Stories and podcasts WBW Stories Breaking Bounds: How a Tech NGO is Turning Young Girls from Slum Communities in Ghana into Computer Programmers By Eugene Brown Agyei In 2013, Asana, 18, had a bleak picture of how her future would look like – she did not see herself becoming anything more than a wife to one of the men in her communities. Asana lived in one of the slum communities in Accra, the capital of Ghana, but her parents could not afford the cost of taking her through secondary school. She had ended her education at the basic level. So, she stayed at home, doing nothing. Fast forward to 2015, Asana had become one of the young girls in Ghana who could code, design websites and program mobile applications after she came into contact with a social enterprise programme called Tech Needs Girls. Tech Needs Girls, a free mentorship programme for girls from underprivileged situations was started by Regina Honu, a young Ghanaian woman, under her Tech start-up company called Soronko Solutions. The programme trains girls from as young as six years to create technology. The youngest participant in the programme is five years old and the oldest is 75. “We were focused on teaching the girls how to create technology and they could use that skill for economic empowerment,” Regina, the young woman whose dream has room for several other girls said. “That was the big thing for us”. Like Asana, the story is no different for several other young girls in slum communities in Ghana whose future of becoming anything in life had ended even before they could actually start it. But most of these stories have been changed with the inception of Tech Needs Girls. The project initially piloted in the rural areas of Ghana but for it to be sustainable, Regina and her team decided to look around them and reach out to people who were closer therefore deciding to freely give coding classes to underprivileged girls in urban slums in Accra. This idea, she said, helped them to track the progress of the girls and allowed for frequent classes with them. The slums, highly populated, are typically dominated by Muslims and opportunities for young people, especially girls, are limited. Even with limited opportunities, the slum communities are not free from other social problems such as early child marriages. “The first time we got there, one of the problems we identified was early child marriage. The girls were married off at 12 years right here in Accra. I was shocked,” Regina said. Tech Needs Girls is a realisation of Regina’s dreams to make science and technology interesting to girls. Growing up, she recounts her experience as a science student when things seemed so foreign to her because her school did not get the practical aspect of science in school. Being a big believer of women and girls’ empowerment, Regina says her project has trained about 6000 girls since it started and now operates in Burkina Faso. While training the girls to code, Tech Needs Girls also helps them to go back to school to get additional knowledge in other areas. Regina has received multiple awards for her efforts in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education in Ghana. She was named by CNN as one of the 12 inspirational women who rock STEM and also named as one of the six women making an impact in the Tech industry in Africa. To be able to sustain the programme, have facilities for girls to go practise as often as they wanted, and give them other skills such as entrepreneurship and public speaking, Regina decided to start the Soronko Academy. The academy is the first coding and human-centred design school in West Africa. “We did several community outreach programmes but one of the problems we were having was that once you go into a community with the equipment and you leave without access to devices to practice, it’s very hard,” Regina said. She also added that, starting the academy was another way of empowering more girls. “When the community doesn’t know what an empowered girl looks like, they beat her down even more when she goes back empowered, so in order to sustain the impact of just going to the communities and leaving, we decided to set up our own space where we did set up our own equipment for women and girls to come and practise.” Says Regina. “The training is one thing but what happens after is a big component.” Last year, the president of Ghana promised that as part of its educational reforms, his government would implement policies and programmes that would strengthen and upscale STEM education beginning from the basic level. What can be done, therefore, is to is to make the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) curriculum more practice-based from the basic level. Equally, government can support non-profit organisations like Regina’s to organise weekend or summer camps where girls of all ages —no matter their background —can be taught these new technologies to solve little problems in their communities. But more importantly, young girls who acquire this knowledge should be encouraged to pass it on by establishing smaller groups in their various communities where they can teach others just like Regina and her friends did, because like the old saying goes, we rise by lifting others.