Narration by Mildred Atieno 

While technology has become more present in all our lives, girls with disabilities are more likely to face digital exclusion due to the lack of gender inclusivity, accessibility, and user consideration within the digital ecosystem.

Similarly, Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics or STEM—which are rapidly growing fields filled with exciting new opportunities— are closed off to girls with disabilities. Low literacy, lower income and rare control of resources already make girls with disabilities disadvantaged in the field of education and employment. With digital exclusion, the same challenges of exclusion apply and so do inadequate academic preparation, paired with issues of access and acceptance. Ensuring that girls with disabilities have equal access to STEM academic programs and careers is critical.

I am 16 years old, and I joined Form 1 in August 2021. I love my school because it has taught me to help others and that we all need support. It has taught me that service and care go a long way in making everyone feel happy and safe. In my school, I am the only girl with a visible disability, but I don’t feel stigmatized or left out. The togetherness that runs through the school has made me even more determined to pursue my dream of making medical services available to the underserved. Because they need someone too.

It sounds ambitious and I would never have thought of anything like that if I had not joined the Ibuka STEM Mentorship Program. In primary school, I would see people typing very fast on their computers and without really understanding what they were doing, I knew I wanted to do it too. Imagine my surprise when I realized computers are just like people! The same way we go through a process to do any action is the same way computers use steps to complete tasks. It was hard to keep up with the teacher in the beginning, but it got easier and easier.

First, we learned how to program computers to do simple tasks. I started to see how computers make our lives easier and take away difficult things. I don’t know how people managed without the kind of technology we have. They had to wait for days even months to receive a simple message, but we have robots!

Mildred with a Participant in the IBUKA STEM Mentorship Program

Mildred taking part in the Ibuka STEM Mentorship Program, with a fellow Young Leader

Then after learning the basics of programming, we started receiving assignments. In our first group project, we had to create an animation or a story. My team decided to create an animation using SCRATCH (a programming language for children and beginners that helps them learn to program and create). It was amazing to put all our thoughts together and make something. I instantly learned that group work is for me. When you do something on your own it might come out well but when you add the special spice from other people, it becomes a thousand times better. Yes, my idea matters just as much as anyone else’s but when they mix into one, magic happens.

For our second project, we made a mobile app. We moulded it to resemble a local delivery app because we would be delivering food from our virtual restaurant to the surrounding area. The restaurant had affordable food options, but our operating costs were high, which taught us the importance of balance. We named our app “Jiko Hodari’ (Best Kitchen) and even though it was all theoretical it felt real. I think the residents in our fictional area must have loved our food.

Then in week three, we got to work with robots. I thought the app was cool, but the robots beat it in the order of things I enjoyed. We had to program it to move around according to our instructions. Since then, I have not stopped thinking about the people who work on robotics. I want to know how they make machines copy human behavior. It’s just so fascinating to me.

The whole program was three weeks, over this time I had fun competing against other classmates and getting to explore outside of class. I made sure to do as much as I could because anything you do practically you can’t easily forget.

Mildred, A Young Leader in The Action Foundation's Ibuka Program

Mildred, A Young Leader in The Action Foundation’s Ibuka Program

Now when I think about my dream, I can see it as clearly as I see the world around me. Once I finish medical school, I know I can use technology to reach the people that need help the most. I can transport people, medicine, and services to out-of-the-way places. When I think about who I would be helping I think of the woman with a disability going through labor without help. She cannot go to the hospital quickly and there is no one around, so she must go through something scary by herself. It is because of her that I want to own a hospital in an area where people with disabilities live and maybe even be on tv for doing great acts of service.

But before then, I will make sure I tell all the girls I meet with disabilities that anything is possible, and if we encourage one another, we can do whatever we dream of. I will tell them to think of what inspires them or who inspires them and use that to keep going. Any time I think of those people who need help, I remember that they are waiting for me, and I cannot disappoint them. I wish I could tell them that I am on my way; I won’t be long.

To help impact more girls with disabilities from underserved communities through STEM Education & Mentorship, donate to The Action Foundation’s  GoFundMe Campaign. Targeting girls in Kilifi County, the project aims to reach 400 girls with disabilities between the ages of 13 and 18 years old. Using coding, robotics, virtual reality, science kits, STEM competitions, and industry-school linkages, these girls will explore and solve problems that affect their day-to-day lives while gaining relevant skills for the dynamic job market. The Action Foundation is a Girls Opportunity Alliance Featured Organization.

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