Interview: Carolyne Ekyarisiima & Noëlla Thindwa



18 January 2014

Noella and Carolyne both attended Prototype Change Summit as Change Leaders in the same team, and became friends through their engagement for girls and women’s rights in their communities. Their work is truly amazing, so we got together with them for an interview to find out more.

Hi, Noëlla, tell us more about your work!

NOELLA: I’ve started Congolese Children For the Future. It’s an entrepreneurship program to help young single mothers and vulnerable kids. It has two components: Helping mothers learn skills to become entrepreneurs, and a kindergarten for their children and vulnerable orphans. The mothers become jewellers and beauticians, making handbags, clothes out of African fabrics, tablecloths, earrings and more – while their kids learn skills to prepare for school.

Carolyne, what about you?

CAROLYNE: I am the founder of Apps and Girls. I want to bridge the gap in ICT among girls in Tanzania and give every girl the opportunity to use ICT to better their lives. We do this through coding clubs in schools, where girls learn the basics to do “real” coding later on.

We also arrange weekend programs on Saturdays, to give girls a space to discover and use ICT. We bring laptops, divide them in groups and help them create real working ideas. Our summer and winter camps help them focus on HTML and the basics of coding, so that they can attend the annual Hackathon and work on their own solutions.

What is your main goal with Apps and Girls?

CAROLYNE: I want girls to use technology to change their lives. I want her to keep using technology in whatever she’s doing. Some girls don’t continue into university, but through ICT she can continue working on her own ideas, and find information easily. For girls who go into university, Apps and Girls help them continue within the field, maybe to become engineers. The main goal is to include them in society and empower them through ICT to get a better life.

Noëlla, you have a good story about how the kindergarden became. Wanna tell us more?

NOELLA: I had this problem with young mothers not coming to the center because they have obligations to take care of their children. At the same time, they were afraid of bringing the children with them. So I started the kindergarten.

At first many said no, that it would be impossible. So I did my everything to make it look really good. I took all the influences I have from travels in Europe and around the world, and merged it with African style to decorate the space.

All of a sudden, my daycare became in high demand. Families with resources wanted to put their kids in there. When I told them it’s for the vulnerable children only, they insisted that the fee they would pay to put their kids into kindergarten would also fund another child. So, now children from different backgrounds are mixed, and there’s no discrimination. Everyone wears the same school uniform, and play together.

That’s amazing. Tell us a bit more about the role of technology in your work.

NOELLA: As you know I am very analog in my work now. But I hope to give simple smartphones to all women in the program. Then they could document and photograph what they make and spread it online.

Also, I’m looking into online platforms to bring the goods to the world. Maybe have an Afripedia page and link to all the work, for example. It may sound strange, but when our goods are appreciated by other communities, then the status of these women’s work also gets bumped up locally. I hope that technology can help with that.

CAROLYNE: For me, tech is the basis of what we do. In the future, I hope to crowdfund a bus that would go out to rural areas and educate girls in ICT. I want the bus to be fuelled by solar power, as a way to get power to the computers we bring with us. I also want to partner to get permanent computer labs all over Tanzania.

Obviously, you’ve had lots of successes. What have been some obstacles on the road?

CAROLYNE: A lot of parents were insecure about their girls going someplace to learn about computers. They thought they were only going to chat and play, but the reality looks so different.

NOELLA: There political climate is another issue. It’s hard to establish a program for entrepreneurship when the overall infrastructure is weak. Also, the level of education is a challenge, so I have made it my mission to male alphabetization, reading, and writing a part of the training so that women can get empowered and transmit this knowledge to their children.

Carolyne, what’s an example of a solution a girl would work on at camp?

CAROLYNE: There’s this girl called Winnie. She’s only 15 and works on a storytelling site to help women who are discriminated due to labour related health issues. These women are often excluded from society because they bleed after giving birth, but Winnie’s site shows pictures of the women’s stories, before and after. She also asks for seed money to help these young women to get started financially and live a normal life.

What do you hope to do more of in the future?

NOELLA: So far, I’ve helped more than 500 girls become a part of society. We still work with a fabric that aren’t “ours” – and I want to change that. I want to create a universal pattern that means you support our work every time you wear it. It would make the women proud, and everyone wearing it feel proud, too. I am working on this, and hope it will happen very soon.

CAROLYNE: I hope to get a website up, to show all the things girls have come up with so far. If I can help, say, 10 out of 40 current project become really well made and functioning, that would make a great case for the work girls can achieve through ICT. I want the site to be a crowdfunding platform so everyone can support the ideas and help make them reality.

This is super inspiring, thank you both and best of luck!

BOTH: Thank you!

Carolyne Ekyarisiima is the founder of Apps and Girls. Her main geographical areas are: Tanzania, Dar es Salaam.

Noella Thindwa is the founder of Congolese Children For the Future. Her work stems out of the DRC.