“WHAT’S in that box?” I ask my father, pointing to a medium-sized green and stripy rectangular box under the bunk bed. We’re in the midst of our family’s annual spring cleaning activity at our home in Banting, Selangor.
It’s a little crowded in the attic with my parents, two brothers and I seated in the tiny space surrounded by boxes of things we’ve been storing (or more accurately, hoarding) over the years.
“Must be your stuff again-lah,” he insinuates, thrusting the box in my hands.
It looks like half of the boxes in this room belong to me. So far, I’ve uncovered piles of yellowing lecture notes and old assignments from my university days. And then there are also boxes filled with my notebooks and magazines.
He’s probably right, I think to myself as I tear open the dusty box that’s been stored here for God-knows-how-long.
Nestled inside is my collection of cassette tapes going way back to my teenage years. Finding my Eminem’s Marshall Mathers LP released 17 years ago and Backstreet Boys’ Millenium album inside, I try not to cringe at my taste in music — or lack of it.
“So do you want to keep, throw or sell?” my father asks me impatiently. The hoarder in me begs him to hold on to my things for just a while longer.
Now that took place a couple of months ago. As I’m standing here at Level 1 of The School at Jaya One in Petaling Jaya, I’m reminded of my outdated music collection as I peer into a tall glass cabinet in front of me. Inside sits a square container made out of glued-together cassette tapes. “Not a bad idea!” I think to myself.
There’s another square container made out of floppy disks (the thumbdrive of my generation!) and a coin box crafted using empty air fresheners.
A Stormtrooper helmet and a lightsabre made popular by the Star Wars franchise are displayed on top of the cabinet. Upon closer inspection, I discover they’re actually made using everyday items such as cardboard and PVC pipes!
These ingenious innovations are the products of KakiDIY, a community of DIY enthusiasts, makers, innovators and entrepreneurs who have created a platform to share, collaborate and provide services to others.
Today, KakiDIY is taking another step in reaching out to the community, specifically to the younger generation through its MakerLAB.
With the launch of MakerLAB, an upcycling maker-space that encourages learning, creation, innovation and invention using available resources, KakiDIY hopes to encourage the culture of creating, upcycling and recycling by offering creative classes, and sharing spaces, tools and ideas with the community at large.
The well-lit space is spacious complete with worktops while the workshop area is furnished with electronic tools, handheld power tools and 3D printers.
MakerLAB is The School’s maiden effort at developing its enrichment offering for children and youth.
Today, I’m meeting with the two key people behind this project — Johnson Lam, the founder of KakiDIY and Charles Wong, the executive director of Tetap Tiara, developer of The School.
“I fell in love with what KakiDIY was doing,” begins Wong, when we meet at The School.
As an entrepreneur, Wong always goes back to the basic philosophy of this first enrichment mall in the country, which aims to empower youth and children to be critical thinkers and well-rounded members of society. KakiDIY’s portfolio, he points out, happens to share the same values.
“I was at the Penang Mini Maker Faire and felt that The School could play a role in the makers’ movement. That’s when I met Lam. We decided to combine our resources together and create this project,” explains Wong of the background to the collaboration.
The upcycling and DIY culture in this country is still rather small, adds Lam.
“The three main excuses when it comes to DIY, repairs and making things are ‘no space’, ‘no tools’ and ‘no experience’.”
MakerLAB, he says, is the solution for those excuses. In the coming months, a succession of educational and extracurricular providers will come on board to provide youths with the avenue to explore and learn.
Following the latest trend of VR/AR, 3D printing and drones, makers are able to organise classes and workshops on a wide range of subjects including arts and craft, STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), coding, electronics, sewing and 3D printing, to name a few.
KakiDIY was established about three years ago and has now garnered more than 20,000 followers on Facebook.
Lam first started out by sharing DIY information and articles on online forums, which received positive feedback.
However over the years, the forum trend slowly died out and he lost many of his articles posted online.
“I knew I had to do something because I didn’t want the DIY culture to die. That’s why I created a movement and registered KakiDIY so I could once again post all my articles there in one place.”
Interestingly, the word “kaki” comes from the Malay slang which means gang or a group of enthusiasts.
“I speak Hokkien and in Hokkien, kaki lai means do-it-yourself!” explains the bespectacled Lam, with a grin.
With the setting up of MakerLAB, Lam hopes people will utilise this space and at the same time, sustain the eco-system for other entrepreneurs here in the mall.
“For example, people can bring their broken toys to MakerLAB and learn how to fix them. After which these toys can be donated to needy non-governmental organisations like Parents without Partners (an organisation that supports single parents living in poverty) who can then sell these items to raise funds,” explains Lam.
Pointing to the 3D printers at the workshop area, Lam tells me that he hopes to work closely with cafes as well.
“We can create boxes using these printers for cafes to pack their food items in, like cookies. What’s more, we can even print out cookie cutters too!”
My gaze rests on a green and red square with curved edges that looks like a huge block of Lego with what appears to be propellers complete with a tiny camera attached in the centre.
“This is a 3D-printed micro-drone box,” explains Lam as he follows my gaze. Creating gadgets like the drone is also one of his DIY hobbies, he confides
A Computer Science graduate from Universiti Sains Malaysia, Lam’s passion for DIY started from childhood. He attributes his knack for making things to his late grandmother who hailed from a small village in Batu Kurau near Taiping, Perak.
“During the Japanese Occupation, my grandmother, a single mother of nine, had to flee with her children to the jungle with nothing but the clothes they were wearing. She built a shack for them to take shelter from the elements and from the wild animals. She planted her own crops and even sold kuih at the nearby village for extra income,” recalls Lam, adding that his grandmother also built an oven using zinc panels.
She passed away when Lam was 23, leaving a legacy of creativity and innovation that he tried to emulate.
Recalling his first DIY project, the 37-year-old recalls: “I modified a light bulb when I was around 8. I took the bulb from a flashlight, connected it to a battery and tied it to my bicycle wheel. So whenever I cycled, the circuit would spark a light. Using the same concept, I also added a brake light for that bike.”
Do you still have the bike? I ask. He replies, grinning: “I still have the frame. I’m going to modify it into something else.”
Unlike Lam, Wong admits that the most DIY thing he can do is change a light bulb!
“I think my passion lies in entrepreneurship. I like bringing communities together and being that bridge,” he adds, chuckling.
Moving forward, The School and KakiDIY will be spearheading the second phase of their collaboration — to build an Environmental Control Lab in the coming months for the greater purpose of saving Mother Nature.
Concluding, Lam says earnestly: “KakiDIY is still growing. I’m working hard to do more. Nothing makes me happier than accomplishing something, no matter how small. I’m also happy if I get to inspire and encourage others to do the same thing. It’s easy to make people say ‘oh you’re doing a great job’. But to make them learn it themselves, share with others and lead by example... that’s the real goal.”
As soon as I leave the place, I whip out my phone and text my father: “Dad, I need my cassette tapes. I know what to do with them now.”
MakerLAB @ The School
Jaya One, Section 72A, Jalan Universiti, Pjs 13, Petaling Jaya, Selangor