‘Warm Heart of Africa’
One of this year’s campers is Promise Chipeta, a 15-year-old from Malawi who is interested in creating cosmetics and learning about entrepreneurship.
“I will use this time wisely,” she wrote on the Girl Up blog about her two weeks at WiSci. “I want the world to know that I am an intelligent girl.”
Chipeta’s father died when she was 6, and her mother struggled to raise her alone, having her attend a free public school and later placing her in an orphanage. Despite the circumstances, Chipeta thrived.
“I became the president of my class,” she said. “Donors from the United States would come and visit, and one day one of the donors was interested in my talent and gave me a scholarship to learn at Mzuzu International Academy.”
She described her fellow WiSci campers as family. One day she hopes to be able to give back to her orphanage and support other girls who can’t afford school. She wants to make her mother proud.
Malawi is one of the world’s poorest countries and has been severely impacted by the AIDS epidemic.
Indications of progress are small but happening, such as an increase in the legal age of marriage from 15 to 18 last February. Considered the “warm heart of Africa,” WiSci has found the country and campus to be a welcoming host.
The counselors led the girls on a hike at Mount Mulanje and brought them to a tea plantation to learn about the local industry. They also visited Green Malata, an organization that provides vocational training for young locals to equip them with marketable skills, including courses in renewable energy and information technology.
“It really complemented the hard skills that the girls were learning in the classroom and really allowed them to see firsthand how STEAM projects can affect real lives,” camp director Jessica Ellerbach of World Learning said.
Throughout the two weeks, the girls bonded deeply, whether they were from a rural town in the U.S. or an African village with little internet access. Some of the American participants were of African descent and had the opportunity to discuss their culture with their African peers.
An astronaut, the U.S. ambassador to Malawi and women leaders in Africa’s tech industry came and spoke. Malawi’s first lady was at the camp’s closing ceremony.
“I don’t think anyone really knows what Malawi (or Africa for that matter) is going to be like until they get here,” Kansas City’s Ruby Rios, 17, wrote in a Girl Up blog. “There are so many stereotypes and ideas about what people and the scenery are like that it was difficult for me to know what I was walking into until I stepped off the plane.”
She learned about the similarities and differences between her and her African peers through conversations and close friendships with girls in her cohort. She learned that some girls have to travel hours to get to school every day and that many can also sing along to Ed Sheeran tunes word for word just like her.
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