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by Hilary Johnson '15 and Gurkaran Singh '15
Educated and empowered women are fundamental to sustainable peace and thriving communities. In Ghana, especially in the slums, women are not seen as valuable financial contributors, which results in domestic violence, child marriages, and unequal access to education.
With support from Davis Projects for Peace, we worked with Tech Needs Girls, a Ghanaian mentorship program for girls ages 10 to 18, led Regina Agyare, an incredible female role model for her students. Tech Needs Girls helps girls to be innovators and leaders by teaching them technical skills while encouraging them to pursue tech careers. Through skill development and internship opportunities, young women are able to command respect and shape their own destinies. Families no longer see their daughters as liabilities to be married away at a young age, but rather as capable contributors who deserve investment.
The goal of our project, "Peace by Design," was to inspire and prepare Ghanaian girls to develop innovative solutions to their local problems with creative confidence. By developing a design thinking curriculum for Soronko Solutions, the social enterprise that directs the nonprofit Tech Needs Girls, we integrated design thinking into their technology and coding curriculum.
During the summer of 2015, we taught a human-centered design (HCD) curriculum to 32 girls at daily after-school workshops. The core skills learned were rigorous need finding, building empathy with users, community asset mapping, creative problem solving, and prototyping.
Our ambition is that these skills will open the students' eyes to the resources they have, even within their resource-constrained environments, and give them the confidence to take on the challenges that surround them. A key component of our project was ensuring sustainability. We spent significant time teaching our curriculum to the team at Soronko Solutions, who will continue to teach HCD alongside their established coding curriculum.
The largest hurdle we faced in teaching our cohort of girls was their lack of training in critical thinking skills. This validated the need for teaching creative problem solving. At the end of the workshop we found the girls to be more confident, creative, and capable at identifying and thinking through problems in a methodological way than they were at the beginning.
We see peace as a state of community in which all members are respected and elevated, and people are capable of flourishing. Educated and empowered women are fundamental to sustainable peace and thriving communities. Tech Needs Girls elevates young women, allowing them opportunities to develop financially viable skills as well as imbuing them with confidence and problem solving capabilities essential to being change makers in their communities.
One of our students, Patience, applied an interviewing technique called "5 Why's" on her way home after class to talk with a young, homeless girl on the street. After discovering the girl was an orphan, Patience reached out to a local orphanage on her behalf and found her a home. By simply stopping to empathize with the girl, Patience was able to use available resources to create a significant impact.
This simple application of an HCD skill challenges us all to turn off the world in our pockets and to empathize with people we could so easily overlook. We came to Ghana to teach girls problem solving, but we are walking away having learned much ourselves. Often, people assume that 10 to 16 year old girls can't change the world. We know they can.