It is with great joy and satisfaction that we’ve completed the second edition of our STEM summer camp in West Africa. This year, not only did we go from 30 to 150 students from 5 different schools, but also we were in the capitals of two West African countries: Bamako, Mali and Dakar, Senegal. I can’t help but feel pride in what we’ve achieved thus far, succeeding better than we had imagined possible in such a short time in our mission to empower and inspire African youth with opportunities, STEM skills, and confidence needed to reach their full potential.
It is often said in Africa that it takes a village to raise a child. At iNERDE, we believe that it takes a child to empower a village, a community, or a country, which is why our efforts in Africa are focused on children’s education, especially in STEM. Educating young African children, even if it is just a single child, has the long term impact of educating a whole village. I believe that Africa will be as tech savvy and advanced as the rest of the world if we can create awareness of STEM fields in children at an early age. Our dream at iNERDE is to see an Africa that shifts from being a consumer to a producer, and able to compete on the world stage when it comes to STEM.
During this year’s STEM summer camps, we witnessed how the community, starting with students’ parents, and expanding to include partner schools, local teachers, and volunteers were critical to the success of our program. Parents dropped and picked their children up every day, encouraging them to come to the camp. We saw children in tears because they were not able to enroll the camp this year, having completed the camp last year. We created classes mixing kids from advantaged backgrounds with kids from economically challenged environments and were delighted by the effort our local teachers and volunteers made to work with all the children to make the integration successful. We had come to inspire them but they inspired us and strengthened our belief in our partnership of shared values. We saw children abandon their social status to play, learn and work as a team. The financial support that the community volunteered was beyond anything we had anticipated. In Mali, about $2000 in donated food items was contributed from parents and members of the educational community – not wealthy people by any standard – that were used to make lunch for the children throughout the camp. In Senegal, when we found the cost of starting a program in a new country exceeded our projections and our budget, the teaching staff volunteered to take a reduction to an already modest salary because they believed so strongly in the importance of bringing iNERDE to their country. My point is one does not need to be as rich as Bill Gates to make a contribution or have a positive impact within his or her community. People of very modest means in Mali and Senegal contributed all they could. We could not have done what we did without their help.
Our goal of introducing a new way of teaching into the African educational system and new curriculum was well received. We worked with local teachers, who now are our ambassadors within our partners schools, so that they can make use of the new methods and materials they learned throughout the academic year. The children were empowered as they saw how they were part of something bigger than themselves. These children are amongst the first cohort of African children exposed to a rigorous, hands-on, project-oriented science curriculum. They were so happy!!
iNERDE is on a roll! We are looking to expand next year and years to come by adding more schools in Mali and Senegal and new countries in our program. My own dream is to bring iNERDE to my home country of Togo next year. I hope by reading this you too feel inspired to do more for your community and to do more for your global community by helping iNERDE continue building on our success, beyond expectations, of the last two years.