Somalia’s 13-year-old inventor makes electronic toys from scraps


A 13-year-old boy’s passion for making electronic toys in Somalia has won him local fame and a free education.

Guled Adan Abdi, from the northern town of Buhodle, taught himself how to make plastic toys from bits of discarded objects, and then worked out how to motorise them by studying real cars.

“I started making toys when I was younger,” he told the BBC Somali Service.

“I used to play with them without any motor. But later I said to myself: ‘Why don’t you make them into a moving machine?’

“So I looked at the cars in the town and invented my toys with the same design.”

Guled Adan Abdi makes his toys out of discarded objects
Guled Adan Abdi makes his toys out of discarded objects

So far, he has constructed four electronic toys, including a truck and a plane, mainly using plastic from old cooking oil containers.

He has also invented a fan that can be used as a light at night.

Guled lives at home with his mother and older brother and sister, and goes to a school in Buhodle that is supported by Somalis in the diaspora.

But he has missed out on a lot of his education and is only in the third year at primary school – a class usually for eight year olds.

This is because his father disappeared in 2002 and is presumed dead.

"I have never seen anyone make such things... I investigated and found out how a car's tyres turn"
“I have never seen anyone make such things… I investigated and found out how a car’s tyres turn”

His mother struggles to support the family by selling anjeera – Somali pancakes – so when things get tough financially, the family sometimes has to stay with relatives in a remote area where Guled cannot go to school.

‘Proud of genius’

But they have spent the last year in Buhodle and Guled has dedicated hours to his inventions after school, which finishes at midday.

“From noon to late in the evening I usually work on my cars.

“I have never seen anyone make such things and I was not trained by anyone. I investigated and found out for example how a car’s tyres turn.”

Guled connects the toys to a battery-powered control box to get the parts to move
Guled connects the toys to a battery-powered control box to get the parts to move

To get the toys to move, he connects them to a battery-powered control box, which is marked with a plus and minus sign.

“If it is switched to minus, the car will move backwards, if you move the switch to the plus it will go forwards,” he said.

The toys are fashioned from rubbish, so the only things he has to pay for are the batteries, which cost $0.25 (£0.17) for a pair.

It is his teacher, Asha Ahmed Omar, who has been the real driving force behind Guled, encouraging him to continue with his experimenting and buying him the first batteries.

As his reputation has grown, people now come along in the afternoon to give him encouragement and watch him at work.

This has won over his mother, Maryan Hassan, who has not always been keen on his obsession and sometimes threw away out his model cars that cluttered up their home.

She is now proud of her son and believes he is a genius.

Guled’s blossoming has been very positive for the family, who are recovering from being caught up in clan fighting a year ago when Mrs Hassan was injured by a bullet which shattered her shoulder.

Manufacturing ambitions

Now his fame has spread beyond Buhodle after his teacher told the local authorities about her pupil, and earlier this month he was asked to travel 270km (170 miles) to Garowe, the main town of Somalia’s semi-autonomous Puntland region.

The president of Somalia's Puntland region wanted to see Guled's inventions
The president of Somalia’s Puntland region wanted to see Guled’s inventions

Dressed up in a suit, Guled showed his inventions to Puntland President Abdiweli Mohamed Ali at state house.

President Ali promised that the Puntland government would now fund his education.

But for Guled there is another problem – getting funds to buy new parts for his toys, which he would like to be able to sell.

Eyeing his future, the teenager said his ambitions are not limited to models.

“I would like to gradually learn how to become a producer of cars.”

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