The Bangladeshi MacGyver Turning Trash Into Robots

A young man sits at a table covered in tools

Ever since he was 6 years old, Sanjoy has wandered junkyards in open-mouthed wonder. Eyes narrowed in concentration, he expertly sifts through the trash, seeking out discarded metal and spare parts to use for his inventions.

Today, the 17-year-old still has the same fascination with turning junk into functional creations. He always has a screwdriver in his pocket, ready to pry open his desk at school or fix his friend’s wooden pencil box, damaged after a game of cricket. His friends think of him as Bangladesh’s version of TV action hero MacGyver, always ready with a creative solution to a problem using the tools at hand.

Sanjoy’s parents received the boost they needed to raise him in 2006.

Sanjoy, in a red and white shirt, is with his family posing for a photo. His mother, in yellow, is sitting next to his father, Subhas. Sanjoy's sister is standing next to him. They are in front of a bamboo wall.

The family was in a desperate situation after Sanjoy’s younger sister was born. His dad was a pastor, but he didn’t earn enough to feed his family. His parents often ate only one meal a day so they could provide for their children. When Sanjoy was 3, he was registered in Compassion’s Child Sponsorship Program, and his parents received much-needed relief.

With the help of sponsorship, Sanjoy’s parents were able to keep him in school. And despite his family’s struggles, Sanjoy’s mind was always focused on one thing: inventing creations from discarded junk.

“I always try to keep myself engaged so that I never have to stay idle,” says Sanjoy. “I feel gifted to be able to make use of the useless things thrown away by people.”

In 2019, Sanjoy found the perfect opportunity to showcase his talents.

The district government held a science fair for 13 schools in Sanjoy’s district. The event would be witnessed by professors from universities, who would award the winner with a scholarship for tertiary education.

To enter, Sanjoy had to design and create an innovative invention. He immediately thought of making a robot out of cardboard. Even his supportive parents couldn’t understand his vision.

“It was the most absurd idea that he could have come up with for a competition this big, against competitors from schools from all over the district,” says Subhas, Sanjoy’s father.

But Sanjoy was determined to succeed.

“I will not fail!” he constantly reminded himself. “I want the world to know me for my inventions.”

“He became obsessed with his designs and plans to complete his robot,” says his mother, Sabita. Not everyone understood his passion. At school, the seniors mocked Sanjoy, calling him “Virus” — a cruel nod to his fascination with technology.

BONUS: Meet people making a living — and inventions — at the junkyard.

He found a haven in the computer lab at his Compassion-assisted child development center.

Indra, the center’s social worker, encouraged him. “We will always be there to support your ideas as long as you stay focused on your studies and work at your center during your free time,” she said.

His family didn’t have a computer, so Sanjoy spent hours in the center’s lab, using the internet to research ideas and learn the physics and chemistry behind making a functional robot.

“I felt encouraged when our computer teacher stayed behind extra hours at the center, just to see the fruit of my hard work,” says Sanjoy.

Sanjoy, in a red shirt, and his father, Subhas, in a red, yellow, blue and white shirt, are sitting at a wood table where Sanjoy is working on making a radio from a motherboard. There is a bike in the background.

Seeing his son work into the early hours of the morning for weeks, Subhas lent a helping hand. After the design was drafted, he helped Sanjoy cut the cardboard and piece it together. Sanjoy cleverly engineered the hands of the robot using a syringe from the hospital to act as a hydraulic mechanism so the robot’s limbs could move. He then installed a chip from a discarded smartphone and programmed it using Google Assistant software so the robot could answer questions, much to his friends’ admiration.

On the day of the competition, Sanjoy was filled with nerves. Despite this, he put his shoulders back and explained his creation and how it worked to the judges. As they deliberated, he felt his heart pounding in his chest. Finally, they announced their decision: Sanjoy took second place, missing out on first place by just three points.

Sanjoy, in a red shirt, is sitting in front of the white cardboard robot he made for the science fair, where he came in second place.

The news was hard to hear, but Sanjoy took it well. He knew the journey of making the robot had won over the hearts of his schoolmates and he had always had the support of the Compassion staff. He knew he could count on the same support in the future.

Today, Sanjoy is motivated to achieve even greater things in his lifelong goal to serve humanity with his inventions. The seniors at school no longer call him “Virus” — they’ve seen the heights of his talent. He may not have won first place, but he is looking forward to creating again: an inexpensive 3D printer and an automatic stove for his mother are at the top of his list.

Thank you for helping youths like Sanjoy achieve their dreams!

6 Comments |Add a comment

  1. anne July 28, 2020

    Sanjoy, You are indeed a remarkable young man. I hope you read and take to heart all the favorable compliments left by folks who admire and are proud of you. You should humbly be proud of yourself as well. You are being faithful with the many talents with which God has blessed you. You are also blessed to have been given a supportive, loving family and Compassion Center teachers , and a faithful sponsor. All of them and all people reading your amazing story, know you can achieve great things. Keep your focus of the Lord, and seek His wisdom in all matters. (Proverbs 3:5&6) Keep studying diligently in school and ask advice and counsel from trustworthy individuals. I pray great blessings for you and your family and Compassion leaders.

  2. Bruce Hinson July 9, 2020

    I have always admired creativity and resourcefulness, of visualizing something that does not yet exist, that most others cannot see until someone creates it. Sanjoy, you are a uniquely gifted young man. You are persistent, in part because you can visualize. You are creative because you can see a need, consider what you have, or need to get, and quickly put all the pieces together in your mind. These are all gifts from God.
    Keep learning so that you will increase the tools in your mind. Keep growing in your faith in Jesus and God will keep blessing you with wisdom. Knowledge is one thing, but godly wisdom will show you how to use that knowledge.
    I am so blessed to have read your story! I hope to hear even more stories about you!

  3. Jackie July 9, 2020

    Wow very impressive. The perseverance and endurance that we find in Jesus is reflected in his life so far…i can only imagine what he will do. Our God is Eternal…there are no limits in him…so Sanjoy keep inventing!!!

  4. DOROTHY Allen June 27, 2020

    DOROTHY, June 27/2020

    Sanjoy, I am so proud of you, You did win first place with me. Keep up the good work, May God continue to guide you and keep you focus.

  5. Theressa Zengeya June 26, 2020

    Well done Sanjoy. You are a pride to your family and community. That technical and creative mind will take you to greater heights. Keep the faith and keep the focus. You are not ordinary so you will do extraordinary things and inventions.

  6. paul June 25, 2020

    I don’t care what the judges think, in my eyes this young man won first prize in my heart! God bless him!

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