Disadvantaged girls change their communities by learning to encode

The poorly maintained roofs stand in stilts in the contaminated water. The canoes are necessary for transport through the narrow channel maze. Okpoe's father is a fisherman, and her mother sells smoked fish, coming out alive on the fringes of Africa's largest city.

Lagos has a thriving economy based on oil, finance and construction. And the city is now considered to be Nigerian Silicon Valley, with Facebook and Google opening offices there earlier this year.

However, it is estimated that at least 2/3 of the city's 21 million inhabitants live in slums without reliable electricity, clean water and sanitation.

"When I first went to Makoko, I was surprised to see people's living conditions," recalls Abisoye Ajayi-Akinfolarin, a computer programmer at Lagos. "Most girls are trapped in a vicious cycle of poverty. Many of them do not think about education, a plan for the future. "

But several times a week, girls like Okpoe get a taste of another world when they watch GirlsCoding, a free program run by the Pearls Africa Foundation that seeks to educate and excite girls about computer programming. Since 2012, the team has helped more than 400 disadvantaged girls to acquire the technical skills and the confidence they need to transform their lives.

It is the vision of Ajayi-Akinfolarin, which left a successful career to devote to this work. He had noticed how few women worked in this growing sector – a government survey in 2013 found that less than 8% of Nigerian women are employed in professional, managerial or technological work. He wanted to correct the gap between the sexes.

"Technology is a place dominated by men, why should we leave it to the guys?" he said. "I think girls need opportunities."

Now, after school and summer, dozens of girls ages 10 to 17 are trained in HTML, CSS, JavaScript, Python and Scratch. Students come from slums or other difficult circumstances, such as orphanages, prisons, and even a camp for those who have to leave Boko Haram.

"I believe you can still find diamonds in these places," said Ajayi-Akinfolarin. "Another life needs to be presented."

One way in which her program is doing is to get students to visit technology companies – not just to show them what technology they can do, but also to help them portray themselves involved in the industry.

Okpoe, for one, took it to heart. He helped create an application called Makoko Fresh, which was put into operation in the summer, allowing fishermen like her father to sell seafood directly to customers. He wants to become a software engineer and hopes to study computer science at Harvard.

"One thing I want to keep my girls is, no matter where they come from, they can do it," he said. "They are coders, they are thinkers, their future is bright."

CNN spoke with Ajayi-Akinfolarin for her work. Below is a modified version of their conversation.

CNN: How did I discover your love for computers?

Avisiy Alyi-Akinofarin: The life that grew for me was tough. Losing my mother at the age of 4 (that) beaten by my father – life was just crazy. I learned to take care of myself.

My first computer experience was at the age of 10, at a school break, at a business center run by my brother's boyfriend. Learning to type and modify text in Microsoft Word was simply beautiful. But I really discovered my love for computers when I was a member of an IT company as a post-high school student. When I was known in the world of computer programming, I was normal with it. Once it flows. It's all about solving problems. I never knew I would be looking for solutions to problems with less privileged girls.

CNN: Does it resolve problems at the heart of your program?

Ajayi-Akinfolarin: This is the theme of GirlsCoding. We also want girls to be leaders and agents of change. We are coding for a purpose, so we try to solve problems related to what they see.

For example, a project I really like is called Baskets of Hope. Girls wanted to get the beggars off the streets, so they created a website that was a bridge between the rich and the poor. They wanted a way in which one can overcome their home and call them. Then they get what they unload – food, clothes, educational materials – and give them to those in need.

We have another project called Break the Blade, about stopping female genital mutilation. These girls believe that there is a lot of ignorance about it and they want to be ambassadors in this matter. Eventually, they want to have a nut set where you can press a button and invites local authorities to come in if the FGM is going to take place.

The fact that they can create solutions to their problems makes them feel bold. This is no longer for coding.

CNN: What do you hope to do in the future?

Ajayi-Akinfolarin: We are currently expanding to different nations in Nigeria. One day, we also hope to have an institution called the Girls Village – a housing program that will provide all kinds of training for young girls. We would also give them the opportunity to bear their ideas on how to solve problems in their communities and learn how to separate them. You could call it a larger version of what we are doing today.

CNN: You left a career in a growing industry to do this job.

Ajayi-Akinfolarin: We want girls to be technology creators, not ordinary users. Watching them write code is beautiful. Many of them never touched a computer before they arrived here. It's mind-blowing. The joy on their faces is more than just money. I can not buy it.

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