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Helping Africa young women reach for the stars

In the dusty Cape Flats seventeen-year-old Bhanekazi Thandwa is grappling with her new found skills to build a tiny robot. She’s just one of hundreds of young African women taking part in an ambitious project create a new generation of female engineers.

Bhanekazi got involved in the project when girls from her Dr Nelson Mandela High School near Cape Town were invited to a Saturday class in her township to learn about electronics. She built a Jiggybot and became inspired to get involved in a Space project to build the payload for Africa’s first privately-owned satellite which will be launched next year.

Bhanekazi says: “I used to think that physics and engineering were only for males so this Space project has opened my eyes that I can stand my ground and pursue science.

“Everyday you get to explore something new and create magic with your own hands. There is also a lot to gain to pursue science as there are so many opportunities career-wise in STEM related fields”

Bhanekazi is just one of a growing team of young women engaged in breaking down the barriers that have prevented so many young African women from getting involved in science, technology, engineering and maths – STEM- careers.

It’s inspiring work and I’m very proud to be the UK Representative of the project which is run by the South African-based social entrepreneurs MEDO.

Female youth unemployment in South Africa runs at more than 65% – getting young women involved in science and engineering is vital if we are to going to tackle that. STEM is where the jobs of the future are going to come from and its important that young African women aren’t left out of this tech revolution.

As MEDO we hope to roll out this space programme to other countries in Africa – especially those who are part of the SKA radio telescope project like Namibia, Botswana, Mozanbique, Kenya, Zambia, Mauritius and Madagascar. These countries are in partnership with South Africa to build the world’s largest radio telescope which will delve deep into space and attempt to reveal the origins of the universe.

Imagine if our young women were inspired to be part of the SKA project and helped put Africa at the leading edge of space exploration. SKA South Africa’s project director Dr Bernie Fanaroff is confident:

“It means that for the first time in our history, Africa will be the host to the world’s largest scientific instrument. And it shows a great deal of faith by the rest of the world in our ability and our capacity to both build and operate such a sophisticated instrument. It also reflects the recognition in Africa of how important science and technology is to our future.”

Already Africa is becoming the destination of choice for space exploration and it attracting scientists from around the world to work on the SKA project.

I am delighted to be part of this ambitious project to develop a new generation of young African women dedicated to becoming the world’s next scientists, technologists, engineers and mathematicians. Bhanekazi is already keen to become one of them. She says the Space Project has transformed her life:

“I feel so empowered because I’m the first person in my family to do physics, and I’m one of the few who got to experience this amazing opportunity and to make mind-blowing things like my own satellite with my own hands. Most girls shy away from science as they think it is too difficult for them but I want to tell them that STEM related careers are great choices”.

Bhanekazi and her friends are determined to succeed and all we need to help them achieve their dreams is funding – then we can roll out our MEDO Space Trek project beyond South Africa to the rest of the continent.

If you can help these girls and give them a bright future – please get in touch with me.

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