African Teen Invents With Scrap Metal, Visits MIT and Harvard

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The Innovate Salone competition was modeled after the MIT Ideas Challenge, where applicants are encouraged to present and develop ideas that will change the world.

"In my life, I am very grateful to all my mentors," said Sengeh. "I just wanted to share with the young innovators what I was exposed to. I knew they would learn a lot even within a short period of time."

Winning teams are paired with local mentors within their community, as well as professionals in the fields of chemistry, physics and bioengineering.

Sampath is part of the Visiting Practitioners Program at MIT's International Development Initiative. She heard about Doe's inventions through Sengeh.

"It's the first time a 15-year-old has gone through the MIT Visiting Practitioners Program," said Sampath. "That program brings in mid-career professionals. Fifteen years old is not the average age of people who are visiting practitioners. There's never been anyone even twice his age admitted."

Doe describes himself as a self-taught inventor who looks at an object, breaks it apart and then rebuilds it completely. He's built his own amplifiers and repurposed audio speakers.

"Kelvin doesn't own a screwdriver," said Sampath. "He is a prodigy."

Freetown, Sierra Leone

Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone, is home to one million people. In Doe's community, there are few resources.

"It is not one of the wealthier areas so the challenges are the same across these communities," said Sengeh.

Sierra Leone sits on the western coast of Africa is home to over five million people.

From West Africa to the Western World

When Doe and his teammates were selected as finalists, they were invited to travel to the U.S. in September. They took part in the Maker Fare, a festival for inventors in New York City, and spent time meeting students and professors at MIT and Harvard. The three-week trip was made possible through partnerships with Africell Sierra Leone, Make Inc., and MIT.

This was the first time Doe left Freetown to travel to the United States. Many helped make Doe's visit comfortable, including hosts like Kate Krontiris, who works for Reboot.org — an organization at the Maker Faire.

"He was tremendously focused on his inventions, improving them and making them do different things," said Krontiris, panel member for the Maker Faire. "He's also sort of a regular person who came to the US for the first time. I think it was exciting and a bit overwhelming."

Despite the culture shock, Doe's mentor in Sierra Leone, Francis Koromah, said he could see how the experience in the states affected the young inventor.

"When Kelvin came back from the U.S. it was wonderful for us," said Koromah. "His interaction just transformed him into something. It's a massive difference — a big change and it's wonderful."

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