Guest post by Umikaltuma Ibrahim, Sandra Kambo, Serah Kahiu and Adah Waseka, 2014 TechWomen fellows of Kenya.
Our journey began with our selection for the TechWomen program in 2014. The experience was life-changing. We were exposed to a wealth of ideas and resources through the TechWomen community of Professional and Cultural Mentors who guided our experience.
When we returned home to Kenya, one thing was clear: we needed to pay it forward, a concept that was widely advocated during our mentorships. We kicked-off our work in the coastal city of Mombasa, Kenya, where ingrained biases are more prominent and girls are less encouraged to study STEM subjects. We were introduced to Ruth Kaveke and her classmate Aisha Abubakar, who at the time were studying computer science. They ran the women’s arm of an existing organization that was trying to get more local residents of Mombasa into technology. We jointly planned and hosted the first Women in STEM workshop in Mombasa in January 2015.
Recognizing the immediate synergy we had, we held multiple meetings to develop a creative strategy that would get more high school girls from Mombasa into STEM. We submitted our concept, Mombasa Girls in STEM Solve IT, to the U.S. Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs’ Alumni Engagement Innovation Fund (AEIF), and in 2015 became the first Kenyan team to be selected as winners. Using our experiences from TechWomen and our professional expertise, our team developed a dynamic STEM curriculum for the first phase of our project. In 2016, local trainers learned the curriculum and delivered the content to local school girls in Mombasa. The girls were then placed into teams and tasked with using the curriculum’s content to identify a community problem they want to solve. Each solution was presented at our first-ever Girls in STEM Fair in Mombasa. The project was an overwhelming success! We had planned to target 150 high school girls among 10 schools in Mombasa, but ultimately 180 high school girls from 11 schools developed 33 STEM solutions.
By now, Ruth and Aisha had formed Pwani Teknowgalz— their own women-led organization that was carrying out training and outreach on technology — and Ruth became a TechWomen fellow herself in 2017. Shortly after, we once again applied for an AEIF grant, and became the first Kenyan team to be awarded the AEIF twice. This time around, we trained 199 high school girls from 13 high schools and held the second Girls in STEM Fair in September 2018.
Through our projects we have forged partnerships, and most importantly, indelible friendships. Teachers like Linah Anyango who provided remarkable leadership during our projects have gone ahead to play major roles in advancing technology in their schools through Technovation Mombasa and Africa Code Week. Ruth and Aisha, who we mentored, have become well-known leaders in the local community; spearheading several initiatives in Kenya. Aisha and Linah will soon be traveling to the U.S. as TechWomen 2019 Emerging Leaders. We’re currently partnering with Ruth and Aisha to run a “STEM Cafe” in five towns in Kenya at the U.S Embassy’s American Spaces. We couldn’t be prouder that Ruth, Aisha and Linah are now part of our larger TechWomen family.
Our trainers, who are mostly university students and recent graduates, have gained additional skills through the dynamic STEM curriculum. Thanks to this exposure, they’ve obtained employment or internships as software engineers, science teachers and many more through our networks. Our mentees have become our peers, and our alumni students have now become trainers at Pwani Teknowgalz, working to empower the next generation of women in STEM.
Through Mombasa Girls In STEM, STEM Cafe, Technovation and several other initiatives in Mombasa, Kilifi and beyond, we have reached more young women than we could have imagined. So to our TechWomen mentors — Anar Simpson, Tanya Kobyluk, Queen Denchukwu, Nashilu Mouen-Makoua, Prachi Gupta, Julia Lovin, Mimi Hills, Larissa Shapiro, Alfreda Eghan and countless more who had a part to play in our journey — know that there’s a whole generation of women, many of whom you have never met, that are thankful to you.
“When you’ve worked hard, and done well, and walked through that doorway of opportunity…you do not slam it shut behind you…you reach back, and you give other folks the same chances that helped you succeed.” – Michelle Obama
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