I am from Sierra Leone and I love inventing.
Kelvin Doe,15, is “DJ Focus” to his loyal listening public in Sierra Leone.
This young D.J. knows what he’s talking about – Kelvin is an engineering whiz who goes through dustbins to find the broken electronic parts  other people discard.  He uses these to create batteries, generators and transmitters for solving problems in his community.
The fm radio station he built with a team of his peers gives voice to the youth of his community.  People text into the show, which broadcasts news, music and debates on local issues, all coordinated enthusiastically by DJ Focus himself.
His mentor, David Sengeh, runs an innovation camp where Sierra Leonean youth are challenged to think about the toughest problems in their environments and solve them. David believes that there are many potential Kelvins who, given the opportunity, will create the futures they want to live in.
Kelvin has two major goals – to provide for his family and to promote inventions.  He’s hoping someday to build a windmill, like Malawian inventor William Kamkwamba, now famously known as the “boy who harnessed the wind“.

Kelvin Doe, young inventor from Sierra Leone

Kelvin Doe. Photo Credit: Paula Aguilera, MIT Media Lab

Also learning by doing, are four girls in Nigeria, all under 16.  Akindele Abiola, Duro-Aina Adebola, Bello Eniola and Faleke Oluwatoyin showed off their urine-powered generator this November at Maker Faire Africa, an event which draws practical innovators with workable solutions for immediate problems.
Their prototype produces 6 hours of electricity per each liter of urine!
The girls have attracted deserved attention worldwide recently for demonstrating the potential for creating value from an abundant resource.
Nigerian girls and their invention

Photo Credit: Maker Faire Africa

What You Can Do

Support Innovate Salone, a program to empower secondary school students in Sierra Leone in creative problem-solving.


fishermen paddling a canoe

Photo via article.wn.com

As Fishermen Go To Sea
They grip, they lift their paddles,
They rise a little, they raise a song,
They settle to dip their paddles
Deep in the heaving sea,
They heave off shore, away and away
from the strand of sand,
Away and away
From the tiptoe standing town
From mothers, children, friends.
May they return
May they return
May they return
To mothers, children, friends,
Gripping and lifting their paddles,
Rising a little, raising a song,
Settling to dip their paddles
Light in the white-foam sea.
Efua T. Sutherland
Reproduced with kind permission of the Estate of Efua T. Sutherland.  No part of this poem may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing.

For our October poem, we’re inviting you to visit the African Poetry Anthology, where you will find the poem Bonwire (bon-wee-reh), written in Twi and translated into English by Nanahene Djan.  We found a picture to go with it.

Bonwire Kente Weaver, Ghana

Photo Credit: UMES.edu

The father figure in the poem is a master weaver much like the one in this picture.  He composes his intricate patterns with love, patience and wisdom.  Each color of thread has a special meaning.
Bonwire  is a lovely poem to introduce to children.  It sounds best in the original Twi, but the English translation works well too – scroll down the page to find it.  Here is Bonwire by Nanahene Djan.
The African Poetry Anthology publishes poems in African languages. Do go over and give them a like on Facebook.


Our amazing journey of small, effective, direct global collaborations has continued since we first posted this story.
In 2013 we “met” the wonderful Lina Widlund and her organization Re:Design Sweden.  On the strength of trust built through consistent virtual dialogue, we became the beneficiaries of their first international donation!
Friends of Mmofra in the US has become a long-term partner, champion and ambassador for our causes.  They have curated four excellent photo exhibitions in the Pacific Northwest USA on the theme of children and play. They speak to us directly, and adopt very specific goals.  Currently, they are raising $2000 to construct one of the much-needed eco- sanitation facilities at the Playtime in Africa park site in 2014 so that children can begin to use the site more often.
MIIM Designs, a team commited to solutions for social impact led by Maryam Eskandari, is giving us technical and architectural support through their Harvard iLab and Palo Alto offices.
We’ve welcomed a second design team from the Technical University of Delft in Holland!  Design,Inspire,Play is a joint master’s project on a research-based play structure which is now on our site!

Original Post

At Mmofra Foundation, we have blogged, tweeted, skyped, emailed, talked, curated and organized our way from an urgent idea for rethinking space, nature, play and learning in urban Ghana  to an amazing charrette in Accra last May.
In little over a year since our 15 year old organization finally acquired a website and began to use social media, we have harnessed the “Power of We” to fuel a small and growing movement centered on children and urban placemaking in 21st century African cities – an important global conversation from which positive input from Africa is largely missing.
The urban blog ThisBigCity published our first hopeful post about local/global collaboration on Playtime in Africa, a pioneering placemaking project for children on two rare acres of green space in the heart of Accra, Ghana.
Sustainable Cities, another highly rated urban blog, picked up the story and TheCityFix of Embarq made it a Pick of the Week in September 2011. Recently the Polis Blog carried an article about our charrette as a model for frugal collaboration.
Supporters on five continents, mapped here by one of our volunteers, supply the additional energy and inspiration to make change together. We’ve made it this far because of the part played by each of the following:
Project leaders Amowi Phillips and Rachel Phillips gave the concept its shape and introduced it to a global audience with great tech support from Mark. We established collaborative links via Twitter, notably with the excellent  ThisBigCity, Playgroundology, Public Workshop, a_small_lab, and MIT Colab Radio.
Friends of Mmofra championed our causes with passion and produced a catalogue of prints from the remarkable Willis Bell Archive in collaboration with Gardner Media, from the inspirational photo essay Playtime in Africa, now celebrating its 50th year since publication. The August 2012 archive of Kilele showcased our iconic pictures of children at play.
We were inspired from around the world by the practical, the creative and the thoughtful.  We valued the early words of  encouragement from folks in related pursuits.
Susan Norwood was an early friend for public health.  Sarah Brophy talked green museums with us.
Graphic designer Zamin Dharsi introduced us to Jerry Allan, who set up a 5 year partnership between us and the Global Citizens Project at MCADChristian Werthmann linked us to Flavio Janches, who sent us reams of valuable information on designing playgrounds in the informal settlements of Buenos Aires.
Kelly Lerner gave us a back-of-the-envelope introduction to the charrette process. Peter Exley mentioned us to the great folks at Architecture for Humanity, who made room for our project on the Open Architecture Network/Worldchanging site and sponsored Design Fellow Ken Smith to help steer the Accra charrette.  Koch Hazard Architects  made it possible for Stacey Mcmahan, also an AFH Design Fellow, to keep us grounded. Berkeley College of Environmental Design student Saneta De Vuono co-ordinated the charrette.  Phoenix-based architect Lila Cohen couldn’t attend the charrette, but submitted this stunning sketch of an ‘armature’ solution with a careful and sensitive accompanying text.
Fiesta Royale and African Regent proved their neighborhood hospitality by hosting our guests in grand style.
We’re strongly anchored in a Ghanaian resource base of design professionals, young people, parents, educators, the Arts community, cultural specialists, academic researchers, public health, safety and special advocates, neighborhood folks, gardeners, media people, engineers and interested observers.
The youth were well representedKNUST Architecture students Kooko Odonkor and Emmanuel Ofori-Sarpong wrote about their experience on our design team which was led by Ralph Sutherland.  Joe Osae-Addo and veteran architecture historian N. A. Wellington joined our deliberations.  The Ghana Green Building Council looked in, and Eden Tree dispensed fresh produce with urban farming tips. Florence Benson advised on plantings and Richard Gadegbeku advised on hydrology.  Kofi Yiadom Boakye explained eco-prenuership. Stephen Kpabitey knew our neighborhood best.
Fredericka Dadson and Elizabeth Reindorf pooled years of experience in early childhood education, and the Lartey brothers promised mechanical magic.  Larry Otoo and Edwina Assan brought their art to bear, and Wild Gecko committed to help.  K. Gyan Apenteng and Sandy Arkhurst reminded us of a usable heritage.
Meanwhile in our day to day work, Nathan Midgley took on writing duties, and MIT urban planning alums Shoko Takemoto and Nse Umoh Esema brought their skills to bear on documentation ideas and grant-writing. Trevor Park crash-produced a media awareness campaign with Shoko, Dennis Gawuga, and Rachel.
Trashy Bags put us on to faculty at TUDelft and the Design Through Discovery team which is working with us now.
Billed as one of “10 emerging Sustainable Cities to Watch” , Accra is yet to earn a child-friendly stamp of approval.  The Playtime in Africa public conversations held between May 29 – 31 2012 have put children on the urbanism agenda.
Across the continent in Juba, these concerns are mirrored in South Sudanese architect Iduol Beny’s uphill efforts to realize a Children’s Pavilion project for Africa’s newest capital city.  The state of play in Accra and Juba represents a continent-wide gap in child-centered interventions to make cities more liveable.  Through Skype-aided conversations, we’re sharing stories and strategies.
Support Playtime in Africa with your donation to Mmofra Foundation or to the Design Through Discovery team.

Young girl playing with cloth "sails"

Photo by Willis Bell.

From the Willis Bell Archive of Mmofra Foundation.  The unique collection includes thousands of black & white images constituting a social and historic record of Ghana 1958 -1978.  The image appears in the 1962 photo essay Playtime in Africa by Willis Bell and Efua T. Sutherland.  For information contact Mmofraghana@gmail.com.

Pictures from our blog archives of the past year in celebration of the first International Day of the Girl.
Power to be inspired.

Josephine Mpongo, cellist

Credit: Kinshasa-symphony.com

Power to read.
Little Girl Reading

Photo courtesy: General Media Solutions

Power to design.
Mmofra Foundation teen holds up Charrette definition

Credit: Mmofra Foundation

Power to speak.
Young Mmofra Language Club member speaks

Credit: Mmofra Foundation

Power to perform.
Students Performing Children of the Man-Made Lake at Open Day, 2007

Credit: Mmofra Foundation

Power to record.
Elisabeth Sutherland records a Playtime in Africa session
Power to run.
Schoolgirls Running in Open Day Performance, 2007

Credit: General Media Solutions

Power to ponder.
Girl at Mmofra Foundation Arbor Day session.

Credit: Mmofra Foundation

Power of self-expression.

Girl, Nima Muhinmanchi Art program, Accra.

Credit: Mmofra Foundation

Power to excel.

Young Ugandan chess champion Phiona Mutesi

photo credit: Stephanie Sinclair, ESPN.com

Power to paint.
Young girl adding handprint to mural, Muhinmanchi Art event

photo credit: Alex Akuffo Productions

Power to dance.
Mmofra Language Club participant dressed as chief

Credit: General Media Solutions

Power to learn.
Children spelling on corkboard at Mmofra Reading Clinic

Credit: General Media Solutions

Power to be happy.
Little Girl at Mmofra Session 2012

Credit: Mmofra Foundation.

Power to be the next generation of a new country.
Two South Sudanese girls celebrating independence

Two South Sudanese girls. Credit: Mmofra Foundation

Trust, B&W image from the Willis Bell Archive

"Trust", ca. 1960. The Willis Bell Archive, Ghana

From the Willis Bell Archive of Mmofra Foundation.  The unique collection includes thousands of black & white images constituting a social and historic record of Ghana 1958 -1978.  The image appears in the 1962 photo essay Playtime in Africa by Willis Bell and Efua T. Sutherland.  For information contact Mmofraghana@gmail.com.

Popular songs can be turned into wonderful children’s books!
Cedella Marley, daughter of the famous Jamaican singer and song writer Bob Marley, is a mother, musician and designer herself.  Now, she is also producing books inspired by some of her dad’s best loved songs.
Grown-ups, get ready to sing!  You can now pass on Bob Marley’s message of peace, love and harmony to a new generation.
Every-Little-Thing by Cedella Marley
Released just this year, Every Little Thing is based on the words of the well-known song Three Little Birds. The joyful illustrations are by Vanessa Brantley-Newton.
Cedella Marley has added new verses to tell the story of  a little boy from a loving family who goes everywhere in the company of three birds (and a cat!).  Whether playing soccer, making a mess in the kitchen, or in bed at the end of a busy day, they are there to cheer him up:
Interior page of Every-Little-Thing
The idea to connect her father’s lyrics to children came to Marley last year, when she was performing another famous song, One Love.
Also illustrated by Brantley-Newton,  One Love is a cheerful and upbeat story with a message about the importance of working together for the common good.
One Love by Cedella Marley front cover
A girl called Little C gets everyone in her neighborhood to help clean up One Love Park.
One Love by Cedella Marley, interior page
With the rich legacy of Bob Marley’s music to draw on, we can expect many more “songs to read” from Cedella Marley and her gifted collaborators.

singer and writer Cedella Marley

Cedella Marley. Photo via The Gleaner

Chopbox Design Sample
Who Comes?
Rain tapped on the doors of earth.
I’m coming, said the millepede
The lazy sleepy earthbeast
And crawled out of his hole all dressed up in rings.
Rain tapped on the doors of earth.
I’m coming, said the earthworm
The slimy sleepy earthbeast
And slipped out of his hole with nothing on at all.
Rain tapped on the doors of earth.
I’m coming, said the flowers
The dainty smiling dancers
And tripped into the showers in their blue, red and gold.
Efua Theodora Sutherland
All rights Reserved. Reproduced by kind permission of the Estate of Efua T. Sutherland.