Applied Physics & Technology On A Shoestring

Practical science and technology demonstrations, usually connected with agriculture, such as pumps and solar dryers for fruit, and local young people made from commonly available resources.

The activities recorded here began around 1986 in the town of Lichinga in the north of Mozambique where we were working as a branch of the ‘Casa Velha’ (Old House), a local cultural organisation with headquarters in the capital, Maputo. After about twelve years there we moved to the village of KaTembe (then called Catembe) across the estuary from Maputo and called ourselves the ‘Grupo Faísca’ (Spark Group). Previously I was a consultant on education to the United Nations.
Over several years we have had help from Norway, Denmark, Germany, Ireland, UNICEF and the UK and began activities which at first were intended to give the young people in Lichinga something interesting to do, starting with helping them to create musical bands. At that time there was very little for young people to do. I taught them to make musical instruments, beginning with acoustic guitars. This was very successful and half a dozen bands were formed. These played in the bairros and gradually grew to big public performances in the town. I found a boy who was making models and he began to make excellent musical instruments.

Some members from the bands have now combined and have becopme famous as ‘The Massukos’ who now tour the world and have performed at the world-renowned Glastonbury Festival in England.
The work spread. Groups made puppets, wrote plays for them, made a mobile stage and performed in the bairros to great acclaim. We showed a local carpenter how to make spinning wheels for the local cotton, and looms to weave blankets, and a group of women made these and sold them. There were no blankets available; this was the time of the civil war and almost nothing could be bought in the town. I and my wife Julie taught a young man to set up a pottery and build a kiln and sell useful pots to the public. We set up a printing group which printed (with a simple silk screen printing frame) booklets and posters, mostly on health, and cooperated with the local health workers to take these to schools and health centres.

The schools did no practical science, so we set up a demonstration centre in an old house and showed practical science demonstrations where young people did activities themselves. We gradually developed technology demonstrations, usually connected with agriculture, such as pumps and solar dryers for fruit, and local young people made and operated them. A young man, Alberto Capola, then worked more or less permanently at the centre. He made and demonstrated much of the work, including windmills made out of bamboo and old car generators for making electricity, and very good solar cookers made from common hardboard and aluminium foil. We then began to concentrate less on science and more on technology, made from commonly available resources.

With an amateur video camera, we filmed much of what the groups were doing. As I write this now in 2015, I and Mozambican friends are developing a video film out of this material. The filmed material is in ‘Video films’ on this site represents only a small proportion of what was done.

In all that we did in Mozambique, I myself actually did very little beyond providing ideas, encouraging the local young people and obtaining modest funds to pay them for their work, and purchasing certain material from Maputo, such as tools, an amplifier and microphones, and so on.

Looking back on the work I can see that it showed the abilities and potential of young people in Mozambique – something which should be built on to help create a base of technically able young people to help to build up Mozambique’s industries; This is greatly needed.
During the many years of this work, government authorities have shown little interest, with the exception of the Ministry of Science and Technology which helped to encourage and fund some of the work. We thank them.

Most of the people who did the work are now middle-aged and dispersed and living ordinary lives. The demonstration centre in Katembe has closed down.
Although written in Mozambique, it will be useful in other countries, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa whose situations, educational difficulties and potentials for improvements are similar.

I retired to England in 2008 because of illness and age but on this site I am currently writing a practical manual on Rural Technology, based on my experiences.

(Sadly Keith Warren has since died and no one remains to carry on developing his idea for a practical manual of Rural technology for young people, but the draft has been left in place on the blog as a guide that any future developer could follow.)

Click here to download the samples.

All material on the website may be copied, modified and used in any way; there is no copyright. Please mention this Site to anyone else who may be interested.