Did you know that the State Department is actually super cool? Yeah, I didn’t either—that is, until I met the TechGirls. Basically, the State hand-picked 24 young women from Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, the Palestinian Territories, Tunisia and Yemen to spend three weeks on the east coast learning all about technology. I was lucky enough to hang out with them the day they volunteered at Hell’s Kitchen Farm Project (HKFP) and attended a panel put together exclusively for them at tumblr headquarters.
What struck me most about the TechGirls was not their intelligence, grace or passion– it was how genuinely grateful they were to just be there. By being at HKFP, tumblr and the numerous other events they attended over the course of three weeks… Well I think 16-year-old Ola Hamdan from Jordan explained it best when she said, “This chance is the beginning of big chances in your life…”
What kind of chance, you ask? Imene Khodja, 17, of Algeria put it quite eloquently: “We have the chance to come here and I want to share everything… My life is not made just to study, I want to have an impact on my community.”
The great news is that every TechGirl has been given the opportunity to have an impact on her community. Each TechGirl is expected to produce a project upon her arrival home. For 16-year-old Manal Elyaalaui from Morocco? “I am working with two other girls to create a website with vlogs. We are creating a platform for people to share, be discovered. [They are] creative, really useful projects.”
Bringing these young women to the United States is about more than just a passion—it’s about education. Here in America, we are blessed with so many opportunities to learn and also to teach.
Why not provide the same to the TechGirls? Through talking with them, I noticed that above all, they really valued education. “Education is the most important thing in life after food,” said Hamdan. “Especially for girls because boys are tough but our minds are really open and can gain many things… It’s hard all over the world. It’s a man’s world. [Women] have opportunities, but less credit.”
Khodja agreed that girls and boys are different: ““Girls don’t have the chance to express themselves.”
Even if this is true to culture for now, it doesn’t mean the TechGirls don’t have big dreams to make reality. For her? “My main goal is to be CEO. I want to have my own company—my dad wants me to lead his business, but I want to have my own.”
Hamdan’s dream, on the other hand, is a little less specific but equally as powerful—when asked what she wanted to be in 10 years, she replied, “A successful woman who has the confidence to stand in front of people and discuss my experiences, even if I fail.”