I don’t think I have ever met an African woman who integrates science in international affairs to help strengthen the science sectors in Africa in order to inspire innovation and collaboration. Before the STEAM camp in Rwanda, which I took part in during my summer break, I had not even met a woman focusing on both international affairs and engineering. Not to mention ensuring that girls all over the world – have access to STEAM opportunities and women mentors in those fields.
When we arrived at Gashora Academy, the beauty and dedication to service of the country shot right through me. I remember we arrived on a hot Wednesday – I later learnt that the warm temperatures were a daily occurrence in Rwanda. Making our way on the roads, I noticed that the roads were blocked to allow citizens the opportunity to serve their community. I didn’t understand what that meant until my counsellor told me that occupants of a community helped each other, by cleaning the streets, helping other homes etc. I wondered what made Rwandans carryout this task every month, because I knew that it wouldn’t work back home in South Africa. I guess it’s understandable when the country in question is dependent on agriculture, with a number of families being supported by on subsistence farming.
There were so many aspects of the camp that I enjoyed immensely. One example: coding. I’ve always loved coding, and having other girls meet the challenges of logarithms and flow diagrams with me, made everything exciting and certainly assured that it was ‘something a girl can do.’ I made friends in the small classes we had with Intel volunteers, Wisci mentors and girls from 9 different countries. Building electronic cars that we controlled through C++ and reinforcing our Galileo boards with sensors to improve robot intelligence.
We were eventually involved in a final project fair with students from different countries to help solve a social issue in a specific country by creating social businesses. The more I met women who are engineers, programmers, university post graduates in computer engineering, and engaged in conversations with these women (who own companies in the technology sector, who are involved in international affairs with a science background, who empower other young girls around the world to reach their full potential), I felt tremendously empowered. Unfortunately, as young scientists who are interested in pursuing a career in STEM – we don’t bear witness to this every day, nor do we see this on television.
We also took a trip to the Genocide Memorial site which I vividly recall. Whilst enjoying the delicious plantain wedges, papaya, the ginger and chai tea that warmed my heart, I learnt a lot about the genocide in Rwanda that ended around the same as Apartheid. It was great learning how far the county has come. It is amazing how the government in Rwanda is mostly run by extraordinary women who ensure that girls in Rwanda, lead the change and help propel their country forward.
I’m thankful to GirlUp, Intel, Microsoft, ALA, and many other partners that enabled me to take part in this initiative.
About the author: Sisipho Zinja is a young leader, in the Class of 2014 from Cape Town, South Africa. You can read her profile here.