Kelvin Doe: The Young, Self-Taught Engineer Working For a Better World

The story of Kelvin Doe is the tale of a boy who was aware that no one was going to help him. That's why he made the decision to help himself. He did it extremely well. In fact, his life is an example of the fact that, even in the most difficult conditions, it's far more appropriate to focus on solutions than problems.
Kelvin Doe: The Young, Self-Taught Engineer Working For a Better World
Gema Sánchez Cuevas

Written and verified by the psychologist Gema Sánchez Cuevas.

Last update: 30 January, 2022

Kelvin Doe is living proof that lack can either be a limitation or a challenge. It all depends on how you look at it. There are those who have a lot and achieve little. There are others, like Kelvin, who have a little but achieve a lot, and gradually find their way out of seemingly impossible situations.

Kelvin Doe’s story begins in Freetown, the capital of one of the poorest countries in the world, Sierra Leone. He was born in a slum in 1996, at the same time as his nation was trying to recover from a civil war that had only ended a few years earlier. In fact, in the country, there was still talk of massacres, war crimes, and unhealed wounds.

Kelvin was black, African, and poor. Three characteristics that didn’t seem to bode well for him in a world dominated by rich whites in the northern hemisphere. Kelvin was a cheerful boy, with a hard-working and dedicated mother but no father. Perhaps out of habit, or maybe due to some lingering hope of a future, he went to the local school to learn.

We can all make a change. When I started I had no resources. I had to push myself .”

-Kelvin Doe-

Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone rubbish dumps

Today’s world is full of electronic devices that become obsolete in no time. That makes for tons of tech garbage. However, we never seem to ask where it all goes.

As a matter of fact, that waste ends up in countries like Sierra Leone, as well as Ghana, China, and India. In all these countries there are places, generally near poor neighborhoods, where this type of waste accumulates.

Many poor families make a living digging through these dumps. They usually rescue the items that contain some type of metal that they can sell. Kelvin Doe did that. However, he was a smart boy and, in addition to mining and selling metal components to help his mother, he also started to wonder about them.

Kelvin always kept pieces from the dump that caught his eye and examined them carefully. He investigated further and, with each discovery he made, he became increasingly fascinated. He wanted to experiment with his finds, but there was a problem. In his community, they only had electricity for a few hours a week.

A great little feat

Kelvin Doe thought there had to be some way to solve the problem. He went to the library of his old school and there he found some dilapidated and outdated engineering books.

However, they gave him the information he needed to do what he wanted. That was to make a battery to give him more hours of energy to carry out his experiments. He succeeded and later made his own electric generator.

The generator became a meeting point for the entire community. There, they had light, they could recharge the recycled cellphones that many had rebuilt, and they all had a good time together. When Kelvin Doe started this adventure, he was barely ten years old. Four years later he thought that perhaps it was time to go even further.

One of his great passions was music, so he decided to start a radio station. He played his favorite songs, broadcast football matches for everyone, and even gave voice to the neighbors so they could talk about their problems. They started calling him DJ Focus.

Kelvin Doe

A lucky twist

In Sierra Leone, there was an innovation contest for high school students. Kelvin participated in the competition with his inventions and became one of the finalists. It was there that David Sengeh, a doctoral student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), met him. He was amazed. With pieces of garbage, this boy had managed to create technology. Furthermore, the most surprising thing was that he was self-taught.

Sengeh invited him to tell his story at various educational centers in the United States. Kelvin had never left his city, but he accepted the challenge. For two weeks, he spoke about his inventions in different universities and technology centers. A few months later, he received a proposal from the Canadians to make a network of solar panels with Wi-Fi, with the purpose of bringing electricity to remote regions of Sierra Leone.

One thing led to another and, at the age of 21, Kelvin Doe moved to Canada to formally do what he’d always been doing: study engineering. He’s currently advancing his studies and continuing with the Canadian project. When asked about the force that has driven him, he says, “My mom is the reason for my inspiration. I want to go back and help, not only her but my entire community.”

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