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GoGirls: Bridging the Gender Gap On World Science Day for Peace and Development, GO Girls ICT Initiative shares how science can break barriers for young girls in South sudan

For a young country like South Sudan, unlocking science, technology and innovation opportunities for young people can help build lasting peace and drive its economy. Globally, technology has boosted access to information and transformed lives. Despite enormous challenges, the innovative potential of young people, combined with the power of technology, is already proving to be a powerful force in South Sudan to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

Founded in 2015, GoGirls ICT Initiative was started by a group of dedicated South Sudanese women. Their focus is on empowering women and girls to expand their knowledge of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields. GoGirls ICT Initiative now operates out of the University of Juba’s STEM Center, situated in the bustling centre of the capital city of the world's youngest nation.

Supported by UNDP’s Peace and Community Cohesion project, the GoGirls' approach connects and guides computer science students from the University of Juba to mentor primary and secondary school students across STEM-based fields. The main focus of their curriculum is to impart computer literacy and basic programming knowledge, along with essential life skills. The students learn to use open source technologies like Scratch to create stories using graphics and animation. Now entering their fifth year of operation, the GoGirls are expanding their curriculum to include the Internet of Things (IoT).

The GoGirls initiated this ecosystem of mentors and mentees with the broader aim to help young people think of themselves as proficient at science and technology, and defy preconceived notions based on gender or age. Yine Yenki, co-founder of the GoGirls Initiative, knew as a computer science lecturer and South Sudanese woman in a male-dominated field, that she could make a difference in the lives of other women and girls, given the lack of existing knowledge and skills in STEM fields. Since its founding, the programme has continuously mentored 15 university students to serve as trainers to more than 145 secondary and primary students.

“Initially, students in the university were shy and under-confident to share their knowledge and experience. This was a wake-up call for us and that’s how GoGirls was born." - Yine Yenki, GoGirls co-founder

It's hard to tell GoGirls’ story without sharing stories of the mentors and mentees.

The growth from inclusion in the programme is evident for 27-year-old Rana Njmaldim, who has been a mentor with GoGirls over the last two years. She believes that science and technology can open the minds of her students to unleash their ability to find innovative solutions to everyday problems they face in their communities. Rana has now grown in her involvement with the GoGirls ICT Initiative to assist with operations and training management for fellow mentors in Juba.

Along with Rana, 23-year-old Lokudu James has also been a mentor with GoGirls ICT Initiative for two years. He believes a critical aspect of their work is in building awareness among families to bust misconceptions and myths that only men and boys can get into STEM.

“The gender gap in STEM will continue to grow unless we start taking some specific action." - Lokudu James, GoGirls mentor

He also calls for more infrastructure, equipment, and exposure for his student mentees to practice and advance the skills they are learning during the programme.

GoGirls ICT Initiative's recruitment begins at the University of Juba, where they select students for a rigorous mentorship training programme. When Agnes Kiden, 23, signed up for the programme, she didn’t think she would make the cut, though the team at GoGirls thought otherwise. The training and guidance provided through the mentorship training programme helped Agnes spark confidence within herself to teach and inspire others. Agnes continues to balance her mentorship responsibilities with a full course load as she pursues a degree in Computer Science and Information Technology at the University of Juba. She is one of only six women in her batch.

Agnes' experience with GoGirls ICT Initiative has inspired her vision to build a technology institute of her own one day, and encourage more girls to take up STEM-based careers in the future. She believes that breaking stereotypes in STEM will change mindsets and empower women and girls in South Sudan to continue pushing boundaries.

With limited job opportunities in South Sudan, the leadership and critical thinking skills the mentors and students acquire throughout their time with GoGirls ICT Initiative is designed to open up entrepreneurial prospects. More than one mentor has moved on to other STEM-power professional pursuits. And some GoGirls mentees are growing into the next cohort of mentors, personifying the chain-based nature of the programme.

Take the case of Sunday Guido, 26, who started as a mentee and will graduate to a mentor soon. She is a graduate from the University of Juba with a degree in Information Technology. A self-starter and learner, she started her journey in technology four years ago when she dropped her phone in water and used her own knowledge and problem-solving to fix it. Sunday has plans to start her own tech service center soon.

A major pillar of the GoGirls' work is their engagement with parents and families to advocate on behalf of their child’s progress and education. Single mother of five, Suzy Mathew Othow, sends her second daughter to GoGirls ICT Initiative. Suzy was once herself a university-level biology student but was forced to drop-out in order to support her children. On seeing a positive impact on her daughter, Suzy is convinced that initiatives like this enhance knowledge and understanding to ensure lifelong learning.

Primary and secondary school students are inducted into the programme through an agreement with their respective schools. Students who express their interest are prioritized. In the case of 16-year-old Randa Wani, she joined GoGirls two years ago because she wanted to spread her knowledge about computers and technology to her family. Today, in her eyes, possibilities and opportunities are endless, she wants to become both a musician and doctor and is now confident that her ICT skills will support her endeavors.

Pushing boundaries in science, technology and innovation is central to advancing progress in South Sudan. GoGirls ICT Initiative co-founder, Yine has seen this growth first-hand.

“Today, parents and communities are more accepting of us. They see the growth and value behind science and technology.” - Yine Beatrice Jale, Project Director at GoGirls

The GoGirls demonstrate every day that empowering young women and girls to determine their destinies through science and technology can transform individual lives, as well as those of families, communities and South Sudan at large.

Spend time with the GoGirls and you will witness the power of this transformation, because as Yine puts it: “The confidence radiating from the students stands testament to what we have set out to do.”

Credits:

UNDP South Sudan