Looking back to our five years of the journey today, it was this day when we started the Women in STEAM organization. Here’s a beginning from “The Beginning.”
How it started:
Taking you all back to the year 2009-2010 when our founder Mrs. Binita Shrestha was in high school. Grade 11 was not so difficult for her but when she got promoted to grade 12 an actual battle started in her life. Unfortunately, she was the only female in her class pursuing the subject of computing. She was shocked.
"I tried to convince my female friends but all my efforts were in vain. I was constantly either advised to shift my subjects of studies as being only a girl might get me into many troubles, which eventually did."
Mrs. Binita Shrestha, Founder at WiSTEAM
However, she stood her ground and never gave up on her studies. This experience gave her the feeling of something being wrong in society and oftentimes questions herself on her choices of choosing an unconventional and male-dominated subject. Despite having few role models to relate to, she continued what she has started. She adds,” I met a few other girls who had their own share of struggles but similar narratives during my engineering studies in 2011. We lacked female role models whom we could relate to and the computing field was always considered as only man’s forte and has been dominated by males for many years.”
She was largely oblivious to this problem and wanted to do something to reduce the prevailing gender gap and encourage young minds to STEM fields. Global studies and research shows that there’s something going wrong in the transition phase ie. from school to college and that needs to be fixed.
In 2015, WiSTEAM conducted its first Hour of Code session targeting undergraduate girls. It was the same year when our founder bagged two glorious awards. First was the 1st runner-up award for International Girls in ICT Day 2015 presentation competition on the topic "Girls in ICT" and another being one of the winners at EmpowHER 2015, a leadership and idea incubation program for young girls conducted by the Ujyalo Foundation for her impact project "Girls in STEM".
She shares,” The 10 weeks of the journey at EmpowHER 2015 was a transformational experience for me. I looked up to my amazing mentor-advisors Ms. Amuda Mishra, the executive director of Ujyalo Foundation, and Mr. Vidhan Rana, Co-founder at Viruwa Ventures throughout my journey and forever who helped not just to shape my idea but also was responsible to transform me as a person. Therefore, I witnessed self-growth to become a strong woman."
"Also, being one of the winners became a plus point for us to closely work with the Nepal Telecommunication Authority for the same cause under the guidance of mentor-advisors Mr. Ananda Raj Khanal, Director, and Ms. Roja Kiran Basukala, Deputy Director at Nepal Telecommunication Authority for International Girls in ICT Day since 2015."
Source: Ujyalo Foundation, Image: Mrs. Binita Shrestha after winning the EmpowHER seed investment
The seed fund was utilized to empower and encourage girls to take STEM fields via awareness campaigns and coding workshops called Hour of Code sessions. After noticing the demand of the hour of code sessions, her team continued the same series with a registered organization named Women in STEAM, a social enterprise in the year 2016 under the chairmanship of Binita Shrestha and four founding directors.
Starting The Chapter
Year one was full of excitement and struggle for the team. We were naive trying to spread our roots in search of water. In search of a small source of water, we found a big pond that helped us grow into a beautiful tree. We started working on ICT/Programming related curriculums for Hour of Code sessions taking reference from Scratch MIT. The main objective was to connect the high school students with real-world problem solving through our hands-on workshops. We prototyped our first coding workshop targeting the age group of 10-16 years at Life Vision Academy School named Children Go Coding under the guidance of Mrs. Haushala Zimba, Founder at Children and Youth First Organization. Our Founder recalls, “I reached out to Haushala mam during the EmpowHER 2015 all-women panel session since I was able to connect with her amazing cause instantly. It was so kind of her that she accepted the request despite the fact that we were at an initial state and allowed my team to start the coding session targeting young children under the age group of 10-16 years.”
Image: Our founder with children from Life Vision Academy
The CYF organization supported our cause by providing us with a free space called Haushala Creatives Workspace in our initial struggle days that helped our team to work together. The same year, similar workshops were taken to many schools from different socio-economic backgrounds in Kathmandu Valley in the same year. To our surprise, children enjoyed and learned from it. One of the best educational experiences so far was at Nawa Griha Ashram(NAG) Kathmandu at Nims School where we trained around 40 students. In the year second, Zohra Thakuri(12), Juhi Tamang(13), and Minisha Dhamala(10) developed an interesting maze game to showcase on the auspicious occasion of International Girls in ICT Day 2017 conducted by Nepal Telecommunication Authority in front of distinguished guests as well as they confidently tackled the followup questions logically.
Our mentor-advisors Mr. Ananda Raj Khanal, Director, and Ms. Roja Kiran Basukala, Deputy Director at Nepal Telecommunication Authority suggested WiSTEAM showcase stories of young children highlighting our works in the same event and worked closely for International Girls in ICT Day since 2015.
Source: WiSTEAM & NAG Kathmandu
It was a very exciting one, we didn’t think there would be many people and cameras. We felt a little nervous while seeing the camera from the back of the stage but when we walked to the stage and started presenting, we overcame the fear. We divided our tasks to speak already, which also helped us to speak fluently on our individual parts and tackle the question answers together."
Zohra, Juhi, and Minisha, Students at NAG Kathmandu when asked about the experience of presenting in front of distinguished guests.
It was a proud moment for us and we were appreciated for highlighting the young stories in ICT. With this immense love, support, and motivation from the Ujyalo foundation, Nepal Telecommunication Authority, Children and Youth First, and NAG Kathmandu we stepped towards our rollercoaster journey.
Image Source: WiSTEAM & Prime College
Highs and Lows
Further in our journey, Many campaigns have been launched, such as the Hour of Code and STEM for kids, which basically focus on introductory computer science. We conducted Hour of Code workshops in different colleges like NCIT college, Prime College, King’s College, Workaround co-working space, Mount Everest School, and many other schools. Due to our organization's financial constraints, we were limited to a few schools but offered up to 30 hours of sessions. The students provided us with great feedback that the learnings were incredible.
Establishing the organization at an early age led us towards many learning and associated struggles. Oftentimes, as female-led organizations, we were judged based on appearance, gender rather than our education and skills.
Image Source: WiSTEAM & NAG Kathmandu
While continuing with those series of events, schools hardly accepted our proposals. Rather we were advised there was no need for STEM when they have been providing quality education.”
She further adds,” One of the schools at New Baneshwor said, “What’s the point of traveling at 7 AM while everyone comes by 10 AM? You go there and wait, right?”
Ms. Shivani Shrestha, Curriculum Developer, WiSTEAM
But we moved forward with persistent attitudes against the existing social gender roles, like girls, can't excel in computer work or girls are encouraged to be perfect rather than brave. We have a goal to educate marginalized young women, including children with disabilities, out-of-school children, and indigenous peoples, about STEM activities by providing them with a variety of programs and workshops in coding, design thinking, electronics, etc., to increase their confidence, build their imagination, and become role models. Our Founder says,” Our aim of developing confidence amongst girls, supporting them to build their imagination, and serving ourselves as role models were recognized by schools like Nawa Asha Griha (NAG) and Children and Youth First Organization who welcomed us with open arms. This gave us hope and inspiration not to give up and do our best for the girls.”
Image Source: WiSTEAM & NAG Kathmandu
Our STEM workshops are held in a variety of schools, including private, public, donor-funded, orphanages, community schools, all-girls schools from rural-semi rural and urban geography to teach the children basic introductory programming languages, coding and design thinking, web design, and robotics to over 500 girls. So far, we have also partnered with many stakeholders including CSO organizations, NGOs, INGOs, Local governments, educational authorities, and Youths.
Image Source: WiSTEAM
In most of the sessions, we encourage young minds, especially girls to push beyond the glass ceiling and perform in teams. By the end of the session, they become more confident and do not hesitate to ask questions, which makes all the difference.” She adds,” That is the result we wanted at the end of each workshop and we were getting what we wished for. However, there’s a long way to go. “
Ms. Saurya Dhungana, Program Assistant, WiSTEAM
Almost hit the rock bottom
The journey we came across was a roller coaster ride. In the third year (2019), our founders got a lot of external pressure of getting involved in secure jobs rather than the continuing organization as we were facing many resource crises, mostly financial limitations.
Image Source: WiSTEAM
It was a tough time to dedicate fully yourself to a social cause and coming from tech fields, we were often suggested to continue our fields of studies for the secured life and opportunities. The team tried out every possible way to sustain the cause as well as stay connected with our cause. We noticed our pace was slower“
He further adds,” Though there were few projects, we continued and resumed back with new energy. “
Mr. Baibhav Pandey, Technical Manager, WiSTEAM
In the year 2020, Unicef nominated us for the most prestigious Clé de Peau Beauté, Power of Radiance (POR) Award for the contributions made in STEM education for girls in Nepal.
Image Source: Clé de Peau Beauté
She further adds,” I can’t thank enough for the Power of Radiance Award as this award supported our cause at the core time when we questioned ourselves if we can pay the cause forward and be passionate equally? Therefore, Awards like Power of Radiance can help many girls/women globally to continue what they have started and help the thriving community around them.”
However, the global pandemic got the world into a challenge to shift everything digital. We also went through similar narratives, our STEAM workshops were all shifted to online platforms. Our Technical Manager shares,” Honestly speaking, we were not prepared for the sudden transition. Firstly, Reaching out to children from distant places was one of the biggest challenges that we faced due to the existing digital divide. Not everyone can afford the devices for our online STEAM workshops. On the other hand, as an organization lead, team communication for the first few months was itself a big deal that none of us was fully prepared for.”
But, we exercised the advantages of belonging from a technology background. It was like a blessing in disguise because we got great projects in the same year. We were taking on most of the crucial projects in the same year as we were using technology smartly. The other best part of the year 2020 was everything shifting digital, people are gradually understanding the importance of digitization.
“Almost all of my weekdays used to be fully occupied. I was into research work even if it was secondary data extraction, attending online meetings, doing write-ups, project ideations, and many more.”
She further adds,” The global pandemic has affected the world entirely. We also struggled at the beginning but later we smoothly worked on projects following work from the home module and used effective team communication tools like Slack and Gantt Chart actively to track our projects timely.”
Ms. Sampriti Risal, Program Assistant, WiSTEAM
Climbing the Ladder
The Unicef and Power Of Radiance award by Clé de Peau Beauté has provided us with international recognition for our cause of education and encouraging girls to pursue careers in STEM. We are able to onboard great projects, outreach, and advocacy programs. This also gave our organization a boost to climb up the ladder and continue our upcoming journey.
Image Source: WiSTEAM
"It was such a lively experience for me during our gap analysis visit at Dolpa district with the team members for STEAM Ahead Project. Though Dolpa district is too remote, I am confident that our project will make great impacts out there.”
Ms. Ojaswi Aryal, Finance Manager, WiSTEAM
Gradually, we are lifting up through initiatives of our different projects. Now we are an established organization working on a STEAM Ahead project having major donors such as The European Union and our consortium partners as Plan International, Open Learning Exchange Nepal (OLE Nepal), and Social Awareness Center (SAC). The ongoing projects are the production of STEAM content, an animated series Pari, Makerspaces in the Dolpa district, and a Learning Management System (LMS). We have also partnered with Neema Academy for uploading our STEAM content at their Learning Management System.
"Mostly, I am into my own things of creative designs but recently I did something interesting ie. a voiceover for a character of Rupamati for the animated series as my team said that I am blessed with a beautiful voice. It was a fun experience though.”
Ms. Mila Bajracharya, Design Intern, WiSTEAM
To achieve our organizational objectives, we have been working following the organizational strategies:
- We produce digital STEAM interdisciplinary content aligning with the National curriculum to transform learning methodologies in education and the digital divide.
- We disseminate those contents through our STEAM शिक्षा maker-spaces constructed at different rural municipalities/districts to close the gender and digital divide.
- Lastly, we collaborate with different education authorities, local government, and CSO organizations as part of our outreach campaigns to achieve our organizational objectives.
Indeed it was a new thing for all the team members to start something like production activities, but we all are ready to take on the challenges head-on. We believe in learning by doing and are super optimistic.”
Mr. Bikesh Shrestha, Production Lead, WiSTEAM
We are also facilitating the "Women In Data (WID) Steering Committee", where four of the organizations' named Girls in Tech, Women Leaders in Technology, Open Knowledge, and Women in STEAM are working together for "Women in Data Conferences in Nepal" and are currently involved into the project of "Women Entrepreneurship Data Nepal" where The Asia Foundation Nepal and Data for Development in Nepal play the "Advisory Roles".
And we are also working in the Community of Action task team for bridging the digital divide-Adolescent and Youth Consultation with UNICEF ROSA since IDG 2020 under the guidance of our mentor-advisor Mrs. Maha Elaine Muna, Regional Gender Advisor at UNICEF ROSA.
UNICEF ROSA, in partnership with ITU, UNFPA, Plan International private sector partners, and as girl-led and girl-centered organizations aims to highlight the importance of breaking the gender digital divide by sharing promising practices and inspiring adolescent girls’ programming in South Asia (SA). We share our localized practices on the STEAM approach.
I always had the ambition to contribute to SDGs and STEAM fields. WiSTEAM has helped me open the door towards my desired goals of contributing to the quality education through integrated learning which is quite rare in our country’s context."
Ms. Aarati Lamichhane, STEAM Intern , WiSTEAM
Our team has been working so hard to support the organizational goals. In the five years plan, we aim to pay forward and see organizational growth to institutional and provide more STEAM solutions and employment opportunities for girls/women in Nepal.
"I could see the growth in organizational operational and energy of team members since I joined. I am quite confident that we are ready to pay forward with such enthusiastic team members.”
Mr. Sanjiv Nepal, Accounts and Operations officer, WiSTEAM
Lastly, WiSTEAM and the team would like to express our deepest gratitude to those who were there from the beginning to give us continuous support and motivation which include our partners, stakeholders, donors, educational institutions, local governments, legal supporters, beneficiaries, and board members for their contribution and support. Our deep gratitude to Nepal Telecommunication Authority, Ujyalo Foundation, UNICEF, Power of Radiance 2020 by Clé de Peau Beauté, European Union, Plan International, The Asia Foundation, and Data for Development for providing us with required resources at different stages of the life cycle. We would also like to express our deepest sense of thanks and gratitude to those individuals who consistently and thoroughly supported Women in STEAM organization.