International Student Sam Kamau Pays It Forward with a Youth Empowerment Program Teaching Coding and Leadership


MIDDLEBURY, Vt. – Sam Kamau’s perception within the energy of know-how to create alternatives for Kenya’s younger individuals acquired its begin Saturday mornings as a child, when he’d run throughout the road to his good friend Brian’s home to play Mortal Kombat four on the neighborhood’s solely pc.

“We’d play for 10 rounds after which resolve it wasn’t sufficient,” says the Middlebury junior, “so we’d play 10 extra rounds and proceed. One particular person used the keyboard and the opposite performed on the num pad—and we’d simply go at one another.”

Kamau famous wryly that of the eight or so boys clamoring to play, he’d sometimes be final to reach and final in line. “I couldn’t depart the home till I’d completed my chores.”

Quick ahead to 2018, when Kamau enlisted a few of these identical buddies to begin Ridhika, a youth-advocacy group based mostly in his hometown of Nyeri, Kenya. Ridhika teaches coding to excessive schoolers by way of an after-school program and thru a summer season trip “boot camp.” This system makes use of coding as a technique to encourage innovation and group involvement whereas growing entrepreneurial and management expertise.

Affiliate Professor of Political Science Nadia Horning turned a mentor to Kamau final 12 months when he was chosen as a Social Entrepreneurship Fellow whereas she was this system’s college director.

In that position, mentioned Horning, she informed college students: “Your job is to determine the way you translate the privilege that you’ve got, that you’ve got acquired, into methods of serving to those that are underserved. And never simply assist in the sense of charity, however supporting those that are underserved so that you just don’t accumulate, you don’t gather privilege, however you share it. You diffuse it. You distribute it in order that the impression on you possibly can truly be an impression on many different people. That’s the way in which you impact constructive change—and I see Sam doing that.”

Kamau mentioned he all the time wished to review overseas.

“Within the Kikuyu group, we have now a saying: ‘He who has not left his mom’s home, thinks that his mom is one of the best cook dinner.’ So, for me, I wished to style meals elsewhere, to see how different individuals are residing their lives and approaching issues.”

Kamau was drawn to Middlebury due to the breadth of courses he may take (his favourite to this point has been philosophy) and the emphasis on crucial inquiry.

“Right here, I get to ask questions. I’ll ask a query in a spot the place there’s some inconsistency, and my professor is genuinely curious to know the place I’m coming from—and that’s nonetheless very completely different for me. Each time I ask a query at school or I’m in workplace hours, my professors are simply very open to both giving me the reply, looking for out the reply, or telling me, ‘Effectively, as of now, I don’t know, however we will discover out collectively.’ That’s a really overseas idea for me, and it’s nonetheless wonderful.”

A pc science and economics double main, Kamau mentioned he’s all the time been somebody who seems at techniques—social, political, financial—and asks, “How can we alter issues for the higher for everybody?”

“So once I was coming in freshman 12 months, I knew I wished to impression a change in my group, however I wasn’t very certain the right way to impression a change that benefited the individuals it wanted to learn, which for me was the younger individuals. I used to be like, ‘Effectively, I’ve left all these individuals again residence . . . and it’s good that they’re all texting me congratulations every day, however what occurs to their prospects?’”

Kenya has one of many highest charges of youth unemployment in East Africa. “The vast majority of youth,” mentioned one knowledgeable, “are nonetheless under- or unemployed, and weak.” Amongst numerous elements, two stand out: Kenya’s inhabitants is younger—near 60 % are beneath 25 years of age—and over 80 % of all employment is in what economists name the “casual” sector. Whereas major enrollment is at near 100 %, solely about 48 % of scholars go on to highschool, and solely about 12 % to school/college. Discovering work stays tough—even for the faculty educated.

“The unemployment is fairly dangerous,” mentioned Kamau, “to a degree the place, you’re not considering when it comes to ‘How will I be aggressive within the job market?’ It’s extra of ‘How can I get any piece of employment?’”

Kamau sees coding as a device for younger individuals’s “total empowerment,” each when it comes to with the ability to earn a residing and when it comes to having a voice in society.

The thought for Ridhika started to crystallize throughout Kamau’s first 12 months, whereas he was taking his first-class in pc science. Understanding of his Vermont dorm room, Kamau enlisted two buddies again residence to hitch him as summer season camp lecturers. He gained assist from the regional ministry of training. An area faculty supplied its pc lab and wider services as a spot to carry the camp throughout the August faculty break. Kamau and buddies started placing out the phrase to Nyeri’s highschool–age college students.

In August 2018, 20 teenage boys attended a two-week camp. In August 2019, 18 boys and 5 teenage ladies attended a three-week camp. Ridhika launched its after-school program in fall 2018, and it’s now being supplied at three native excessive faculties, together with one ladies’ faculty (secondary training in Kenya is usually single intercourse).

Each applications are free to members. Kamau funded the 2018 summer season camp with a CCI First-12 months Discover Grant; he funded the 2019 camp utilizing a part of his grant as a Social Entrepreneurship Fellow. Others locally supported with in-kind donations.

Kamau centered the coding facet of the curriculum on studying the right way to construct an internet site from scratch. Teenagers had been launched to key languages like Python and JavaScript, creating easy tic-tac-toe, hangman, and Snake video games to construct mastery. They checked out key parts like the right way to create a timeline and the right way to arrange a fee methodology.

They mentioned issues and sources of their area people, practiced brainstorming, and thought of how finest to speak concepts.

“For instance, we began desirous about how local weather change will be solved in coding,” mentioned Kamau. “I’d ask them, ‘What do you guys actually assume?’ And so they’d give me their concepts. Somebody would say one thing like, ‘Make an internet site about local weather change.’ And I’d be like, ‘Okay, however we have now to assume additional than that. What does that web site include? How do you current vital info in an approachable method?’”

Most vital was that college students noticed themselves as downside solvers.

Kamau and his fellow instructors constructed management and entrepreneurial expertise in a wide range of methods. Particular friends—a good friend in dental faculty and one who’d simply develop into an actuary, two younger entrepreneurs who’d created apps—got here and talked in regards to the work world. Individuals had been requested to replicate on their very own strengths and weaknesses, together with a time they efficiently enacted change of their faculty or group. They labored in pairs to construct collaboration expertise. They set long-term and short-term targets. They drank tea and ate snacks collectively and talked about music and sports activities and mentioned factor like “What would you need to do if cash had been no object?”

When somebody stepped out of their consolation zone, they gave loads of snaps. Kamau gave the instance of 1 younger girl specifically who was an excellent coder however “tremendous shy.”

“We’d all solved the coding query and that day I used to be like, ‘Hey, Cynthia, you’re going to stroll us by way of the answer, proper? I do know you’ve acquired this; I’ve been seeing your code.’ She’s terrified, and at first she was hesitant. Then she got here up and did it. She acquired loads of snaps for doing that. Afterwards I used to be speaking to her throughout a tea break, and she or he was like, ‘Yeah, I appreciated that. I used to be capable of truly clarify one thing I do know.’”

Seeing that type of transformation, mentioned Kamau, is deeply satisfying.

“Week one they stroll in, they’re shy, not sure of themselves. Week two they’re high-fiving me on the door and coming in and instantly asking questions. Their confidence shot proper up. And I feel additionally they turned far more hopeful about doing issues with their futures.”

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