12 Dec Rachael – The Mentor Empowering Youth in Benin
Rachael’s journey began when she started studying to be a software engineer. Out of a class of 43, she was one of just three women. It was then that she decided to make it her mission to engage more girls in technology fields.
Rachael started a female-led initiative called FemCoders with a main focus on holding free after-school programs to engage adolescents — especially girls — in a tech-related domain. When she was selected to be a mentor for a team from Benin for the inaugural FIRST Global Challenge, she saw it as an opportunity to further her mission.
However, despite her best efforts she couldn’t find any girls to join the national team. She just couldn’t get them excited about technology. She knew that a key part to overcoming this was to drive home the importance and applicability of STEM skills, so her team of seven boys set off to built a robot and compete in Washington, D.C. They ranked seventh out of 163 teams and were the only team from Africa that ranked in the top ten.
Upon returning from the 2017 FIRST Global Challenge, Rachael was inspired. She believed the experience had been a great opportunity for African youth to show their talent, and was motivated to further similar opportunities for youth in Benin.
With the support of their GSC Advisor Team (FTC #11128 Team Inspiration), Rachael and FemCoders received a grant from the U.S. Embassy in Cotonou to create the Girls-Focused Robotics Training Programme. Their goal was to provide youth with abilities enabling them to positively contribute to society, specifically encouraging more girls to develop STEM skills.
They developed a six-week training program where students learn how to assemble an mBot and complete mBlock programming while also developing English-language skills and other soft skills. After their participation, over 50 percent of students in the program were considering a STEM-related profession for the future.
Of the 380 students they initially trained, 280 were females. Some of these young women went on to become robotics trainers in the community, even joining FIRST Global Team Benin and partaking in the 2018 FIRST Global Challenge in Mexico City.
Proving to be a huge success, Rachael and her team plan to continue this work by hosting more training programs and equipping hundreds of more students all over Benin.
“FIRST Global has shaped the story of every child we have reached,” Rachael said. “We are giving them the opportunity to decide how they want to make the world a better place.”