Aleem, 9, genius robots builder representing Uganda in Texas

Mangalji Aleem, a young Ugandan robotics and coding enthusiast who has built Lego from age three upto now. He is among the children set to represent Uganda during the VEX Robotics World Championship in Dallas, Texas, USA, from April 25 to May 4, 2023. PHOTO/Courtesy.
Mangalji Aleem, a young Ugandan robotics and coding enthusiast who has built Lego from age three upto now. He is among the children set to represent Uganda during the VEX Robotics World Championship in Dallas, Texas, USA, from April 25 to May 4, 2023. PHOTO/Courtesy.
  • He is the youngest of all the children representing Uganda.
  • He started designing robots using Lego at 3.
  • He has been with Young Engineers Uganda since he was 3 years old.

I have been building Lego for six years, since when I was three years old

Mangalji Aleem.

Mangalji Aleem, a 9-year-old upcoming Robotics Engineer, was born in Uganda in 2013.

His parents took him for a footballer, little known to them that his gifted hands were for scientific tasks, and he would soon fall in love with robotics and coding.

Realizing that he was created for a different cause, the parents started aligning themselves with the interests of their child, letting him be and staying by him.

As the youngster’s fame continues to diffuse into the ears of the world, Scholar Media Africa sought an audience with Aleem’s mother, Joanna Kasayuuni, to get a firm grasp of her child’s life and what the future looks like for him.

Igniting Aleem’s passion

His journey into robotics was ignited when, one day, he visited a supermarket with his dad. Aleem noticed a huge box with an image of a Lego-made toy, urging his father to purchase it for him.

Aleem and one of his designs. PHOTO/Courtesy.

On opening the box at home, they realized it was full of Lego bricks, and if he really needed the toy in the box’s picture, he would have to connect the bricks (Legos) into a huge toy, all by himself! 

Aleem was a 3-year-old then.

Lego, also stylized as LEGO, is one of, or a collection of variously colored intertwining plastic bricks and other pieces accompanying several gears, figurines, and various other parts, including a motor for moving the object when necessary. 

Lego parts are connected and assembled to design buildings, vehicles, and functional robots, among others.

For Aleem, it was the robots that fascinated him.

“The next morning, I started building the toy. I followed the instructions in the box but I at some point stopped because one of the parts was not interlocking,” he explained in an earlier interview.

A robot connected by Aleem using Legos. He has built several other robots which function in executing different tasks. PHOTO/CAOURTESY.
One of the robots connected by Aleem using Lego. He has built several other robots which function in executing different tasks. PHOTO/Courtesy.

With time and the parents buying more of them for their son, he built jets, helicopters, and other robotics, some of which took nearly a week to interlock correctly. 

“I have been building Lego for six years, since when I was three years old,” young Aleem narrates.

Continued practice and exposure made him master his craft of Lego building.

Aleem, also known as The Ingeniator, is now a programmer, robotics, and Lego enthusiast, not only building Legos (the Lego-built products are also called Lego) but also sketching robotic illustrations whenever the ideas flash through his mind, which he designs afterward.

Young Aleem poses with his newly-built jet. PHOTO/Courtesy.
Young Aleem poses with his newly-built jet. PHOTO/Courtesy.

A bold move

“When he finished Kindergarten, we realized that his mind had already accelerated. He was asking teachers questions and probing different things. We felt that the average curriculum was not his best fit. 

We sought a school that would accommodate his mind, approaches, and ambitions,” his mother told Scholar Media.

Unlike millions of other kids of his age in Uganda, Aleem studies at home, but has exhibited his skills and growing expertise in robotics and coding.

Aleem poses for a photo with his mum. She has always been on her side, supporting him throughout her innovative journey. PHOTO/Courtesy.
Aleem, with his mum, who has always been on his side, supporting him throughout his innovative journey. PHOTO/Courtesy.

For the last one year, he has been attending school at The Forest School Online (FSO), an online school training learners in 2nd Grade through high school. 

It is headquartered in Atlanta, USA, and Aleem heads the school-wide Aeronautics Club.

FSO uses learner-driven technology, interrogative discussions, hands-on projects, and real-world apprenticeships in an intentionally diverse and character-forging community, employing a self-directed learning model yet with accountability, allowing them to be in charge of their learning yet with sufficient inspiration.

The institution, which has tagged every child a Forest Hero, allows learners to explore, research, improve and incorporate their interests, dreams, and aspirations into diverse projects.

Believing that their online learning model has already been tested widely and proven fit, they want to extend their wings into Africa by enrolling more students from the continent.

Aleem showcasing one of his projects during a Studio session for classwork at The Forest School Online. PHOTO/Courtesy.
Aleem virtually showcasing one of his projects to The Forest School Online team during a Studio session for classwork. PHOTO/Courtesy.

“Aleem always leaves us with kind words when ending our studio session. He also pushes others to grow by giving his honest feedback,” reads part of an earlier email feedback by Maxwell Smith, Head of School, Forest School Online (FSO), on the learner’s progress.

Inspiration

Aleem starts his day by declaring to himself positive affirmations on his abilities, attitude, self-worth and related declarations, commanding the day ahead.

He enjoys researching and reading about historical engineers and how their great inventions shaped the world. 

He also delights in making content on YouTube to inspire other kids to love engineering.

For fun, he watches YouTube, with Brick Science and Beyond the Instruction being his favorite channels.

He also loves the Lego Ninjago Series, Transformers, and Iron Man. When he is not building and creating different things with Legos, he likes basketball and swimming, and is fascinated by fast cars.

With his Tech Bricks Legos kit, brainstorming on what to build next. PHOTO/Courtesy.
With his Tech Bricks Legos kit, brainstorming on what to build next. PHOTO/Courtesy.

All these have inspired him over time, re-awakening his creative juices.

“My dream college to study is Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). I want to study aeronautics and aerospace engineering because I want to invent planes and spaceships that run on electricity and are friendly to the planet and solar system,” Aleem says in his Vision Board.

“Now that he is already assimilated into the USA education system, and he still wants to attend university in USA, I have no problem with it,” his mother adds.

Exploits

Aleem has built all sorts of fascinating and working equipment, including mining trucks, trailers, personified robots, jets, helicopters and many more, some of which have become prototypes of his ongoing inventions and exhibition competitions.

Aleem and his young colleague engineers from Young Engineers Uganda, after a competition recently. PHOTO/Courtesy.
Aleem and his young colleague engineers from Young Engineers Uganda pose for a photo with their trainers after a recent competition. PHOTO/Courtesy.

Interestingly, aged 8 last year, he was the youngest of the eight young thinkers representing Uganda at the Pan African Robotics Competition (PARC) held in Dakar, Senegal, on July 1-5, 2022.

“People were astounded that such a young kid had left his parents, traveled to a foreign country for the competitions and was confident enough,” his mother recounts.

The Ugandan team of Lego enthusiasts and robotic programmers emerged 4th in Africa and the 1st in East and Central Africa.

“This was our first time to participate at that level and I am proud of these kids. They are the future Ugandan technologists in our quest to build a critical mass of future scientists,” asserted Arinaitwe Rugyendo, Young Engineers Uganda Founder and a seasoned journalist.

“Our drone was programmed to communicate with the robot in plantation of resilient crops,” said Allen Nanyonjo, Head of STEM at Young Engineers Uganda, after the win.

Team Uganda parading their bronze-winning robot in Dakar, Senegal, in July 2022. PHOTO/Courtesy.
Team Uganda parading their bronze-winning robot in Dakar, Senegal, in July 2022. PHOTO/Courtesy.

The robot was programmed to close leaking water taps, thus conserving water. It also aided in harvesting water by collecting as many soft water balls in the tank as possible. 

Thereafter, it would recycle the water by putting the wastewater balls into the recycler to be re-harvested into the water tank.

A whopping 33 countries, including Kenya and Burundi, also participated in the competitions, with the finals comprising 17 African countries.

Furthering his skills                                           

With other youngsters pursuing the same interests, Aleem is a student at the Young Engineers Uganda, a Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) educational program of the African School of Innovations Science and Technology (ASIST) Ltd.

“He has been with Young Engineers Uganda since he was 3 years old, where he has learned to demonstrate STEM concepts using Legos and Robotics. 

Wherever he goes, Aleem thinks of new innovations. PHOTO/Courtesy.
Wherever he goes, Aleem thinks of new innovations. PHOTO/Courtesy.

He is fascinated by both commercial planes and space aircraft and plans to study Aerospace/Aeronautics Engineering at MIT to become a creative and entrepreneurial engineer like Elon Musk,” his professional profile reads.

Aleem recently joined CodeImpact, a Ugandan-based organization founded by Mbanda Shyaka to train in coding and robotics. 

He is studying GoTech, a coding program for learning robotics through simulation. 

On January 11 and 12, 2023, Aleem participated in Science Tech Expo with exhibitions, coding, gaming, animation, robotics, and Virtual Reality, organized by The National ICT Innovation Hub, Uganda.

He showcased his coding skills, snatching the interest of Rosebella Nsita, Regional Manager, Fundi Bots. 

Aleem at the Science -Tech Expo, where he showcased his coding skills and got picked for an innovation program by Fundi Bots. PHOTO/Courtesy.
Aleem at the Science Tech Expo, where he showcased his coding skills and got picked for an innovation program by Fundi Bots. PHOTO/Courtesy.

Fundi Bots provides practical, hands-on training for students in building robots and coding to project-based learning experiences built on top of the official government curriculum.

She handpicked him to participate in their innovation program, which allows students to design and build a prototype from scratch.

Peeping into Aleem’s future

In an interview with Big Conversations by Ordinary People, a Ugandan-based content creation channel, he narrates his journey in Lego and Robotics.

“I sometimes imagine of machines taking over humans in the future,” he says, adding that he has created robots that can help (if adopted and advanced), and the more he builds, the more ideas he gets.

“Legos are not just pieces of plastic. They are more than you can think,” he posits, asserting that he sees life from an innovative angle.

One of the helicopters in progress, built from scratch by Aleem. PHOTO/Courtesy.
One of the helicopters in progress, built from scratch by Aleem. PHOTO/Courtesy.

Aleem believes that if scientists have built electric cars, there’s the capability to construct eco-friendly electric planes and marine vessels.

Beyond his imagination, he has used his Lego skills to design an underground marine station for underground exploration.

He holds that for the future, his training is equipping him to go real and lead in the construction of real electric planes and electric marines.

Upcoming Texas tour

After emerging winners, this April, Team Uganda will proceed and represent Uganda, and by extension, East and Central Africa, in the VEX Robotics World Championship in Dallas, Texas, USA, from April 25 to May 4, 2023.

Aleem (right) and his colleagues working through their robot ahead of the competitions to be held later this month. PHOTO/Courtesy.
Aleem (right) and two of his colleagues, working through their robot ahead of the competitions to be held later this month. PHOTO/Courtesy.

“The mission of this Education program is to nurture the next generation of Ugandan scientists, innovators, problem solvers, and creative thinkers — using a Lego and Robotics after-school curriculum,” said Dan Mantz, CEO of Robotics Education and Competition Foundation, in an invitation letter to Young Engineers Uganda. 

He adds that the experience will motivate youngsters to pursue education and career opportunities in STEM while building self-confidence, communication, and problem-solving skills. 

Last week; Aleem and his teammates during a Young Engineers Uganda training of Team Uganda, ahead of the Texas competitions. PHOTO/Courtesy.
Last week, Aleem and his teammates during a Young Engineers Uganda training of Team Uganda, ahead of the Texas competitions. PHOTO/Courtesy.

The eight kids, who are in two groups —elementary level and high school level —are now burning the midnight oil ahead of the Texas competitions. Aleem, being the youngest, now aged 9, is in the elementary team.

Ms. Kasayuuni, though usually busy with her profession, remains hands-on with her son.

“My child is also my business. Despite juggling with consultancy work and EMBA studies, I still play the parent and teacher role,seeing to it that he keeps up with his work, assignments and projects and all the extra curricular activities. I also help him in designing the slides and offer all the other assistance he may require from a parent,” Aleem’s mother explains.

She says that the journey has still been challenging. At times, Aleem’s timetable is busy, just as the mother’s usually is, and they have to stay awake up to late hours doing their assignments.

Also, all the training sessions require time and finances.

“Some children’s dreams are bigger than what a parent can handle,” she told Scholar Media. It is paramount to note that the benefits of near-future innovations by such children solve real-life problems affecting the masses.

Their rise into technology-driven innovations should therefore put a glimmer into our eyes.

Aleem and his mother. PHOTO/Courtesy.
Aleem and his mother. PHOTO/Courtesy.

The Texas voyage for the competitions costs at least $3800 (US dollars), exclusive of several other expenses.

Aleem anticipates exploring NASA headquarters in Washington, D.C., which is his favorite, among the many other invention-driven destinations on the list of the young innovators’ tour.

Are you excited to support Aleem to travel to Texas, further his gift and realize his dreams? Freely get in touch with his mother at +256754786275 or email kjoannap@gmail.com for more details.

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Upon returning from the VEX Robotics World Championship in Texas, Aleem will join FundiBots for a project on building an eco-friendly electric plane. 

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Mr. Makau holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Linguistics, Media & Communication from Moi University, Kenya. He is a Columnist and Editor with Scholar Media Africa, with a keen interest in Education, Health, Climate Change, and Literature.

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