Africa’s minds: Equipping girls with science to drive change
From behind the walls of a humble-looking building in Bali, a residential neighbourhood of Doula, Cameroon’s fast-paced economic hub, comes a steady, low hum. It emanates from around 20 women – avid learners immersed in science theory and hands-on practice. They are just a small fraction of an emerging generation of women scientists soon to hit the ground running after graduating from an education programme initiated in 2001 by a local NGO, the Rubisadt Foundation.
It is one of the many initiatives that are making a difference in Africa, by laying the groundwork so that the region can benefit from Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) in the future. While the region is still lagging behind when it comes to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, there has been remarkable progress on many socio-economic aspects in a short period of time. One of the main drivers of this sustainable growth has been STI, although it lacks recognition and a greater number of trained experts is required. A new booklet, launched on 28 May 2014, profiles a range of success examples where Africa’s research has been harnessed for the benefit of its peoples: creating jobs, opportunities and better livelihoods. Entitled Africa’s Minds: Build a Better Future, it aims to raise awareness, share experiences, and inspire others to undertake such initiatives in their own countries, as well as encourage policy and decision makers to implement strong science and technology policies and strategies that support such initiatives.
Founder Florence Tobo Lobe returned home to Cameroon in the late 1990s, after earning her PhD graduate at the University of Paris-Sud, France, to find what she termed “appalling realities demanding urgent change”. “Students just memorised concepts they didn’t understand,” Lobe says. “They didn’t do any practicals and had no real-world experience of what they were learning.”
The Rubisadt Foundation now offers a holistic learning package, blending pragmatic science and technology lessons with career development programmes. Its sessions target secondary school girls aged 11 to 19, selected on the basis of interest and potential to excel in science, through supplementary after-school classes. There are 300 official alumni, though up to 1,000 girls have taken part in some courses and conferences. Among them, are many who have not only lifted themselves out of the prevalent poverty ensnaring especially Cameroonian women, but are also contributing to boosting the living conditions of their siblings as they find jobs both within and without Cameroon.
© UN Photo/Marco Dormino
Among them is Jessie Wamal, a 2011 graduate who is soon to graduate with a degree in computer sciences from HEC Paris, in France. Another, Judith Joëlle Mbondji, spent five years working at the African Union, after graduating with a BSc in computer science and an MBA from Kenya. She returned to Cameroon in 2011 and currently devotes part of her time to volunteering as a mentor at the foundation. “We have big dreams for our next generation of girls to become real actors in the country, in Africa and in the world,” Lobe explains. Her dream is to scale up the initiative by opening other Rubisadt schools in Cameroon and across Africa, to help lift more and more girls out of poverty by empowering them with science and technology knowledge.
UNESCO is working with the Rubisadt Foundation alongside the government and local communities, through the TVE Rubisadt-UNESCO Gender Pilot Project, to train marginalised girls and women aged 15-35 to help reduce early school drop-outs living in rural areas. The aim is to help them develop an entrepreneurial mind and to be creative and autonomous, serving communal interests while improving their living conditions and social status.
But Lobe says that amid the venture’s local and global praise, diminishing funds represent a huge challenge. She hopes that new funding models will guarantee sustainability.
Source: Africa’s Minds: Build a Better Future (pdf)
Story: Equipping girls with science to drive change
Author: Ntaryike Divine Jr, SciDev.Net correspondent in Cameroon
Africa’s Minds Build a Better Future is a compilation of eleven stories that showcases science, technology and innovation projects from across Africa that contribute to enhancing socio-economic development in local communities. The stories aim to show how men and women are using STI in diverse fields such as agriculture, disease control and environmental sustainability to improve their daily lives, and to propel local industries. The booklet aims to raise awareness, share experiences, and inspire others to undertake such initiatives in their own countries, as well as encourage policy and decision makers to implement strong science and technology policies and strategies that support such initiatives. It has been prepared by UNESCO in close partnership with the Islamic Development Bank, and in collaboration with SciDev.Net, and their network of African freelance journalists.