensive.
  • Solar power: it is the easiest to set but expensive.

Most of the refugees are unable to afford both options due to essential poverty.

Waste Management


Waste management is a big challenge in Kakuma and Kalobeyei as there is little awareness about waste management among the communities.

Except in very few restaurants where dustbins have been installed, other waste is uncontrollably thrown everywhere.

This sometimes causes bad smell in some areas or is a source of epidemic diseases and environmental pollution. Kakuma doesn’t have any plastic recycling factory. 

Water management

It costs a lot for refugees to get water as fuelled gensets are required to pump water into water tanks planted in different area in the camps. This causes insufficiency of water supply in some of the areas in the camp, travelling long distances with 20 litres jerricans on the head, pushing wheelbarrows loaded with 5 to 7 jerricans of water. In short, water is one of the big challenges in Kakuma and Kalobeyei.

Agro technology

Despite the efforts undertaken by local and international NGOs to allow households to have a garden with vegetables or fruits, it is still a challenge to achieve this due to the lack of water, seeds, or due to ignorance.

Cooking (frugal technologies)

Most of the cooking and processing materials, and kitchen utensils are imported from Nairobi and other cities and sometimes at a high price that most of refugees can‘t afford.

Teenage pregnancies

A lot of people in the camp are not aware about social problems such as teenage pregnancies unless they are immediately confronted with an issue such as fighting, raping, etc. The variety of culture and social backgrounds in the camp furthermore hinder the access to accurate information on sexual health and support services to fight the problem.

Menstrual health

The lack of information on menstrual health and the different approaches to handle this as part of a girls’ process of becoming an adult person lead to stigma or to other grave consequences such as mental health problems and transactional sex. The variety of culture and social backgrounds in the camp furthermore hinder the access to accurate information on menstrual health and support services to fight the problem.

A support network to ensure a unique learning experience and quality results

Remote collaboration, the use of new tools, discovering and implementing the design thinking methodology and joining forces to find tech-supported solutions to real problems in a refugee context – the teams of the Uvumbuzi Tech Challenge face a steep learning curve ! Design thinking experts were mobilized to accompany the teams as mentors and technical experts from institutions such as EAWAG/SANDECEPFLAAHI and SUPSI provide the teams with the necessary guidance and support.

Where are the teams now?

The focus is on deepening their research of potential solutions and analysing those, on identifiying and mapping relevant stakeholders, and on creating scenarios that can be presented to the target groups next week (empathy phase 2). The interviews are supposed to provide the teams with relevant information on relevant aspects such as viability, feasibility, usefulness and sustainability of the proposed solution(s). This will help the teams decide on the solution they will prototype in the FabLab. 

The Uvumbuzi Tech Challenge – from ideas to prototypes

The Way forward

InZone is confident that a symbiosis between practice and theory can serve the sustainable creation of certificates of open studies (COS) in refugee contexts, taking into consideration structural, technical and other barriers within the camp and among stakeholders involved. InZone supposes that curricula based on socio-constructivism and experiential learning theories may be better adapted to students in emergency contexts, as they foster systems thinking and creativity, allow for a better contextualization to the students living reality and provide students with the possibility to specialize in specific areas of interest which they have explored during the Uvumbuzi Tech Challenge. 

Please follow us on LinkedIn or on the Uvumbuzi Tech Challenge blog to stay abreast on any developments.