Maryan Hassan wasn't always so supportive of her son's obsession with crafting toy vehicles and other things from discarded items. The models cluttered the family home in the town of Buhodle in the Somali state of Puntland. But now that 13-year-old Guled Adan Abdi's motorized inventions have garnered for the boy the promise of a free education, Hassan's opinion has changed. She tells the BBC she thinks her son is a genius and that his tinkering, all of which is self-taught, has been a good thing for the family. The teen says he started making plastic toys as a youngster. "But later I said to myself, 'Why don't you make them into a moving machine,'" he tells the BBC. So he went around town studying how vehicles work, "and invented my toys with the same design."
Encouraged by his teacher, who also bought him his first set of batteries, Guled has built motorized toys that are operated with a battery-powered controller, per the BBC. Hassan, whose husband died when Guled was a baby, tells Global Voices that she used to leave Guled with plastic items to assemble when she went out to work. "I guess that’s how all these wonderful inventions began," she says. Earlier this month, Guled traveled 170 miles to show his inventions to the president of Puntland, who made the promise to fund the teen's education. That's important because, due to family hardships, Guled is about five years behind in his schooling, per the BBC. Guled says motorized toys are just a starting point. "I would like to gradually learn how to become a producer of cars," he tells the BBC.