She is always smiling and talks so calmly that at times one can hardly hear her. The wind is blowing hard, ruffling her neat dreadlocks and she chuckles as she arranges them carefully again before burying her head in the laptop.
She is busy coding on her laptop and occasionally looks up to take in a question or two before typing again. This is what has made her a household name in Tanzania and beyond.
This is Carolyne Ekyarisiima, the founder of “Apps And Girls”, an organisation that aims to bridge the gender gap in information and communications technology (ICT) based in the Gongo la Mboto suburbs of Dar es Salaam.
She has also founded coding clubs for young girls in several schools across Tanzania.
Born on June 20, 1986, in the Bushenyi District in Uganda, she grew up in a family of seven children. Being the fifth child, she spent most of her early childhood on a farm taking care of the family cattle.
Despite herding family cows, her father being a primary school teacher valued education and off to school she went.
“I thank God that my parents were able to send all of us to quality schools,” she says.
Carolyne moved to Tanzania to teach computer science and ICT before quitting her job in 2013 and founded Apps And Girls.
Though she is now a renowned ICT geek, Carolyne was passionate about sciences and always dreamt of becoming a doctor, before switching to the world of technology at the university where she fell in love with computers.
“I dreamt about putting on that white coat and taking care of people. However all that changed when I went to university.
“I was given a course in technology. It was tight in the beginning but as time went on, I fell in love with computers,” she says.
Her tech journey began during one of her saddest moments as a youth. It was when she was offered a scholarship to study computer science at Kampala International University and denied one for medicine. She had never dreamt of taking that path. But because of that, she is now running Apps And Girls, happy and satisfied because she finally found another way to contribute to her community by changing lives.
She says one of the people who has inspired her is Juliana Rotich, the co-founder and executive director of Ushahidi, a non-profit tech company, born in Africa, that develops free and open-source software for information collection, interactive mapping and data curation.
“Looking at all her achievements and great software/apps she has developed, makes me zealous to do more and more,” the technology guru says.
Her Apps And Girls aims to bridge the technology gender gap in Tanzania by providing quality coding training in web programming, mobile app development, game development and entrepreneurship skills to girls between 10 and 18 in respective schools through coding clubs.
“Every week our team conducts trainings in different coding clubs in schools. We also organise holiday events such as workshops, exhibitions, hackathons, campathons, bootcamps and competitions to empower and inspire more girls to pursue computing and to develop innovations,” Carolyne explains.
Apart from coding and pitching during these events, the girls are also groomed to live a healthy lifestyle and to learn how to use the skills gained to make a productive change in the community. They also provide mentorship and incubation to emerging young female technology entrepreneurs and help to use their network to promote such work to customers, partners and potential funding opportunities.
“Our mission is to make these girls tech drivers/leaders creating start-ups and products solving community problems, thus becoming role models to fellow girls,” Carolyne highlights.
Though the technology industry is still dominated and driven by men, Carolyne believes these men are happy to work with women and most of them are really supportive.
“Women do not need to fear anything, it is up to us to rise up and attack the available opportunities in tech with passion, energy and uniqueness,” she says.
So far, Apps And Girls has impacted 900 girls and they have gained coding and entrepreneurship skills increasing their confidence and academic performance. A good example is Zainabu Omary, 16, from Jangwani Girls’ Secondary School in Dar es Salaam and founder of MaoniBox (www.maonibox.com).
This is an online suggestion box where users can post comments/rate companies services.
Zainabu’s performance in ICT has greatly improved. She was an average performer before joining Apps And Girls, achieving 50 to 60 percent, but now her performance is excellent, her lowest mark in ICT being 80 percent.
Her dream career has changed too; Zainabu now dreams of being a computer engineer and a programmer developing many applications solving community problems and generating income for her.
“Zainabu is so far the best coder in Apps And Girls and a peer educator in the coding club in her school and at our incubator,” says Carolyne proudly.
“We have 30 incubatees where 10 girls have completed their projects and business surveys.”
Apps And Girls has also impacted 68 women – 35 in digital literacy and 33 in web programming.
One of their mentees, 16-year-old Modesta Joseph, won a grant worth $5 000 from The Information Society and ICT Sector Development Project in Tanzania and Tanzania Commission for Science and Technology to implement her project OurCries (www.ourcries.com), which fights to end student harassment and humiliation while using public transport in Dar es salaam.
Another, Winnie Godlove, 17, created FankishaMama (www.fanikishamama.org), a web-based system that creates fistula awareness and helps fistula victims to regain their dignity through crowd-funding for their seed income for a better life.
Last June, she won the Reach for Change Day of African child award and won first prize in the Apps And Girls competition in 2014.
Carolyne now plans to launch a technology TV show in partnership with Nlab, and is also looking forward to having a mobile lab on a bus, to serve children in far-flung areas.
She is also looking beyond Tanzania as she plans to franchise in other countries, and is building an IT consultancy to boost and supplement the organisation’s sustainability.
Seeing an ordinary girl below 18 years who did not know how to use a computer to learn, code her own interactive website and go on to implement it, is what brings satisfaction to Carolyne and is her biggest life accomplishment.
“This makes my heart melt and I take a deep breath. Aaaaaha! And thank God for His Grace,” she concludes.