As the world marked the International Girls in ICT Day yesterday, Ruth Kaveke, co-founder and Executive Director of Pwani Teknowgalz, is mentoring young girls to venture into Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM), a field dominated by men.
While growing up, Ruth Kaveke could only access a computer from a cyber café. Brought up in Nyamaharaga village by a single mother who struggled to make ends meet, Kaveke says a computer was considered a luxury.
From a young age, Kaveke knew she had to work hard in order to pay school fees in case her mother couldn’t afford. “My mother sold second hand clothes. I remember her telling me to learn and fill the gap in the level of education that she was not able to complete,” says Kaveke. Her life would take a turn when her mother took a loan to buy her a laptop when she joined university.
This propelled a then young Kaveke to study harder in a bid to build a foundation for her career in technology. She would later join Asumbi Girls High School where computer studies was taught as a subject. She joined the class and was the best student throughout her four years in high school.
She attributes her success to one of her teachers, Anne Oduor, who supported and advised her to consider pursuing a course in information technology in the university. Kaveke, now 29, would later join Technical University of Mombasa for a degree in Information Communication Technology (ICT). But out of 60 students in her class, only six were girls. “The low number of girls in ICT courses, and especially in my class made me work hard and remain in technology so that I could be a role model and mentor other girls to pursue technology,” she says.
Through her organization, Pwani Teknowgalz, Kaveke has impacted the lives of more than 5,000 girls in Mombasa with practical skills in STEM through programs such as STEM Cafe Kenya, Africa Code Week Girls workshop, Technovation, CodeHack and Coding classes. Through the programs Pwani Teknowalz has supported girls and young women from marginalised communities in Mombasa to acquire employable coding skills that have assisted them create jobs for themselves, get employment and contribute to the digital economy. The organization offers free courses to all their learners except the coding classes. “We also use community leaders to get young women from marginalised communities into our programmes,” she says.
To the 2020 Zuri Awards winner in the STEM category, seeing disadvantaged girls shine in technology-related subjects is a dream come true. Latifa Noor is one of the mentees at Pwani Teknowgalz. A former student under the Mombasa Girls in STEM project, Noor has gained skills on basic use of computers, Python Programming language and now she is undertaking Cisco classes. She is also a website developer.
Kaveke urges more girls to embrace STEM subjects while still in high school in order to have a good foundation in the industry. She also calls on fellow women in STEM to come out and mentor girls who are passionate about this field. “It is hard for someone to join a career that they do not have someone to relate to, by women mentoring and being role models, I am confident more girls will pursue STEM careers if they have mentors,” she advises.
Besides, she has published her first book, She is a Techie, to inspire girls and women to pursue a STEM career and also shared tips on starting and running a successful women in technology organisation.
To inspire the next generation of women in ICT, she opines, is a collective responsibility of the community and parents to inspire and motivate girls that ICT is not difficult anyone can do it. Kaveke also won the Women Add Value Recognition Award in 2019.