A bright future for women and girls
The delegation trip began day two with a welcome and briefing from U.S. Embassy Freetown, where distinguished guests from Public Affairs and Economic sections, the Centers for Disease Control, USAID & more introduced the delegates to Sierra Leone’s history, economy and potential as a local technology hub. In her opening words, U.S. Ambassador Maria E. Brewer discussed key country goals, which include mutual peace and understanding, increasing human rights and inclusive, Sierra Leone-led development.
U.S. Embassy political officer Carlton Philadelphia spoke about the country’s recent presidential elections, outlining government-led human rights campaigns that focus on particularly vulnerable populations in Sierra Leone. One particular program, “Hands off our girls,” is an initiative that brings attention and education to sexual violence within the country. “The resilience of the Sierra Leoneans is above and beyond anything I’ve seen,” Mr. Philadelphia said. “Now, girls and women are going to have more opportunity.”
Inspiring the next generation
The day continued with a visit to The Services Secondary School in Freetown. The school has partnered with Catch Them Young (CATHY), an initiative started by 2017 fellows Chrisla Koroma, Haja Sovula, Umu Kamara, Victoria Kamara and Jestina Johnson. CATHY aims to provide a platform for young minds to engage in STEM activities, providing peer mentoring and supporting the students in finding their passions and career pathways. The delegates had the opportunity to visit the school’s science lab, where fellows from CATHY are working with school leadership to update the lab and provide materials and equipment to better engage students in science activities.
Throughout the afternoon, mentors and fellows rotated between classrooms, sharing their career experiences and learning about challenges and opportunities for students in Sierra Leone. Many speaking as the only women in their departments, mentors and fellows encouraged the students to be tenacious, remain curious and pursue their passions in spite of the odds. 2017 fellow of Nigeria Busayo Durojaiye encouraged the students to be resourceful and make the best of what they have in the classroom; mentor Kira Gardner added that every student can access science learning at any time – a simple battery can be made with just a lemon and copper wire.
During the sessions, one student raised her hand, explaining that she was eager to learn about IT but wanted to know why boys like science and girls like the arts. Mentor Pamela O’Leary spoke about the diversity of careers within the tech field, showing that with technology, you can create a job that doesn’t even exist yet. Other mentors explained that a technical degree is not necessary to work in technology, and that curiosity and interest will take them far. Before leaving for the day, 2018 fellow Sebay Momoh shared an encouraging message with her classroom, saying, “We are often the only women in the room. There is so much you can do if you enter the sciences. Please keep working hard, be consistent and do your best. We are here for you.”
Networking with local leaders
The day came to a close at Ambassador Maria E. Brewer’s home, where she graciously hosted a networking reception for the delegates, embassy representatives and local women and men in STEM fields. There, fellow Sebay Momoh and mentor Mimi Hills spoke to the group about their TechWomen experience, sharing the impact the program has had on their personal and professional development. The remainder of the evening was spent networking with local entrepreneurs, business owners and embassy staff, sharing knowledge and creating new professional connections.
As the evening concluded and the delegates celebrated a successful day two, the words Sebay shared during her evening speech rang true: that, although the TechWomen program is just five weeks, it can often become a lifelong experience.
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