10 February 2013

Rwanda: Of Dolls, Toys and Engineers!


As a toddler, and young girl, I liked my brother's toy cars and what was left of his Lego set. With a considerable age gap between us, sooner than later, those cars were mostly lost, or damaged beyond repair (I am yet to find out what happened to the few Lego blocks).

He had moved on to hip-hop music and whatever it is cool pubescent guys do, and I was left with whatever toys were handed to me. These toys usually came in the form of a plastic blonde-haired doll that I invariably named 'Samantha'.

In retrospect, those 'Samantha's did naught for me except make me hate my nappy hair. This is the unfortunate reality of young girls.As our brothers learn how to build Lego-cities, develop their spatial skills and build self-confidence in their problem solving abilities, we females learn how to play dress-up and host fake tea parties. In fact it has been found that when most engineers look back at their formative years, there is usually a building set or something that sparked their interest in building things. These very toys are traditionally marketed to boys, and not girls.

This may seem okay except for the picture painted down the road. Engineers are solving society's biggest challenges and shaping the world economy (their salaries don't hurt either) and it should come as no surprise that over 85 percent of these world-shapers are male! Here's another statistic: girls start losing interest in science as young as age eight, and only about 11 percent of engineers are women. Scary!

A 29-year-old engineer from Stanford University has made it her life mission to bridge this gap. Debbie Sterling is a San Francisco-based entrepreneur who has made it her life goal to inspire the next generation of female engineers through Goldieblox, a toy set (consisting of a book and project/kit set) designed to inspire future female engineers. The kit merges girls' visual strengths with their love for books and attempts to make construction interesting.

Sterlings toy kit engages girls as they follow a storyline and use it to build. The set allows girls to build along with the character figurine called 'Goldie' who likes to invent things. The young girls begin to want to be like Goldie and do what she does. Goldie is nothing like my Samantha - she is a female engineer role model who is intelligent and curious, and how girls today need that! (Note: It would be nice if Goldieblox had a brown sister that could relate with African girls and serve as a strong toy-model)

Don't get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with plastic princesses and tea parties, all I am saying is that young girls have so much more to them. They should be able to explore any opportunity to become what they want - engineers inclusive. For once it is nice to see girls empowered with toys as opposed to marketed as toys.

This is the dream: that female perspective may find its voice and play a critical role in building our future. The journey starts today, with tomorrow's engineers....

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