A group of girls in the South Pacific nation of Vanuatu just got a boost from an awesome new technology education program, called SMART Sistas.
SMART Sistas (short for sistas mastering advanced real technology) is a week-long immersive camp organized by the Peace Corps and local community leaders. The camp features coding and game design courses, provided free of charge by Tech Rocket, along with leadership and gender empowerment training.
A rare opportunity on the islands of Vanuatu
Vanuatu is an archipelago located between Australia and Fiji in the South Pacific. Around 280,000 people call the islands home.
Due to slowly developing infrastructure, the average Vanuatu citizen has relatively limited access to technology. Vanuatu recently received high speed internet, via a new submarine cable installed in 2014, and the government has started to set up community computer labs and bring tablets to schools.
Roughly 80% of the population works in the agricultural sector—there are few developers and technology professionals. In fact, according to Peace Corps volunteers, there are only two private web design/software development companies in the country, and one of them volunteered to be a mentor to the girls enrolled in the SMART Sistas camp.
The SMART Sistas get started
SMART Sistas selected 10 girls, ages 9-14, from all around the country. The girls were chosen based on essay questions about their experiences and interest in technology.
The camp is organized as part of Let Girls Learn, a worldwide initiative with the goal of empowering the roughly 62 million girls not currently enrolled in school. According to the Peace Corps:
“Vanuatu has a lack of information communication technology training to empower girls to become leaders. Our vision of the SMART Sistas ICT Camp for Girls strives to empower girls ages 9-14 to pursue educational opportunities and help Vanuatu reach gender equality in the field.”
Building a future of their own
The girls completed 24 hours of coding and game design coursework with Tech Rocket, diving into coding with Python and game design with GameSalad. They had the chance to see how fun and rewarding it can be to create their own video game.
A video of the SMART Sistas camp created by Peace Corps IT Specialist Rodney Philemon:
In an effort to encourage learning beyond the camp, each girl received a laptop and a free year-long Tech Rocket membership. The girls were also paired with mentors from local banks, universities, telecommunication companies, and local nonprofits to provide ongoing guidance.
Encouraged by the camp’s success, the committee behind SMART Sistas hopes to expand the effort and create a sustainable program in Vanuatu. You can help support SMART Sistas and similar programs expanding opportunities for girls by donating at the Peace Corps’ website.
Stay tuned for more updates from the girls as they continue their journey with technology and Tech Rocket!
Photos via Peace Corps volunteer Laura Loveland and Rodney Philemon.