By Khushi Gandhi – This summer I had the opportunity to participate in the WiSci (Women in Science) STEAM Camp in Malawi, Africa. It aligns with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals to achieve gender equality and empower all girls and women. The camp is a partnership effort of the U.S. Department of State, Girl Up, Intel, Google, Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany, the Government of Malawi, and other partners. It was implemented by World Learning. Over 100 high school girls from the African continent and the United States worked together to strengthen their STEAM skills and enhance their leadership potential. This year, the WiSci camp was focused on learning how technology can be used to make a safer, more secure world, particularly regarding gender-based violence.
As a Teen Advisor for Girl Up for 2017-18, it was a great opportunity to work with a diverse group of like-minded girls, get inspired by exceptional mentors and explore the limitless opportunities to be competitive in the ever-changing world of technological development.
After a 24-hour long journey, when I got off the plane in Malawi, I was certain that this would be a life-changing experience. Miles apart, we were a group of 20 girls from the U.S., who had just met over the previous 2 days, and we were about to meet over 80 girls from 6 countries in the African subcontinent. Malawi University of Science and Technology (MUST) would be our home for the next three weeks. I had prepared myself for the culture shock, as there was a fear of the unknown, but I was ready to explore it and give my best.
Our schedule was very packed and included lectures, workshops, and projects during the day. We also had the opportunity to meet some very inspiring people and leaders such as the 1st female pilot in Malawi, Astronaut Leland Melvin, and the U.S. Ambassador to Malawi.
We had various workshops during the camp. The first one was by the American Society of Microbiology, which focused on the ecosystem, agriculture, micro-organisms, bacteria, plants and their interconnectivity with healthcare to cure infections and viruses. The next workshop was by NASA titled, “Mapping our Changing World” where we learned about capturing images from satellites to see the change in terrain and environment. This was followed by a workshop from Google that helped us to learn coding through the use of the MIT App Inventor. With a simple connection of a smartphone, computer, and USB cable, we were able to create apps and when our project worked as planned, it was a great sense of achievement. The last workshop with Intel helped us build various devices through the use of the Arduino 101 board and some basic coding. We made a mini piano, a heart rate monitor, a windmill, and a robot using the Intel Curie chip. The last part of the camp was our project presentation where I worked with girls from the U.S., Rwanda, and Uganda to create a bracelet and app that would allow victims to get help when they are being assaulted. We were also chosen to present before the First Lady of Malawi, Dr. Gertrude Mutharika, which was a great honor.
Amidst all the science related workshops and projects, there was a lot of fun too. Every week we had culture nights and members from representing countries created a show to help others learn about their country, culture, society, food, music, etc. This was a very enriching experience. Malawi has an immense amount of natural beauty. We trekked Mountain Mulanje, swam under a waterfall, and did some sight-seeing. We also visited the entrepreneurial village and I was pretty amazed to see the skills people have and how that translated into beautiful handmade art and crafts.
The best part of the camp were the amazing girls that I met. My fear of the unknown started to fade away as I interacted with each of them every day. The bond that I created will be for a lifetime and the learning that I had is priceless. I became more appreciative of the opportunities that have today. I believe that every girl is full of potential; all we need is to give them an opportunity to live that fully. Especially in the field of STEM, girls are in no way less competent than their male counterparts. Through this camp I found a community of strong, intelligent, and ambitious women, and this sisterhood will last a lifetime.
The entire experience reinforced my belief that every girl no matter where she is born should grow up safe, healthy, and empowered.
About The Author
Khushi Gandhi, age 17, is currently a rising senior in Middlesex County Academy for Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Technologies in Edison, NJ. She is the president of the Girl Up Club in her school and she also started a club in India. Khushi is an active member of her community through her involvement in UNICEF, Red Cross, and Interact for which she serves as Vice President. In the future, she plans to pursue a degree in engineering and “to work towards gender equality and equal pay for women at the workplace.”