Ugandan housewife's DIY cell phone charger

Every so often, maybe once or twice a week, Ugandan housewife Mrs. Moyonjo would bicycle twenty miles from her powerless village to the nearest city, where a strange industry of professional gadget chargers would recharge her mobile phone. One day, her working battery was unscrupulously replaced with a battery with far less capacity, necessitating her Mrs. Moyonjo to make the twenty mile bicycle ride herself every day. Like any real hacker, her response was an emphatic "Fuck that" and dreaming up a home brew solution involving a long string of D batteries. Which seems like a rather expensive solution, but at least batteries are probably sold locally. Just a fantastic little triumph of a third-world maker, but the fact that there are entire businesses set up in Uganda dedicated to charging mobile phones for people is the real gobsmacker. Housewife designs mobile phone charger [Wougnet]
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8 Responses to Ugandan housewife's DIY cell phone charger

  1. Nelson.C says:

    What’s the typical capacity of a phone battery? A watt-hour, something like that? With a generator linked to her bike, she could probably charge it with a minute or two’s steady peddling.

    The problem is getting a generator to Mrs Moyonjo in Uganda.

  2. PrometheusG says:

    I’ve been to Africa. Ghana, Benin, South Africa, Egypt (some people don’t count this as really Africa?), and Madagascar. They have some great hardware hackers doing stuff like this all the time. Out of necessity, not just for fun like us in the more developed countries. You just don’t see or hear about them because, well, this lady doesn’t even have electricity much less an internet connection.

    I was working on a USAid ship and when we got to Benin, our cook threw out a busted microwave. Don’t know what was wrong with it, but it was more serious than a fuse. One of the locals asked to buy it, but the cook let him have it free. I had the afternoon off and headed to a local bar with my guide and a couple other guys from the ship.

    Maybe 10 minutes after we arrived, we saw the microwave and it’s new owner arrive at a shack next door. An old lady shuffled out with a couple of tools and very expertly disassembled the oven and reassembled it in about 10 minutes. The guy brought it over to the bar, hooked it up, and walked away with about $25. About a week’s worth of his regular pay.

    I wish I knew what she did to fix it, because she didn’t really have a bucket full of spare microwave parts with her. Just some standard electrical stuff like tape, wire, splices, etc..

  3. Dan Schnitzer says:

    It’s a gobsmacker that there are gadget charging businesses not only in Uganda, but all throughout the world. About 1.6 billion people have no access to electricity, so the few that manage to procure a diesel or gasoline generator or a solar panel are able to build small businesses in their community charging gadgets.

    My non-profit organization, InterIntel (, is working with grassroots groups and kerosene vendors in the community of Les Anglais, Haiti to build a clean energy retail co-op store. One of the many technologies available for purchase (with the facilitation of microloans) will be solar home systems. These 10-30W roof-mounted systems include a battery, LED ceiling lights and an outlet that can be used to charge phones or power small appliances like radios. No more walking distances to charge your phone or paying a fee every few days when you can have your very own source of electricity.

    Learn more at

  4. spazzm says:

    …the fact that there are entire businesses set up in Uganda dedicated to charging mobile phones for people is the real gobsmacker.

    No more a gobsmacker than the fact that there is a whole industry set up to provide web hosting for people with broadband internet connections and oodles of storage.

    Or the fact that SMS message data is priced at around $824/MiB, making it by far the most expensive form of information exchange today – an people still use it!

  5. GeekMan says:

    Someone send that woman a bicycle-generator!

  6. GeekMan says:

    @PrometheusG: It makes you wonder how much better-off third-world nations would be doing if there were organized programs to donate working (not garbage!) outdated technology to said nations for community use.

  7. jimkirk says:

    Current lithium batteries in cell phones can’t be safely charged faster than about a 1C rate. that means one hour to about 80% charge, then another hour or so to top it off to 100%. Even then, that charge rate will reduce the cycle life of the battery. 1/2 C or less is better, and takes 2 hours or more to 80%.

    Most lithium batteries are very picky about how they are charged and can show their displeasure in nasty ways. I applaud her ingenuity, but as an engineer, I’m concerned for her safety.

    Yeah, a bike charger or solar panel are better, but will still take over an hour to safely charge.

    There’s some interesting work developing batteries that can accept a 100C rate, but they’re not widely available yet.

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