My ShopBot Quinceanera

by Sarah Burns

In Central and South America, a girl’s 15th birthday is the biggest day of her life. It marks her coming into womanhood. For me, it was also a coming of age as a ShopBotter. What a treat to be able to spend my Quinceanera at the first ever Campo de ShopBot in Guatemala City. Although I have been around these crazy robots since my birth (my dad, Chris Burns, has built them since the earliest cable drive days), it was really not until this year that I took ownership of projects and have really enjoyed teaching others. The girls at the Hogar Rafael Ayau Orphanage, ages 15-18, also gained a level of maturity in their woodworking skills, and it was a joy to work alongside them. Thanks to the generosity of their adopted Grandfather, T. Alan Russell, they have both the skills to build their future and the tools to do it with. Some girls already left the orphanage and gone away to college, and many of the current girls plan to do the same. Astrid, a 19-year-old graduate of the program, is now the director of the San Miguel Woodworking Academy, located inside the orphanage and has a standing offer to study woodworking in the United States.

The girls at the San Miguel Woodworking Academy

T Alan Russell cutting 100 year old coffee root

ShopBot Built Pews at the Monastery

One of my first impressions of Guatemala was the poverty that I saw everywhere. Even flying over in the plane you could see it in the houses, put so close together with cheap tin roofs. Driving down the streets, my dad made a good point; he looked out at a busy intersection where people were sitting at stands trying to sell cheap souvenirs to tourists and said, “None of these people have the tremendous educational opportunity that the girls at the orphanage have”. And he’s right; those girls have access to one of the best woodworking shops that I’ve ever seen, including a PRSalpha with a 4x4 cutting area. Not only that, but they have the enthusiasm, the creativity and the will to do whatever they want to do.

When we got there, the students pleasantly surprised us with their knowledge of ShopBot and showed us some of their work. They impressed me with the 30 or so church pews they made from local mahogany. The girls showed incredible competency with their use of Aspire and were really excited when Santiago LeVerde, of ShopBot Latino-America fame, offered to teach them how create some 3D designs. They played with making different 3D designs for hours! Every chance they got, they asked questions and never gave up an opportunity to learn something new. I have never seen a group of high schoolers more eager to learn.

Santiago Teaches 3D Aspire

The FabLab at Universidad Francisco Marroquín

Astrid, Sarah and Gloria at FabLab

The day before the camp, we went to visit 2 other ShopBots in the area. The first was inside the house of Carlos Marroquín, who also teaches ShopBot at the Orphanage. We changed pinions, taught proper maintenance and upgraded their software. After that we took a trip to the Universidad Francisco Marroquín. We fixed their ShopBot too. While we were there, we met Axel Paredes, one of their architectural professors in charge of their FabLab. The last FabLab I visited was the mobile FabLab when it came to Durham, NC. The University students amazed me with what they had built in their FabLab in only their first year of operation. I love architecture, and have thought of becoming an architect myself, so seeing the models and designs that they made was one of my favorite parts about going to the university.

Then the camp started. I’ve never been to a camp ShopBot before so I didn’t really know what to expect. There were presentations, raffles, food, and lots of people who love ShopBot. One company drove over 7 hours from Honduras just to be there. The girls got to show off some of the things they’ve made throughout the years on the ShopBot. I spent a lot of my breaks sanding parts for some chairs and stools. One thing I noticed about Guatemalan plywood: It’s definitely not what you get here. But my favorite part of the week was when I got to teach. During the camp four of the boys at the orphanage who were about 7 or 8 years old stopped by to learn how to build a scissor stool that we had cut out earlier that day. The boys really had fun with that. A lot of our pieces mysteriously disappeared and we made a lot of mistakes, but in the end they all went away wearing big smiles, very proud of the stools they had made. I was told that they were back in the workshop early the next morning to finish up sanding their stools. Over all, my Guatemala experience is one I’m glad I got the opportunity to have and one I will never forget.

Many thanks to Madre Inez, Madre Ivonne, Madre Maria, Astrid and Mr. Russell for their hospitality!

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