Girls and Science: Can ‘Boys’ Champion the Journey?

— By Ibrahim from Uganda

It is Saturday evening and the sun is scorching hot. There are already only four boys waiting for the event to begin. The guest of honor has arrived and everything seems blurry. They sit there faces chocked with half smiles as they hold on a little bit longer. Promisingly members start flocking in. In 20 minutes, they were ready to begin.

This November 26th 2016 Boy-Talk moment organized by Girls in School Initiative had unraveling surprises of its own. It’s not the pizza that they all enjoyed at the end but the thrilling talk from Concern for the Girl Child’s Executive Director, Catherine Opondo, the guest speaker. She first scribbles through her phone notes and then smiling poses that rhetorical question members didn’t expect; ”Will you be a Champion?” The whole meeting grew silent.

This month’s topic centered on whether girls education in science subjects helps bridge the gender disparity gap in the world of sciences, and as always, seeking to understand the greater role boys play in support of this initiative. Mrs. Opondo took a very firm stand on this, that indeed “Girls involvement in sciences helps to bridge the gender disparity gap in the world of science.” She drew examples from her lifeline and career experiences alongside places she has lived in like the Middle East. Mrs. Opondo made the members to re-imagine where science goes beyond the test tube to daily life experiences practices. To her, what is science and where is science? She imagines boys playing a leading role in challenging a girl on what her future plan/dream is in relation to science? Or is it simply, what is it that she likes in a lipstick? A lipstick is just a lipstick but she nuances it with this scientific aspiring girl who is made to rethink on ‘eco-lipstick’ and how it would revolutionize a healthier woman in a cosmetology world.

That; when girls are pushed to think, they too can progressively become better like boys. Her emphatic ideal was “Boys can point girls to hope,” plus “raising aspirations is really important” in any human lives especially girls. Mrs. Opondo stressed out three main wayshow boys can help: Through, (a) Socialization; where they can help bridge the cultural gap; (b) Protection, where boys protect girls against ill derailleur’s by acting as ‘Big Brothers’ and, (c) Advocacy; where boys become champions for change.

In these modern times, there has been a lot of rumbling and calling for girl’s education. But where do we place the men and what is their role in all this? There is still a lot that ‘boys’ can do to champion the cause, more so in the world of science. Mrs. Opondo gave pointers from leverage the using of the existing structures to get organized and seek support through networks; spear heading men’s groups in informing about both the urgent and long term need/impact for promoting girl child education as well as acting as ‘changemakers’ where they promote and encourage girls to pursue sciences in schools.

As the meeting drew to a close, members were already battering with ideas from their own their experiences afar. They agreed that its high time men stopped giving girls dolls but surround them with gadgets to harness their imagination, i.e., procreating a science mind. On a sad reality, many girls drop out of school when they become pregnant and so are giving up on their dreams. This is where men can come in as supportive and counselors that having a baby is not the end of one’s career aspirations.

The whole event seemed quite mind boggling and yet mind changing. It stems from boys’ testimonies of how they perceive the concept of gender while relearning anew. The talk by Mrs. Opondo was nothing less but exploratory, inspirational and more so, relational. The Boy-Talk Moments have had one important impact sofar; continuous dialogue even after culture shock. Muslim boys who are members are battering with perceptions about ‘who is a woman’(both at a personal, religious and societal level) than ever before. The greater hope that seems to looms allover is that members are endlessly questioning while seeking answers of their own without failing to commit themselves to the cause. Wholly, they all seemed to agree with Mrs. Opondo in her assertion that, “The power imbalance cannot be ignored. We maybe different physically but we are all equal”.

Tears from Lake Volta

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— By Theodora from Ghana

As a fresh journalism graduate, I was enthusiastic about my future. I envisioned myself addressing thousands of crowds, hosting talk shows on national television and authoring bestselling books. This dream of mine was so real in my mind that I looked forward to seeing it in reality. Being the 5th child of 6 children and the only child who had successfully navigated through tertiary institution, it felt like heaven on earth. Ready to storm the media landscape, I was shocked at the news I received few months after completion from the citadel of communication – The Nigerian institute of journalism.

It was a sunny afternoon. I was on campus to check my name for national service postings as was the norm in Nigeria and surrounding African countries; National Service is a compulsory one year service to the nation upon completion of tertiary education. While I was seated in front of the Student Affairs officer, inquisitive about why my name was not on the board, I received distressing news that my name wasn’t inclusive since I’m a Ghanaian citizen. My heart sank like a ship sinking right in the middle of a deep sea. I had looked forward to serving in the northern part of Nigeria. I had planned to learn to speak Hausa – a northern language.

I couldn’t bear the pain of not experiencing the National Youth Service Corp (NYSC) orientation camp. The three-week camp is aimed at preparing ‘corpers’, as they’re known, for the year-long scheme. Being a corper is a part of the Nigerian experience. It’s seen as the last stage of tertiary education, the final hurdle and the key to the world of employment. I took solace in an African Proverb from the Hausa Tribe which says that “However long the night, the dawn will break”. And just when the caterpillar thought life was over, it began to fly. All hope was not lost as I got the chance to serve in Ghana a year later in a foremost child rights organization. I served as a field support officer.

One cold morning at about 4:30. I set off with a team of field officers on a 14 hours journey to the popular lake Volta. Volta Lake is the largest reservoir in the world by surface area and a main destination for trafficking children; an estimated 7,000 – 10,000 child slaves work in the fishing industry.
After a 14 hours ride, we had to travel for another 2 hours on the Lake to Tomato Akura – the village where we hoped to rescue trafficked children. It was my first time travelling on water in a boat and I was the only female. Stephen, the field operation manager had made sure to coach me well about the mission prior to our take off so that I did just fine.

On arrival at Tomato Akura, everywhere was dark, no electricity. I had to use my phone light. There was no hotel to lodge. No internet connections. Our host family who lived in a tiny hut made from palm fronts willingly sacrificed their wooden bed for me. I was thrilled by the show of hospitality but I had to refuse since they had three children. I couldn’t let them lay on the bare floor while I lay on their bed. I spent the night at the lake side on the boat with the worst experience of discomfort I had ever been through. At dawn, I met Kwesi, a 6year old boy who had gotten up as early as 4am to start fishing. Kwesi, along with his master and other children, would toil the lake from 4am till 3pm. Kwesi was unclothed on that chilly lake where I, at 25 years old, struggled to sleep even with quilts and blankets. He ate garri and smoked fish once a day and the same meal every day of the week.

I had to refrain from crying. The look on his face, his skinny and malnourished body, his innocent and pure countenance, the cold and freezing mornings he worked all day and the silent cry I heard in his voice as I spoke to him were moments that turned my life around. Kwesi is one out of many children who had been trafficked to engage in hazardous child labor. His face particularly left a scar in my heart. Just then, I realized just how lucky I am even though I had always thought other kids who lived with their parents had better care and opportunities than me. Prior to my experience with Kwesi, I thought the worst thing that can happen to any child is to have his or her parents separated.

With indefinable resentment in my heart over my parent’s separation, my encounter with Kwesi thought me that no pain could compare with what a child slave had to go through without both his parents. Kwesi told me that his only dream was to go back home to his parents.

Pawa 254 – Where Nairobi activism and art meet

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— By Millicent from Kenya

There is nowhere interesting like a place that brings out the giant in you. Pawa 254 is this place for me. A place that most Kenyans associate with human rights, activism, poetry and art. This is the office to one of Kenya’s renowned activist Boniface Mwangi. He is always on the forefront to fight oppression and through this place he has opened space for creative aspiring minds. This magnificent place shares the same road with where our president’s office is.

The main office which occupies the second floor is a work of art. The seats and the interior décor are creatively designed to give a warm welcome to visitors and work as a motivation to the people who work there daily. The office management has also invested in a nice conference facility. The rooms are vibrant and colorful and help spice up the meetings that are held there.

Pawa 254 is my favorite place but more specifically its rooftop has my heart. The rooftop is indeed a piece of artwork; graffiti on the walls will welcome you while, on the stairs before, the amazing view of Nairobi city steals your attention. On one of the walls, the graffiti is usually a picture of great people. The day I paid the rooftop a visit, the graffiti on the wall was for Mohamed Ali the great boxer.

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I felt that I was indeed connected to greatness and that I could do anything including flying from the rooftop. It felt good taking a picture next to it as how else would I document this moment? There is a small fish pond at a corner of the rooftop with a few fish in it. At the center of this pond, there is a fountain that supplies water to the fish. Looking at it while feeding the fish gives the feel of renewed strength. Sitting on this rooftop and marveling at the artwork is a great way to refresh one’s mind.

The view of Nairobi city is the highlight of this great place. Moving closer to one of the corners next to where Ali’s graffiti is, you perfectly see the city landscape. The architecture of the city buildings is clearly visible from this point with one being able to distinguish the tall ones from the short ones. The city skyline is also visible and beautiful from this point. Sunrise and sunsets are perfectly experienced from this place creating a perfect moment. Social environment in this place is so friendly that it is impossible to distinguish a visitor from the people who work here on a daily basis. People are ever happy and bubbly. On one corner you will see people cracking jokes and laughing hysterically while in another corner others will be discussing art and appreciating it.

Pawa 254 has a special place in my heart. I may not visit this place as often as I would like to but it is etched in my heart. It is my recommendation to anyone visiting Nairobi to pay the place a visit. It is open to everyone and without a doubt it is a second home.

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Her Name is Adura

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— By Adelakun from Nigeria

Adura is 18 years old. She hopes to get into the university next year to study medicine. She lives in a makeshift shelter in my community. What strikes me the most about Adura is the fact that she’s so intelligent, so, I took a special interest in her as a mentor. Her mother had no formal education but was encouraged by my late mother to send her daughters to school. She sells soda and bottled water to earn some money so that she can send Adura and her younger sister to a low income private school in the community. Adura’s father is dead. Here’s a peek into what her day looks like.

Adura gets up at 5:30am every morning.

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She makes sure her younger sister is ok.


Meanwhile, her mother who sells her wares through the night rests.

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Then Adura takes delivery of Ice blocks which her mother uses to chill the drinks and water she sells. Aftet that she takes a shower in that cubicle. (I cried while taking this picture. It’s amazing the things we take for granted. This is what Adura calls her bathroom).

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Then she has her breakfast (if available.) and reports to a graphics design shop where she is currently on internship. She’s very good at using Corel Draw!

After a long day, she retires to her mother’s shed to sleep. Dinner may or may not happen.

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Adura remains cheerful though. She is the definition of hope in the midst of nothing. When there’s life, there’s hope.

How I landed my First Job

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— By Festus from Nigeria

The job hunt started with a celebration after I finished my final exam as an undergraduate at the prestigious University of Nigeria. I will never forget that wonderful day. I can still picture the wonderful celebration that came with it the usual “four years don waka” ritual inspired by Nigeria’s style plus track titled: “four years don waka.”

This is a popular celebration in Nigeria’s Universities. It ushers students into a moment of celebration laden with joyful screams, hoots of laughter, tears of joy and a period of thanksgiving to providence for a successful or safe degree programme—four, five or six years, depending on the course of study.

During this once in a lifetime celebration you would see students clothed in white vest—emblazoned with autographs of different colors of permanent marker pen or highlighter, you’d see excitement palpably woven amongst them.

I joined in the celebration too. I enjoyed every single minute I spent with my classmates—reveling.

After the celebration, I came face-to-face with reality. We shook hands, exchanged contacts and soon became friends. This reality’s baptismal name is also known as: Life after school. What I call “Life of a graduate”.

It comes with a lot of thoughts and challenges. It’s at that stage you start hunting for job and this time around you’ll hear news like: “there’s no job.” Well It’s true; there’s no job. But, I’ve never accepted that cliché for once. I’ve always believed in God’s grace and hard work.

Still, the search continued. I kept sending mails to editors; I never relented in checking out for opportunities on the Internet. I kept applying till I even became tired of applying. Days turned into weeks, weeks rolled into a month—still, nothing happened.

However, the story changed on the 30th of August. I received a mail from U.S based African Exponent that was only a few weeks after I applied for a staff writer position. Amid anxiety I applied and when I was invited for an interview on Skype, my heart was housed in fear too. I didn’t expect anything big. The thoughts of “You don’t have your certificate yet” flooded my thoughts. “After all you just graduated few weeks ago,” I continued, in deep thoughts.

But, the interview panned out well. My three-year experience as a young journalist paid off. I got the job. And here is the surprising news: I was the only person offered employment as a staff writer out of 198 applicants all over Africa.

I was gob smacked. I shed tears of joy. I screamed, I celebrated.

The news is still unbelievable even as I am writing this piece. It is an experience I will never forget in my life. An experience I will preserve for my children and my generation is to always believe in themselves, in God and in their hustle (hard work).

Lessons from my Mandela Washington Fellowship Experience

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— By Edem from Nigeria

I think the first impression which struck me was that there were no boundary walls separating the Arizona State University (ASU) campus from the rest of the community. Right behind the law building stood the very cosmopolitan Sheraton Hotel, next to the impressive Walter Cronkite school of Journalism stood the grand Arizona Science Centre. Also a few blocks from the University student centre stood tall glass offices of Goldman Sachs and McKinsey. I had never encountered a University without walls or borders and so I had been in the ASU Downtown Campus in Phoenix, Arizona, for well over 10 minutes without realising. It wasn’t until we got to the front of an attractive student dormitory building called Taylor Place, which would be my home for the next 6 weeks that I suddenly understood. At that point I looked at the cab driver and escort with a look of surprise and asked “when did we go through the university gates?”

I would later discover during the course of an intense 6 weeks Fellowship experience that the absence of walls bordering ASU Downtown campus was a manifest expression of the system’s belief in the fluidity of interaction between knowledge and transforming human societies. For 6 weeks I was immersed in a progressive style of learning. During academic sessions we engaged in rich discussions and team work which yielded simple solutions. During community service we visited schools, community centres, Native American tribes, non-profits, city bureaus and offices. We also helped build houses, plant green spaces, distribute food at shelters and food banks and paint school walls. As part of our cultural exchange we ate American hot dogs, went on hiking trips, watched 4D movies, attended a 4th of July baseball game and gazed at fireworks whilst making sure that we left behind in all the places we visited the reverberating sounds of our beautiful African philosophies, songs, drum beats and rhythms.

I gained many valuable lessons during my Fellowship experience and I would like to share 3 of these lessons with other youths who might be reading this:

  1. All over the world, there is no perfect society and no, the United States of America is not perfect. The Country has its issues and the citizens confront problems as well. However there are strong societies. Such societies reflect deeply entrenched values, a keen investment in knowledge and research, transparent and effective systems of governance and robust working economies. As is to be expected, such societies deliver a high standard of basic comfort to average citizens, making their borders attractive to people around the world. A lesson I gained during the Fellowship is that such societies are built and sustained through vision, effort and sacrifice. This is clear from the attitude of both the leaders and the citizens of America to work, education and innovation, governance, community service, and the deep rooted values of freedom and opportunity. Contrary to the opinion of many, Nigeria will thrive if we imbibe the many lessons of our past as well as lessons presented by strong nations like the United States. As young people we must first believe in the possibility and then we must strive to attain it through effort and sacrifice.
  1. There is value in networking and building relationships. Our value as individuals is not limited to our personal skills or potential alone but encompasses the collective strengths of everyone who forms part of our relationship circle. The more relationships we build the more value we can claim or leverage and vice-versa. Americans are big on networking because they realise the importance of social integrative power. Through networking and relationship building we can easily share resources, discover opportunities, reduce costs, enjoy mentoring or peer review and accountability amongst other important benefits. As youths, we are currently the largest demographic on the African Continent and this is an opportunity. The more connected we are, the more resourceful we become. This implies that we can travel much farther today than any previous generation in Africa ever could.
  1. The real value of an education is in the solutions we are able to create. We are not relevant merely because we have a university degree or we graduated with first class or second class upper honours, as many often boast. Those credits are simply presumptive labels indicating to the world what we are capable of contributing. The world will not be transformed just because we are literate or have a brilliant mind. The world will only be transformed when we take our brilliant minds and use them to create useful solutions that address current issues the world is grappling with. If we are to improve our communities and our nation we have to move beyond the current obsession with tagging ourselves as “literate”, “graduate” or “first class holder” to creating real valuable solutions. As I witnessed during my Fellowship experience, having a college degree or a fancy one at that, isn’t nearly as important as the innovative skills and critical mindset you bring to the table and how relevant those skills are to present day challenges.

Written by:        Edem Dorothy Ossai (2016 Mandela Washington Fellow),                                                                   Founder of MAYEIN: www.mayein.com 

 

Empowering the Youth through Agriculture

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— by Hellen from Kenya

There is so much negativity in communities, particularly involving the youth. Perhaps it is because we chose to focus on the negative elements that we miss out on the positivity and the things that make a difference. My community, just like most communities in developing countries, is characterized by a large population of young people, both employed and unemployed. Despite their levels of education, or even their employment status, the zeal to dream and succeed is a common factor shared by every young person in my community. The young person who wakes up to go to work in a government office does so because he/she has a dream that he/she wants to achieve. The same case applies to the young person who wakes up to take care of his small farm, or sell his supplies in the village market. Apart from the dreamers, there is also a group of young people who may have given up on their dream or on the zeal to dream again. I am a strong believer in trying so many times, dreaming over and over until the dream placed in the heart is achieved. Perhaps that is one of the things that ignite my passion for youth empowerment.

Whenever I think of youth empowerment, I remember an agricultural club that was started by a group of young people in Nyamninia primary school, in my community, Sauri Village (Western Kenya). I was a journalism student and would therefore spend most of my long holidays at home in Sauri. I know that journalists have an eye and nose for news, and maybe it is that curiosity that prompted me to have an interest in the club at Nyamninia Primary school. The head teacher of the school started an agricultural club after noticing that the school population was largely made up of vulnerable children, who were mostly orphaned at early ages and being taken care of by neighbors and relatives. She noticed that, as much as most of the students loved school, they would miss class often.

They were mostly absent from school because of hunger.

13246178_10207953377965687_4902748585856367755_oWith agriculture being a common mean of livelihood in the area, the head teacher, who also doubled up as the patron of the club, decided to train the older students on how to farm, with the aim of introducing a school feeding program for the rest of the school population. The club started with about 20 young people aged between 10 and 13 years old. They began by growing vegetables, mostly for school lunches, to ensure that the students would get at least one meal per day.

After three months, the club membership had more than doubled, and this prompted the club patron to lease a bigger piece of land around the school in order to increase the farming activities of the club. The hardworking youths produced more than enough, and began selling some of their produce to the villagers. At the beginning of the project, the proceeds from the sale of their harvest were used in purchasing books, school uniforms, and even shoes for some of the club members, who had never owned any pairs of shoes before. From vegetable farming, the youths decided to venture into poultry farming, and later into dairy farming after receiving a number of dairy goats from a well-wisher.

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As the club grew, the members gained administrative and record keeping skills, in addition to the farming skills that they received during their faming activities. A year later, the club benefited from the Millennium Villages Project, which decided to use their club as a model for educating the farmers in the village. The project donated a green-house structure and the young club members were trained on how to improve their produce using the green-house technology. As time went by, the club became a hub of agricultural activities, and the members’ efforts further attracted other agricultural enthusiasts, prompting visits and support from organizations such as the National 4H Council, which steers similar agricultural clubs all over the United States. The 4H council even sponsored two club members and their patron to an all paid trip to the US, where the club members were introduced to various agriculture techniques.

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One of the notable leaders of the club is 18 year old Duncan. Duncan has been a member of the club ever since he was 7 years old. He was orphaned at an early age, and he sought refuge at the school after his relatives could no longer provide for him. Being the youngest members of the club, Duncan grew, gained skills and developed the confidence to later take on the leadership of the club. Thanks to the proceeds from the club, Duncan went to primary and high school, and in a few months’ time, he will join a group of young students for a pre-university course at the University of Delaware in the United States.

His story is just one of the inspiring stories that keep on reminding me that it is never too late to dream. To date, the Nyamninia Agricultural club has been able to sponsor close to 30 club members through their high school education. What started as humble club with the aim of feeding vulnerable young orphans at school, has now grown to give hope and bright futures to young people. To me, the club is a perfect model and definition of what it means to equip young people with skills that enable them to grow and sustain themselves.