“Dare to be Bold”: Meet the girls of the African Science Academy

Something special is happening right now, just on the outskirts of Accra. To celebrate the International Day of the Girl Child, I want to tell you about the girl power I am witnessing at the new African Science Academy (ASA).

Two months ago, 24 gifted and talented girls arrived in Accra to embark on a year-long journey together. They had travelled from different countries and regions. Ghana. Cameroon. Sierra Leone. Nigeria. Ethiopia. Uganda. They represented a range of backgrounds, religions and life experiences. Yet they were united by a common purpose: to join the new African Science Academy, Africa’s first STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) school for girls.

The students have decided to take up the challenge of completing three Cambridge International A-levels in one year: Maths, Further Maths and Physics. On Monday afternoons, they learn how to code and design their own websites. Each week, a new guest speaker visits to share her story with the students. From space scientists and journalists to ocean engineers, awareness within ASA of different STEM careers is broadening at every corner.

I have been living here alongside the students, helping in the maths classes and offering personal support. When I sit back and think about life at the academy, a simple word comes to mind. Incredible. In such a short amount of time, I have watched these talented young women grow in both confidence and academic excellence. I have watched relationships develop: we are sisters, friends, mentors, teachers.

Internationally, there has been a rising awareness of the lack of women, and particularly African women, pursuing careers in STEM today. The African Science Academy is directly addressing this imbalance, by empowering and training a new group of female STEM leaders to challenge the status quo. Watch this space!

So whilst we celebrate the International Day of the Girl, let us listen to the voices within ASA:

For you, what does it mean to be a girl today?

Priscilla (Ghana): Being a girl is the best thing that ever happened to me. It is so nice to see a girl doing something awesome. Everybody has a perception that science is for boys, so it is normal to see a boy in the lab. But as a girl, you have a great feeling when you are just putting wires together, making connections, doing experiments.

Edem (Ghana): I would never wish to be a boy! As girls, we are blessed, we endure, we are creative. When you are girl, you enjoy many privileges. Girls are seen to be vulnerable and delicate, so we are treated with care. When you are found doing something out of the norm, everybody views you as a genius!

Ramlah (Ethiopia): I am proud to be a girl. We are resilient and patient. Boys may rush into decisions or do whatever they want, because society supports them to do so. If you are a girl, you will be thinking about the outcomes and barriers. The barriers society has put on us has made us even better. Boys are raised to be courageous and brave. Ladies and girls are raised to be perfect, so we set high standards for ourselves. We do a lot of things and we try to get the best out of life.

There are downsides to being a girl. If somebody says scientist, or CEO, or chairman, we think immediately of a man. A chairwoman — what is this?! It sounds odd. Sometimes we are not wanted or appreciated in certain positions. I hate this part of being a girl, but hopefully we can change that.

What are your hopes for the future?

Priscilla: I want to study the heart. I want to make improvements to the current artificial heart available. I also want to invent a machine that will make our transportation easier. Not just a new car or a motorcycle…but something really awesome. Like a house moving!

Edem: I hope to make lives better in the future. I want to help young adults to identify themselves and to be supported financially. I want to be a role model to young girls and to encourage them to go into science fields. I just want a wonderful, happy future.

Ophelia (Ghana): I am hoping to build a tree: something that keeps living and gives life to others. I want to empower people, to change the world, to conquer the world! I want to take the world by surprise.

Ramlah: I want to study computer science. It is often considered to be a male-dominated field. Most software is designed by guys and they often program from a man’s point of view. I want to bring in the girl’s perspective, so that our voices and concerns will be heard in technology.

Fanta (Sierra Leone): I want to study computer science and inspire other girls to go into the sciences. There are more men than woman in the science and engineering fields. I want that to change.

What advice do you have for younger girls who are interested in the STEM subjects?

Priscilla: I would tell the ladies out there that science is all about nature. If you really love nature, then you will want to understand how it works and explore it further. You need to spend time doing research and have fun doing it.

Ophelia: Science is so, so much fun. It is not for super-humans. It is just about understanding the things around you. It is exciting to study science — you should just go for it! It doesn’t matter if you are a girl or a boy.

Fanta: I encourage you to take up science in school. The more girls we have in science, the faster our nations will develop. Science is closely related to development, so we need more girls to join.

Edem: Science is what we do everyday. People have the perception that science is this strange, weird, difficult subject. Science is walking to school, eating food…everything you do is based on science. So you shouldn’t feel intimidated. It is so interesting and you are more than capable. There are opportunities for us out there. You should just love science and do it!

Ramlah: Usually, if a girl enters science, it is assumed to be medicine. They will become a nurse or a doctor. But I would say — create your own path. I know it will be difficult and you will face hardships. Doing what you love is better than doing things you don’t want to do. If you have passion for something, definitely do it. Do whatever you have to do. Dare to be bold.