How do you build up the next generation of women in STEM? By increasing girls’ exposure to STEM education. The TechWomen Seed Grant initiative Taungana did just that at their recent STEM Career Expo, which took place last month in Johannesburg, South Africa.
What is a Seed Grant? Following the 2013 program, small grants were given out to 13 teams of TechWomen alumnae to inspire them to create initiatives that would inspire women and girls to pursue STEM. Taungana is one of these exciting initiatives. The Taungana team, consisting of 2013 TechWomen alumnae Zimkhita Buwa, Nomso Kana, and Sandra Tererai, Chioniso Dube-Hachigonta and Djamila Douache were inspired by their experiences hearing from technology companies and industry leaders in San Francisco and Silicon Valley.
In the Bantu language Shona—which is widely spoken in Zimbabwe and Zambia—taungana means “we have come together.” This idea was central to the first annual expo, called “Decoding STEM Careers.” The Taungana movement developed out of the founders’ desire to bridge gender gaps in STEM by connecting girls to women mentors, educational resources, and leading professionals in STEM fields.
The participants were dubbed ambassadors during the program. Taungana’s objective with the expo was to give ambassadors the chance to explore the world of STEM through educational workshops and meeting with women in STEM. The ambassadors came from rural and disadvantaged areas of Zambia, Zimbabwe, and South Africa. After completing the TechWomen program in November 2013, Sandra, Chioniso, Zim, Djamila, and Nomso were inspired to give back to their community and work towards equal representation of girls in STEM.
With the support of the TechWomen Seed Grant, industry hosts, and organizational partnerships with STEM-IT-Forward, Asikana Network, and TechWomen Zimbabwe, Taungana developed a dynamic schedule for the eight day expo. Activities included sessions on entrepreneurship, learning about aviation in partnership with South Africa Airways, hearing about the health sciences field in a lively panel, visiting the Eskom Lethabo Power Station, and taking part in a STEM Career Fair. This expo would not have been possible without the support of industry hosts: BMW SA (automotive), Eskom (energy), AngloAmerican (mining), NECSA – Nuclear Energy Corporation of South Africa (research science), Innovation Hub (entrepreneurship), Aurecon (engineering), Nestle (food/fmcg), South African Airways (aviation), Thoughtworks (ICT), and Sci Bono Discovery Centre (applied science). In addition, Wits University School of Mechanical, Industrial and Aeronautical Engineering hosted the STEM career fair where different organisations came to exhibit.
The ambassadors learned many things during the expo. Below are three anecdotes from participants and the Taungana team on the week-long experience.
Florence Muloongo, age 17, Zambia:
“I learnt how they make electricity using coal (at Eskom). First they pound the coal for complete combustion then they burn the powdered coal and the heat produced heat the water and the the steam produced from the water turns the turbine and electricity is produced!”
Nokwanda Radebe, age 16, South Africa:
“We toured Aurecon on Wednesday the 27th of August. I experienced a lot of things about engineering careers and I was so excited when I heard that in 2020 will land on the planet Mars. Actually, that inspired me to become a Civil Engineer so that I can build the bridges in planet Mars. I realised that it will be a good thing when other people move to other planets because our planet Earth is over populated so others need to explore.”
Meldance Gora, age 17, Zimbabwe:
“Sci Bono is a place of science – what captivated me more was the mind ball. I was so amazed at how the mind could control the ball. It made me want to find out more, what else can I do with my body parts (like pump water with my heart?)!”
Nomso Kana, Taungana Regional Coordinator
“Such an awe filled time we had with the girls aspiring to be STEM leaders during the expo week, I started breathing with ease when the first girls arrived at 04:00am on the first day, beaming with hope and seeing their future through us. I looked forward to seeing their career perspectives changing and their faces lighting up when they saw their ‘never seen before’ role models in the STEM industries we visited. Months of hard work and planning paid off when Chibwe from Zambia said ‘Nomso, thank you for believing in me.'”
Sandra Tererai, Taungana Founder
Nothing prepared us for the energy and sharp minds of the 30 Taungana Ambassadors 2014! We were awed by their aspirations and hunger for knowledge at such young ages. And the odds they braved to get to Johannesburg, such as Marrian and Chileshe from Zambia who took a 3 day trip in total to SA! I am glad we gave our all to make this movement a reality. Are we doing it again? – DEFINITELY!
The expo was a clear success. Ambassadors were extremely enthusiastic about all of the program workshops, which equipped the girls with the skills needed to become STEM ambassadors in their own communities. This is just one example of Seed Grant initiatives. We’re excited to share stories about Seed Grant recipients as alumna launch their programs throughout the year. Congratulations to TechWomen alumnae Sandra, Chioniso, Zim, Djamila, and Nomso on the completion of the expo!