Two Earlham College students have been selected for competitive grants from Projects for Peace to launch educational initiatives that will widen pathways for African women to pursue post-secondary education.
Junior Feven Naba’s “Techiyalesh Initiative” will establish an academic society and professional network in Ethiopia for undergraduate women in STEM. Junior Wisdom Boinde’s “Maaroŋ Initiative” is focused on strengthening access to higher education for underrepresented women in northern Ghana.
“Women today are told they can be and do anything, yet fewer than 30 percent of STEM jobs around the world are occupied by women,” said Naba, who is completing her physics and pre-engineering studies at Earlham this spring before enrolling in Columbia University.
“This gender disparity is even wider in Ethiopia where I was born and raised,” she said. “I want to inspire and support women to follow their dreams – just like myself. While I acknowledge the privileges I have been afforded by attending a liberal arts institution with the core values of peace and justice, I want to inspire and support women in Ethiopia, where support systems are not widely implemented and accessible to everyone to follow their dreams.”
Naba is working with students and professors in the United States and Ethiopia to jumpstart the project this summer. One of her key collaborators is her brother, Batuel Naba, who is studying physics and computer science at Adama Science and Technology University in Ethiopia.
The project will establish a national organization for women in Ethiopia, launch five chapters at universities located across the country and develop a mentorship program. Additional funding from Projects for Peace will be used distribute scientific instruments like Arduino, which are inexpensive and user-friendly platform that can be integrated into a variety of electronics projects.
“Feven’s project is exceptionally ambitious; were it not so meticulously scaffolded and carefully thought out, it would almost certainly not be doable,” said Ahmed Khanani, the director of Earlham’s Center for Social Justice, and a mentor on both projects. “All this work will create more spaces for women in STEM fields in Ethiopia to thrive, thereby moving towards peace in an ambitious, optimistic, and exhilarating register.”
“Peace is marked not only by the absence of war but also by the presence of justice and equity, with opportunities allowing individuals to follow their aspirations,” added Naba. “It is impossible to talk about a peaceful and sustainable future when women are not integrated as equal participants and contributors.”
Boinde plans to leverage educational opportunities to empower women to pursue post-secondary education as an alternative to becoming migrant workers, which is a common occupation among northern Ghanaian women.
“Ghana is a peaceful nation. However, southern Ghana has achieved economic development way faster than the North,” said Boinde, a computer science and physics major at Earlham. “This results in circumstances that breed animosity between the two regions.
“As someone who grew up in Northern Ghana, I have witnessed the economic disparities between North and South first-hand,” he said. “If I, as a man, did not have certain opportunities, I cannot imagine what women, who are treated as subordinates in Ghana go through. I want to do my best in crafting a society where both men and women can reach their goals and aspirations without having to be hindered by part of the country they belong to. That, to me, is peace.”
Boinde is partnering with the High Morale Academy, a nationally recognized sports academy in Northern Ghana, that trains young women to compete in national and international track-and-field and cross-country races. He will provide workshops for hundreds of the academy’s clients and help them identify scholarship opportunities and craft competitive applications for admissions. He will ensure the sustainability of this project by collaborating with different scholarship and athletic bodies around the country.
“Women from my region are vulnerable to poor work conditions, sexual abuse and do not earn a living wage,” Boinde said. “I want to empower women to take a different path, to become educated and have options beyond the status quo.
“I will help these women use their athletic affiliation to secure scholarships at higher educational institutions in Ghana and abroad,” he said. “This will open up economic opportunities for Northern Ghanaian women and reduce the number of women who are forced to migrate to become laborers.”
Boinde is also conducting research for a physics professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology this summer and plans on using his learning and connections from MIT and his education in general to upscale his project.
“This carefully crafted project will procure computers, hire interns, launch a seminar composed of alum and local leaders, and develop an open-access website with scholarships, all with the effect of negotiating a very specific issue that will make a discernible impact in persons lives,” Khanani said.
Earlham College is a proud partner organization with Projects for Peace, which was established in 2007 by the late philanthropist Kathryn Wasserman Davis. Earlham is one of the few partner institutions to be awarded funding for two projects this year.