From a distance, it looked too cold to harbor any living thing. In fact it was tempting to tip toe inside for a ghost hunting episode. The black grilled door seemed to keep the ‘ghosts’ inside and the humans outside stood in place for security. Accompanying it were a pair of annoying wooden doors that knew not how to shut in the night or day, instead they made sure to slam close then open at the whisper of the faintest wind as if to confirm the existence of ghosts in this gothic looking structure. Then one daring soul caring a black back-pack would be seen striding across the quiet playground heading straight for the grilled door. Without peeping in, the door would be unlocked and the soul would immediately get in and close the grill behind as if securing the fort just in case the ‘ghosts’ desired to venture out. A few minutes later came another soul, and then a few others followed up in the same manner. None of them seemed to note that there was a wooden door after the grilled door that never closed. In fact, it didn’t bother any of them. They came to the Pot for a purpose, one that seemed only viable to them.
That was the SwahiliPot hub in the younger days of the month of April just after the inspection visit by the ICT Authority’s Cabinet Secretary, Honorable Joe Mucheru on the 21st March 2016.
The lower floor hardly harbored any guests unless by an event that dared to overflow. Every young soul that came to the SwahiliPot hub desired to go up the unpolished wooden staircase that led to the upper floor for a perfect view of the Indian Ocean. In the months of March and April, just a few young souls could be seen to come to the Pot to use the high speed Internet when there was no event or meeting of some kind.
After a few meetings to plan the first event after the inspection visit, SpaceApps Challenge, an international hackathon where young people gather together for 72 hours to bring up their innovations around Space related issues was set for the 23rd and 24th of April 2016. With no furniture of our own, every bit of equipment was borrowed from the nearby partners – National Museum of Kenya and Seacom. This saw growing respect for the over 100-year old structure. The first day of the event saw plus 50 young people spend a whole day of computer programming in action. The second day however, only half the number showed up. That did not deter the efforts to keep going to the end. The event saw five different solutions to Space-related problems brought to life ready for the worldwide competition!
A month down the line, on 21st and 22nd of May saw yet another major event. The Design to Transform (D2T) training and hackathon took place. Branded “Girls in Mombasa Embrace ICT”, Pwani Teknowgalz CBO hosted guests from Nairobi during this training. As was the norm, every little bit of furniture and equipment was either borrowed or dearly paid for from the meager budget. This specific event saw 33 participants on both days learn how to develop websites for community based organizations that had shown interest. Who would have thought that this would actually come to pass?
Then word spread regarding the availability of free Internet, plastic chairs were borrowed from the Swahili Culture – fifteen of them to be precise accompanied by five small wooden Lamu-design tables. Each table bore sufficient space enough to hold four laptops back to back. If soul came late he or she had to bear their laptop on their laps or place it on a second chair if there was any remaining. Peer to peer training took root with the cheeky enticement of one of the members of D2T team being dared to stay behind and help inspire the growth of the hub.
All meetups were shared in the best way known how- WhatsApp and Facebook: social media to the rescue! Word of mouth did not fail the members either, in campuses and streets, by the shores of Indian Ocean and while sharing kahawa-tungu; it was clear, SwahiliPot became the home of every young living being. The marriage had borne fruits and silenced the naysayers; the Techies solemnized the marriage to the Artists with a membership spilling over 60 members committed to the course!
It was after the D2T event that more and more young ladies and men bought to the utilization of the SwahiliPot hub. Training sessions on Web development took place on the rising of the sun and ended on the setting of the same. The lack of furniture became our luck as interested parties made a stopover from time to time: Noble members in the society in the likes of Suleiman Shabaal, Najib Balala, Mombasa’s Senator –Omar Hassan, Hassan Wario, a good number of National Museum of Kenya’s dignitaries and even members of Corporate Affairs department at the Kenya Ports Authority. The list has grown by day! Each one of them inspiring members of the SwahiliPot to keep focused on the innovations and change Mombasa’s narrative- each one desiring to partner with SwahiliPot and provide a stage for the youth to showcase their novelty.
Today our story is different; the amphitheater prides itself of daily visits by groups of artists auditioning during different times of the day. Calls and e-mails stream in from various groups even from the capital city seeking to book a space for rehearsals and events. Technology groups seek to partner and extend their events to Mombasa through SwahiliPot. This is a new dawn for the youth, indeed for Mombasa. Lady-luck smiled upon us and Seacom shared their birthday presents with us- SwahiliPot got a major facelift that saw the hub partially renovated to make the space comfortable with polished wood, repaired floor in the upper room,
functioning washrooms and a good number of the coolest furniture ever!
The membership is on the rise with at least 93 signed up members, a handful of startups being incubated and a good number of projects in progress. It is not business as usual at the SwahiliPot, it is either you are at the ‘Pot’ or you risk being left behind. Here is the enlightening; Innovative youth breathe life into any structure- they just need to know that it exists and the rest is history.