In my last post, I talked about how I brought a bunch of candy with me to Liberia, but once I got here, I realized that just giving it out freely would cause problems.
For a fraction of a second I thought about using the candy as incentives in my classes, or giving it to children that helped me with chores but that didn’t feel quite right either. It doesn’t seem healthy to reward kids for work they are supposed to be doing anyway. (Check out this book for more justification of this. I’ve only read bits so far, but its thesis captures a lot of my thoughts on this topic)
One day, I was hanging out with my neighbor and noticed that his two sons were playing with some old circuit boards. I immediately had two thoughts. My first one was, “electronic trash like this is toxic – kids should not be playing with this” and then it was quickly followed by “hey, there’s a bunch of good components on those boards I could use for little electronics projects… I want those boards”.
So, I asked the kids for their boards and in return, I gave them each a piece of candy. I told their father that whenever they found things like that they could give what they found to me and I would give them more candy. Their eyes widened and the younger brother squeeled with excitement.
Over the next couple days, these two brothers came by my house about twice a day to trade in electronics they found for candy. They’d come to my front door with their latest find and I would make a big show critically inspecting it for a minute or two (with a lot of “mmhmm”s) before nodding in satisfaction and disappearing in my back room to bring back their reward, proportional to the size of their find. Then, before I’d give them their candy, I’d have them wash their hands while explaining to them that they needed to do this because it had poison on it.
There was a brief moment during those first couple days when the kids showed up like three times in the span of an hour with new parts and I was a little worried that the kids had found an endless source of parts and were going to get all my candy too easily. I asked them how they were finding so much stuff, and the older brother proudly proclaimed “we’re digging for it!”, which also worried me for other safety reasons. But thankfully after that afternoon it seemed that their source dried up and the circuit boards continued to be rare finds.
It was fun to see how the news spread among the children that I was buying electronics. I had only really told my neighbor’s children, but pretty soon other random kids were bringing me stuff. I get something new every four days or so, which feels like a perfect level of “scarcity” for the value I feel candy holds for the children. And in only a month or so, I have built up an impressive electronics collection:
With this buyback system, I’m facilitating the cleaning of e-waste from the kid’s play areas and at the same time I’m getting a bunch of spare parts I can use for my own projects!
One time my neighbor’s two sons came by with a board and after I bought it I noticed they also had a speaker with them they hadn’t offered to trade in. I asked about the speaker, offering to buy it (I really wanted it, too), but the older brother refused. I was very surprised — what would they want with an old speaker?
I asked him why he wanted to keep it, but he was reluctant to tell me the reason, until his little brother blurted out (in a whisper that belied the awe he held towards his big brother) “he can make it talk!”.
I was fascinated and wanted to hear more. For a moment I thought he was connecting it to a phone or some other audio output, but it turned out he was just touching the speaker terminals to old batteries. “Oh, so it makes a sound like ‘scrsh rr r’, right?”, I asked him, and the brothers nodded and got big smiles when they realized I shared their secret knowledge.
I told them, “You know, if we can find a way to melt these ‘dots’ on the back of the circuit board, we could melt the components out of the board and put them together in a way that could make the speaker say ‘eeeeeeeoooooo!'”
The boys really liked that idea and promised to find a little bit of metal we could heat in a coal pot to use as a soldering iron. (I brought a soldering iron, but I don’t want to use it because I don’t want the kids to think you need a bunch of equipment to do cool projects). In the meantime, I traded them two bags of pop rocks and two warheads for the valuable speaker. (A good deal for them, I think, but I really wanted to get that speaker)
The kids have since brought me a little wire used for repairing fishing nets that looks like it might work. We haven’t had the chance to build anything yet because I’ve been so busy with school, but I’m looking forward to doing something once a break rolls around!
Here are the two brothers that originally started bringing me stuff:
Here’s another kid I got a photo of the same day:
My electronics pile is getting super big! (I took these pictures right before I got some baskets to hold everything)
I can’t wait to show you some of the projects I’m working on with this stuff!