A graduate of Computer and Electrical Engineering from the University of Lagos, Dr. Unoma Ndili Okorafor is the brain behind Working to Advance African Women (WAAW)
Passionate about the promotion of female education, Dr. Unoma Okorafor founded WAAW in 2007 while she was a PhD student. She did so in response to a burning desire to see more women of African descent healthy, educated, and inspired to participate in home and community building. As a lonely African female voice in Technology, Unoma set out to create sustainable, long-lasting ways to support and educate African women in technology innovation.
WAAW Foundation recognizes that Female Education and Science and Technology Innovation are the two most crucial components to poverty alleviation and rapid development in Africa. The foundation also recognises that the plight of the African woman against prejudices and huge societal disadvantages in often male dominated communities is still vastly unexposed, and requires a strong and compassionate voice.
WAAW foundation currently runs 13 STEM outreach and mentoring programs in 8 different African countries including Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, Uganda, Cameroon, Malawi, Togo and South Africa; and is hoping to expand it to more countries to impact on more girls. WAAW Foundation works with over 110 university fellows in the 13 STEM cells, reaching over 6000 public school student each year. Dr. Unoma is especially focused focuses on girls in poverty-affected areas with a goal to ultimately increase the pipeline of African girls entering STEM related careers.
Speaking on the challenges faced by the Foundation, Dr. Okorafor stated that people haven’t understood the importance of what they are doing. “We need to educate and sensitize people more. Sometimes when we talk about our programme, many people are yet to really understand the importance of educating girls, they say why only girls, why is this different from any other organisation.”
“We are doing something unique and we are really empowering those girls. We have had challenging recruiting girls for the programme. Many times when we go to the ministry and we are denied access to the girls and teachers. So sometimes we stand at the gate, we just hang out with flyers and inform the girls of our programs at the gate after school. A lot of people don’t know about it because the government has not really come out to support us” she continued
She also stated that they need support from the government for access and location for they constantly run around on where to host their camp. “If we have more space, in a government school or a university to make use of their spaces and their classrooms, we can do much more and accommodate so much more girls” she added
The foundation also creates a community at the end of the camping period where they can be easily reached online through emails for connections. They also have a Google plus community where they stay in touch with all the girls and they would like to make it available to them.
“We are always there listening to their problems and helping them solve their problems. We are in touch with them; we stay in touch with them and with their parents because we want to know monitor their academic progression into university” If they have problems paying their school fees we are there to help them, and constantly encourage them” Dr. Okorafor said passionately
Dr. Unoma Okorafor has received various awards including the Anita Borg Institute (ABIE) Change Agent Award. She is also a member of IEEE, ACM, SWE and NSBE. She recently served as a thought leader at the Ashoka Foundation Changemakers and was elected as a “New Leader for Tomorrow” by the Crans Montana Forum in 2010.
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