After weeks of preparation and much anticipation, 16 TechWomen mentors and four visiting fellows landed in Sierra Leone, eager to begin a week dedicated to inspiring women and girls.
Delegation trips serve a vital role in the TechWomen program, sustaining and growing a global network of women in STEM fields. The week’s programming was varied, taking the delegation from local secondary schools to the residence of the U.S. Ambassador to Sierra Leone and interacting with both young students and established local entrepreneurs. From day one, mentors and fellows were ready to inspire and to be inspired, to teach and to learn, and to unite in a shared mission to invest in their communities.
Fellows and mentors kicked off day one with a program briefing, discussing the week’s schedule and outlining delegation trip goals. The group was then welcomed by Emily Royse Green, public affairs officer at U.S. Embassy Freetown, who spoke about the local culture and customs and how to best prepare for the busy week ahead. After the briefing, it was time to head out for a day of cultural activities, starting with a boat ride to Bunce Island.
Visitors travel from all over the world to trace their roots to Bunce Island, once among the largest slave trade operations on the West African coast. Founded around 1670, the island exported tens of thousands of African captives to North America and the West Indies until it was closed down in 1808. Now uninhabited, the island is a powerful reminder of the slave trade’s painful history. In 1948, Bunce Island was declared a National Monument, becoming Sierra Leone’s first officially protected historic site. Today, restoration efforts are underway, preserving the island’s ruins and planning for a museum in Freetown devoted to the island’s history.
Next, the group traveled to Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary, a conservation organization that cares for nearly 100 chimpanzees on site. The group toured the grounds, watching chimpanzee’s interacting with each other and learning about Tacugama’s community outreach, field research and conservation education efforts.
The delegation celebrated an exciting and educational first day at a welcome dinner, where TechWomen director Jillian Scott reminded the delegation what the week was all about: building connections, supporting one another and inspiring women and girls to be a force of positive change in their communities. Sierra Leonean fellows had the opportunity to speak with the group, sharing about initiatives they began, companies they founded and post-program achievements. After learning more about the fellows’ impact – their mentorship programs, environmental initiatives and dedication to educating the next generation of leaders – it was clear that the delegation was in for an unforgettable week.
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