Today is International Youth Day, a holiday declared by the United Nations General Assembly in 1999 to garner international support to improve the situation of young people. Each year focuses on a theme, and this year’s is The Road to 2030: Eradicating Poverty and Achieving Sustainable Consumption and Production. Last month at Islamic Relief USA, we had two young visitors from a program called TechGirls. Vera, from Palestine, and Layan, from Jordan (pictured below) spent the day exploring how a humanitarian organization uses technology and sharing their own passions with our staff. Both of them are dedicated to making the world a better place, and they have bright futures ahead.
For International Youth Day, we talked to Rachel Falkenstein, the Program Coordinator for TechGirls about the important work they are doing.
Q: How does TechGirls work with International Youth?
TechGirls works with teenage girls from 7 different countries in the MENA region. We provide three weeks of technology and leadership training by bringing them to the DC area and exposing them to a variety of STEM related fields. This program increases the participants’ self-esteem and helps prepare them to become leaders in their communities.
Q: What is the need for a program like this?
TechGirls addresses the gap between males and females in STEM education and careers. The MENA region in particular has a significant gap in women’s education. TechGirls exposes participants to what the possibilities are and encourages them to pursue STEM degrees.
Q: Do you have some inspirational stories to share from your experience working with the program? How great has the impact been?
After five years of running the program, we have 135 alumni. We have four alum at university in the US, Canada or Europe. Two girls are on Michelle Obama’s radar (one met her, the other was mentioned on her twitter). One is very involved in environmental issues and has been a delegate of Morocco in The United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris and of Canada in the Arctic Council. Another won first place in a tech challenge and will present her project in California. Even in just the 3-week program we can see growth in the participants’ self-esteem, knowledge of tech fields and coding and desire to help their communities.
Q: Any exciting plans for the future?
We are constantly expanding our network and looking for new partners. We hope to organize a reunion with all alumni and we will submit a new proposal to the state department to lengthen the program to allow for more aspects and partners to be incorporated.
Q: What message do you have for our readers on International Youth Day?
With ease of travel, internet and other technologies, the world is getting smaller. Being a “global citizen” is inevitable. Today’s youth are the key to creating a healthier, more peaceful world.