WiSci Malawi brought together 100 high school girls from the African continent and the US for a three weeks long camp. The goal of the camp was to empower them to grow their leadership potential, and build camaraderie and networks that will propel them to new opportunities in their desired fields. The theme of WiSci 2017 is using technology to create a safer, more secure world, with a focus on preventing gender-based violence. WiSci partners this year included the UN Foundation’s Girl Up campaign, Intel Corporation, and Google.
Malawi and MUST
The camp took place at MUST ‘Malawi University of Science and Technology’ campus in the Blantyre region in southern Malawi. The University is built in a somewhat rural area, Blantyre and it’s immediate surroundings is dominated by various land elevations. The campus, though, central to the elevations, causing sunrises and sunset to occur at high points.
The girls and the curriculum
I was part of the Google staff. Our mission was to introduce computer science to the girls. Our curriculum had two parts: first, android development using MIT App Inventor, then arduino modules with wireless communications via bluetooth, tactile buttons and LED lights. The girls arrived with various backgrounds, some having admitted to have never touched a computer before. Others were already self-starters, here at the camp to make themselves more marketable. Our curriculum goal was to survey key concepts like variables, conditionals and sequence of executions, while keeping the girls engaged. One of the challenges in software education is translating concepts into something tangible, this is where the arduino modules help with a straight translation of a button press to an action such as a light on, or a sound.
On top of the regular instructions, each instructors played the role of counselor during office hours, talking about our journeys in tech, empowering the girls to challenge themselves. It was a very humbling experience hearing the journeys of these young girls, the hurdles they’ve faced. As a male instructor, I was there in a role of ally and supporter, coming myself from a small country I could relate to the girls from several of the African countries represented. I had the unique opportunity to watch these impressive ‘Boss Ladies’ from the participating partners organizations and the camp itself inspire the girls, showing them that NASA Astronaut and Airline Pilot are attainable with instruction, skill, networking and mentorship.
The ‘Damore Memo’
This camp happened shortly before the memo was released. This, engineering and skilled trade hours dedicated to instruction, logistics, donations and so forth, more than never shows how education and instruction matters to the various companies invested in the camp. It does not matter on what side of the debate you sit on. It is clear that regardless of who they are, our youth need inspiration, and need choices, this camp did just that. GirlUp uses the term STEAM, with the emphasis on the needs in the Arts as well. Beyond, instruction of these young girls in the sciences and art, especially in Malawi, produces a diversity in skill, thought and leadership, with the hope to produce an immediate impact on the already rising trend of dynamic entrepreneurs, scientists and artists the African continent produces.
In addition to the instruction, and very rigorous program. The girls and the staff had the opportunity to participate in various extra curricular activities. The team I was involved with participated in a Safari, and another team went on a hike with the girls. Enriching the experience for these young women. The 100 girls were also divided by countries, taking part in cultural nights, presenting their cultures in various expression of art, music, storytelling and theater. On the organizer’s invitation, we’ve also had the privilege to listen to Zathu Band, a local Malawian part band, part radio production, in what was a very energetic concert with full crowd participation.
Only 1 spark
Coming from a small place, Togo isn’t the technological giant you’d expect, but all it takes is a spark to build interest, gain perspective and try something different. Despite the very scientific approach to a camp like this: defining impact on a community, studying trends in education, the strategic placement of the camp in Malawi and the careful selection of the participating nations, the biggest impact is the untold stories of the camp. The girls had a rigorous camp, building resilience and collaboration are very key, but also the very simple moment where they’ve learned they can or were inspired by someone is key. I know, I have, and I dearly wish them the same.