By Nicoletta Richardson.
Malian-born environmental engineer Hadi Touré had only been a member of African Sky for a few months when she began to formulate the idea for a project designed to educate youth in Mali about science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). As the Health Program Director for African Sky, she decided to facilitate a science day geared toward educating and encouraging high school students to be proactive about environmental awareness.
Hadi first heard about African Sky during her master’s program for environmental engineering in Orlando, Florida. She decided to join her colleague at a presentation where Colleen Naughton, African Sky’s Associate Director, was speaking using Bambara terminology. “I was amazed that an American spoke my language,” Hadi recalled. “I contacted her and we ended up having the same major in common.”
Inspired by two organizations working in Mali, STEMusso and O2 Environment, Hadi thought it best to pursue a collaborative effort. STEMusso works to empower young women in Mali who are interested in pursuing a profession in science. O2 Environment aims to improve the environment quality of Mali by working with local citizens.
“Since there was only one person from STEMusso in Mali, we had to come up with a plan and activities that were easy enough to do,” Hadi said. “When I went to Mali, I had the opportunity to get a training day on a microscope because my husband works in the hospital, so he was able to get microscopes we could bring in.”
Hadi wanted to promote recycling and sanitation as well. “From the O2 Environment side, we were already involved in building trashcans from recycled tires.”
African Sky previously cultivated a partnership with Bambougou N’dji high school in Markala, where Hadi organized the science day for grades 9-11. “We had PowerPoint slides and talked about what STEMusso and the STEM field was,” Hadi said. “We showed profiles of women in sciences and talked to them about how it was possible for them to pursue, too.” In Mali, after the 11th grade, students decide whether they want to pursue sciences or literature. Most girls end up going into literature. But Hadi designed the project to encourage young girls to pursue the science path.
During the project, Hadi noticed how the boys got more involved than the girls. “When we were talking to the students, I think it was just that guys were answering all the questions, so I got intrigued,” Hadi said. “We asked guys, ‘Why do you think there are less women in sciences?’ And they were like, ‘Oh, they’re not courageous.’”
After the presentation finished, the boys headed outside and started the recycling activity. The girls followed Hadi into the lab where they started observing water under microscopes. First, they looked at water droplets from the tap and illustrated what they saw on the board. They compared those visuals to seeing tap water mixed with the bacteria on their hands, which taught them the importance of handwashing, a concept frequently overlooked in Mali.
“We had a chitchat with just the women,” Hadi said. “They were less shy; they got to ask questions; and they even asked us what our Facebook was. We kept in touch even when I came back from Mali and started a mentoring program between the girls and STEMusso members.”
Science day was such a success that Hadi predicts there will be more in the future with continued support from STEMusso and O2 Environment. After this first endeavor, Hadi plans to spend more time supporting and encouraging young girls in Mali to pursue their dreams in the sciences.
During the 11th anniversary of African Sky’s Silent Auction in Akron, Ohio—an occasion where the leadership team, board members, volunteers, and the global community come together to celebrate the partnerships between Mali and the United States—African Sky awarded Hadi with project of the year acknowledging her outstanding effort to raise awareness and empower the people of Mali.
“African Sky is so lucky to have Hadi as a leader on our program team,” Colleen said. “Although new to African Sky, she has hit the ground running with this amazing education project that has made a lasting impact on the students, especially the girls, at Markala High School. It really helps for the female students to see such an intelligent, passionate, and successful woman engineer from their country to know that they, too, can become scientists and engineers and achieve great things. Given the resource limitations in Mali, I was so impressed that she was able to bring a microscope and use it to show the importance of handwashing. Hadi organized the activity incredibly well, and included many hands-on activities that the students really enjoyed.”
African Sky focuses on education projects, women’s literacy, health initiatives, food security and community arts.