Kreeshna, TechGirls 2022, Kenya
When I was asked to write about my TechGirls experience, I truly did not know where to start. It was incredible how so much could have happened in just 3 weeks, and how much I had grown from those experiences. This program opened my eyes to a totally different world and I can give it full credit for helping me achieve what I have this past year. The program not only gave me a strong base, but motivated me to continue learning and developing my skills.
A day after arriving at the Virginia Tech campus, I fell ill with COVID. I was absolutely devastated – it was terrifying and disappointing to start off a once-in-a-lifetime experience on such a note. However, the COVID isolation allowed me to make incredible friends and appreciate the compassion that I received from the girls and staff members who I didn’t even know at that point. One vivid example of this would be when I and the other girls with COVID got handwritten cards from all the girls in my group, wishing us a quick recovery. I had known them all for just a day and yet they went out of their way to send cards and lift our moods up.
After completing the mandatory isolation, I rejoined the group and the experiences we had were awesome. Getting to experience university life in an institution like Virginia Tech was something I had never thought I would get the chance to do. Over the course of the next three weeks I got to visit several places that I had only heard about on the internet such as the NASA Goddard Centre, the US Senate building and the Smithsonian Aerospace Museum. To wrap up the program, we were invited to the U.S. Department of State, where several girls got to talk about their experiences throughout the program and summed up our journey as the TechGirls of 2022!
Once the program ended, I implemented a community project that involved something that I was really passionate about. I created my own curriculum for my project ‘WildTech’, which focused on the fundamentals of biodiversity conversion as well as several different technologies that are currently being utilised in the Kenyan conservation community. I designed the course to be very interactive and used unique methods of teaching so that I could show the students I was interacting with why this is such a critical topic. In one session, I used JENGA blocks to demonstrate how important balance is in ecosystems and food chains. A slight imbalance caused by things like poaching could cause the entire ecosystem to collapse, just like the JENGA blocks. During the following session, I brought in cameras to allow them a chance to practically tinker with these devices and see how they can be used.
Through my project, I interacted with 20 students at the SOS Children’s Village school. SOS Children’s Village is an organisation that provides education and accommodation to children, with housing given to orphans at the adjacent SOS village. This project was something that I had never done before and pushed me out of my comfort zone. Despite being nervous at first, I extremely enjoyed talking to the students and hearing their ideas about using technology to protect our wildlife. Kenya is a country rich in biodiversity and resources hence I felt it was necessary to create awareness and light the fire for conservation amongst younger kids. I hope to expand the reach of the module that I designed, so that I can increase the impact that my project idea has on Kenyan students.
After completing the project, my students could confidently talk about what importance each of the different ecosystems hold, the various forms of wildlife found all over the country, and the reasons why we should protect these animals and their habitats. On the last day, they created presentations on how they would use infrared cameras, drones, sensors and camera traps to develop their own technological solution to protect a specific animal species. I got to see the same excitement that I had felt when I first started to discover wildlife in their eyes – which made me feel really grateful for what I had achieved with them.
Over this last year, the TechGirls program has helped me in several ways. I have used it to strengthen my applications to certain programs like the Civics Unplugged Global High School Fellowship and the European Summer Program on Rationality. As an alumna, I was invited to the NextGen TechCamp in Nairobi on ecopreneurship where I got to interact with inspiring female entrepreneurs from seven different African countries.
I am thankful for this program as it has given me so much more focus and drive to continue pushing myself. It has allowed me to make friendships with girls whose countries I had no idea about and made me a lot more confident in my personal life.