11 August 2017

Malawi: Teen Girls Gather to Advance Science, Tech Skills

A hundred teenage girls from seven countries are gathered the Malawi University of Science and Technology in the country's Thyolo district for a Women in Science camp.

Experts from Intel Corp. and Google are teaching the girls — from Rwanda, Uganda, Liberia, Tanzania, Zambia, Malawi and the U.S. — to develop mobile phone apps. It's one of several lessons offered at the two-week camp, which runs through August 14.

The hope is that these teens will go on to pursue studies and careers in science, technology, engineering, arts and math, also known as STEAM fields.

"We want is every girl who participates in this camp to walk away with the knowledge and the confidence that if they want to develop computer applications, they absolutely can," instructor Lisa Mcintye said. "We are giving them building blocks and access to start doing that."

The camp was made possible by the U.N.'s Girl Up campaign, U.S.-based Intel and the U.S. Department of State.

Time for change

"Those fields everywhere — in my country, the United States, here in Malawi and many countries around the world — tend to be dominated by men. It's time for that to change," said Edward J. Monster, public affairs officer of the U.S. Embassy in Malawi.

Role models were invited to share their experiences with the campers. The guests included former American astronaut Leland Melvin and Malawi's only two female pilots, Captain Yolanda Kaunda and First Officer Lusekelo Mwenifumbo.

"I was undermined as a girl, that probably I could not do the job, or I couldn't do it as good as a man," said Lusekelo Mwenifumbo, a pilot for Malawian Airlines. "But the training is the same for a man and a woman. That's why we are called pilots, not pilotesses."

'Really inspiring'

"Those guys are really inspiring people," said Chimwemwe Chiweza, one of the campers from Malawi. "And I learned that all of them are doing very important things, and they are in male-dominated fields, and that, actually, they made it possible."

"What I have learned is that since I need to work in a STEAM field, I need to work hard for it and I will achieve it, even if I am a girl," said camper Clarisse Ilibagiza Umulis of Rwanda.

Organizers say more is expected from the girls after the camp.

"These girls will go home and change their communities," said Bailey Leuschen of the U.N. Girl Up campaign. "They [are going to] bring this knowledge back to their schools. They [are going to] start Girl Up clubs and they [are going to] be the leaders in science, technology, engineering, arts and math."

STEAM camps have also been held in Rwanda and Peru since 2015. In all, about 300 teenage girls have participated.

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