During the UN General Assembly in New York in September this year, I met a friend who could almost be described as “legendary”.
👩 Her name is Mariéme Jamme. She is founder of the British iamtheCODE organization, a social enterprise that supports young women to study programming.
⛈ Why did Mariéme set up this organization? She was born in the countryside of Senegal. When she was 13 years old, she was smuggled into Paris by a trafficker and was sexually exploited. When she was 15 years old, she was arrested by the police. Because she did not have an opportunity to receive an education, she could hardly read or write until she was 16 years old, and could only do low-level manual labor to survive.
📖 Not wishing to surrender to her fate, she ensconced herself in the public library, memorized dictionaries, read encyclopaedias, and even self-studied spreadsheets and programming language. Step by step, she has become the person she is today, and has received the affirmation by the Gates Foundation and the UNICEF Annual Innovation Award.
💻 In 2016, she founded iamtheCODE to help other girls and young women like herself regain the control of their lives away from the hands of misfortune.
👓 Mariéme has told me a little story. This year, when she was holding a hackathon in Liverpool, England, among the attendees was a young girl who never took off her glasses and did not say a word. When Mariéme spoke to her, she found out that the girl had been bullied because of her gender identity. Eventually, this shy girl succeeded in developing a community-assisted platform for anti-bullying in 2 days and 24 hours of hackathon and established self-affirmation and resistance to bullying in collaboration with other children who did not appear “mainstream.”
🏡 This little story reminds me of the “Social Enterprise World Forum” conference in Edinburgh in early September. There are also two similar scenarios.
👂 Howard Weinstein, founder of Solar Ear, started in Africa and developed a solar-powered hearing aids. He hired hearing impaired people to lead the production process and produce equipment that suits their needs; the MIT Laboratory and Baan Dek Foundation launched the “Digital Super Hero Academy” (DSHA) because they saw that vulnerable children in South Asia lacked critical thinking and social stimulation about their living environment. Therefore, they worked with the local social workers to develop an interactive teaching kit so that these children can pick up practical life skills quickly.
🌱 I think these stories all reflect the implicit meaning of “appropriate technology”: it is not so much about using “advanced and innovative technology” to “rescue” people in need of help; rather, it is about enabling the other party to “master” the tools, starting from their own needs and enabling them to improve their lives, just as Mariéme was able to transform her life by learning spreadsheet and programming language.
🌍 “Our goal is to train one million female programmers in developing countries such as Africa, the Middle East and South America by 2030”, Mariéme told me resolutely. I think that the shy girl must have been one of them.