“Bhaiyya (brother), when will you come again? There’s a lot more I need to learn from you!”
— Bhimrao to Ritesh
For the interns at MakerGhat, a delightful summer that was filled with laughter, friendship, and adventure has finally — and poignantly — come to a close. This summer, several students from Georgia Tech, Stanford University, and Smith College found themselves a home at MakerGhat — a non-profit community makerspace for underserved youth in Mumbai (India). The interns came from diverse ethnicities and nationalities, which made it an interesting, challenging, and simultaneously exhilarating summer for them as well as for the Mumbai MakerGhat community.
MakerGhat is a non-profit foundation started by graduate students and alumni from Georgia Tech, Stanford University, and IIT Bombay. Its vision is to support the creation of community leaders for enacting change at the hyperlocal level, in the firm belief that the best people to address challenges for communities are the ones who are from these communities. Towards this vision, MakerGhat offers a welcoming studio space for community members to ideate, create, and collaborate on a number of ambitious, locally relevant projects. Members are provided mentorship from other community members and experts, highly subsidized or free access to hardware and software across diverse engineering and emerging technology domains, and resources for community projects as well as creative activities.
Georgia Tech’s Denning Global Engagement grant funded a Makers-in-Residence program this summer, to support three interns — Ritesh Bhatt (B.S./M.S. Mechanical Engineering), Solum Onwuchekwa (B.S. Civil Engineering), and Josiah Mangiameli (M.S. Human-Computer Interaction). They were also joined by Vishal Sharma, an incoming Ph.D. student in Human-Centered Computing (HCC) at Georgia Tech. These interns were guided by Azra Ismail (myself) and Aditya Vishwanath, MakerGhat co-founders and Ph.D. students — in HCC at Georgia Tech and Learning Sciences & Technology Design at Stanford University, respectively. Neha Kumar, assistant professor at the Sam Nunn School of International Affairs and the School of Interactive Computing, was the P.I. for the grant and advisor for this program.
Over the six-week program, the interns worked on individual research projects with local community members. This entailed conducting needs assessment surveys with local stakeholders on topics aligned with the UN Sustainable Development Goals (particularly goals 6, 11, and 12 on clean water and sanitation, sustainable cities and communities, and responsible consumption and production), and designing and prototyping technology solutions at MakerGhat to address related challenges. For example, Josiah worked with Prof. Jitendra Shah from IIT Bombay alongside various non-profit and academic organizations to understand how a web GIS platform might be designed to support civic engagement by local communities. Ritesh worked with a local social enterprise called Raddiconnect on a hand-operated PET bottle baling machine to optimize the work of waste collectors or raddiwallas. Solum interfaced with various stakeholders in the water and sanitation space and drafted a plan of action for MakerGhat and the surrounding community to reduce waste. Vishal studied the operations of MakerGhat and a partner NGO, Asha for Education, to understand how makerspaces themselves might be designed to be more inclusive and welcoming. Many members of the MakerGhat community were involved in the genesis, design, and development of these projects. They will be continuing to work on these projects, and leading and deploying them moving forward.
Interns also worked together to conduct workshops for students at MakerGhat on design thinking, electronics, product design, and water and waste management. In addition, interns mentored community members on a daily basis, not just on their individual projects but also on their personal goals and aspirations. They not only shared their technical expertise and experience working in industry, academia, and makerspaces elsewhere, but also helped community members articulate their own aspirations and how they might go about achieving them.
Moving forward, MakerGhat hopes to see many more such local and global collaborations with students. By offering an informal, non-judgmental, open, and accepting makerspace environment, MakerGhat encourages interns and community members to recognize each other as peers, each individual bringing their own unique expertise. All students at MakerGhat are afforded the space to make mistakes, recognize them, and learn from them. Students from local communities utilized their interactions with the interns to improve their communication skills and fluency in English, gain confidence, and share experiences, while also brainstorming and prototyping with them. Interns not of Indian origin found themselves in an atypical position of having to re-learn how to communicate with, teach, and learn from students who spoke in an unfamiliar language and came from markedly different socioeconomic backgrounds. Throughout, learning was bidirectional.
And as MakerGhat activities carried on, Mumbai’s monsoon showers provided the perfect backdrop, offering the perfect excuse for impromptu breaks with steaming chai and delicious mangoes!