[Cathy Chen shares her inspiring Maker Camp experience with us! Maker Camp is a self-service virtual camp for anyone (but particularly kids aged 7-12) interested in DIY, making, creating, crafting, hacking, tinkering, and discovery. See (and make!) these great Maker Camp projects.]

Landlocked and Overlooked

Located at the unique intersection of Eastern New Mexico, Western Texas, and Northern State of Chihuahua in Mexico, El Paso-Juarez conurbation is the largest border city in the United States— with 2.7 million people traveling fluidly on a daily basis across borders. Yet, being landlocked in a low-income city at the frontier means that El Paso is often overlooked and subsequently left out of innovations and conversations.

In 2013, Fab Lab El Paso, a non-profit makerspace was established in an effort to change this fact through grassroots support and action. With the love and support of Maker Media, who sent us a Makerspace Starter Kit in 2014, Fab Lab has been able to provide young tinkerers and inventors with Make: magazines to loan. We have also been hosting Maker Camp for three consecutive years with increasing participation from kids in our communities.

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The Makers Are Out There

Maker Camp has confirmed what we have always suspected — that Makers exist in our community, but they are making, inventing, and tinkering alone. They may not even call themselves “Makers” and may not be aware of the bountiful resources available online for others who share similar interests. Maker Camp has given young Makers the opportunity to engage in conversation and form bonds of friendship over exploring Thingiverse, learning to solder, 3D modeling and 3D printing, and just having fun with hands-on experimentation with things around them.

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For us, the Camp organizers at Fab Lab El Paso, the joy and reward comes from guiding and witnessing the amazing levels of creativity that is unleashed by an extracurricular education focused on Making. At our Maker Camp at Fab Lab El Paso, we try to integrate free and open-source software and hardware into the projects for these young digital natives so that there’s a seamless transition from “bits to atoms”, from digital to real world, from imagination to product. Furthermore, girls who participate in the camp are often intrigued by the creative, artistic side of Making — especially wearable tech and graphic animation. Nine-year-old Aleyna Orrick says, “It’s always fun watching a light go on or something move that you created. It really makes you feel like you accomplished something.”

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This year, we also had two brother campers who built a DIY aluminum smelter and learned 3D printing to create molds for casting. Peer inspiration is a huge part of group; collaborative learning and Maker Camp has become a platform for Fab Lab El Paso to leverage this kind of affordable out-of-school, just-in-time learning. Tosh Agness 12, a veteran Maker Camper says: “Maker Camp opened my eyes to new ways of creating. It gives me new ideas on what I can become in the future.”

Fab Lab El Paso avidly believes that the Maker Movement is critical to the development, growth, and prosperity of our bi-national borderplex – and it starts with our youths. Instead of constructing walls, we should be building bridges of accessibility and creativity for tomorrow’s innovators.

Launching Rockets!

Makey Makey High Five Piano