As students across the country prepare to head back to school, a group of 10- and 11-year-old Nigerian inventors are working to ensure children like them are afforded the same educational opportunities back home.
The girls — Ayo Ariyo, Muna Chigbo, Jade Kassim, Pandora Onyedire and Ivana Mordi — have spent months building, developing and perfecting the code for their charitable donations app, a project that’s since earned them a spot in the finals of a global tech competition in Silicon Valley. The team of wiz kids beat out an estimated 19,000 teen girls for the top spot and are now set to pitch their brainchild, the “Hands Out” app, to the nation’s top leaders in tech.
Each year, Technovation Girls invites young female inventors from across the world to address real-world problems through technology. Participants are challenged to identify an issue in their community, then build a mobile app to solve it, all while learning to effectively brainstorm, ideate, research and launch a business/application of their own.
For the five girls from Lagos, who call themselves “The Brain Squad,” the primary education crisis in their native Nigeria has been at the forefront of their minds.
A July 2017 report by UNICEF states that the West African nation has the greatest number of children out of school in the world, with three-fourths of them never having the opportunity to set foot in a classroom. What’s worse, the majority are young, primary school-aged girls — a problem exacerbated by the violent terrorist group Boko Haram’s campaign against education in regions of northern Nigeria where they hold sway.
“If we win, we hope the app goes global to different countries — not just Africa or Nigeria, but worldwide to help every single child that cannot access education and help more kids go to better schools,” said Muna Chigbo, one of the inventors.
Through their app, Chigbo and her teammates hope to address Nigeria’s primary school education crisis by providing a platform allowing well-meaning people to easily donate money for school fees, books, medicine, stationery and other items to children in need.
Atlanta Black Star spoke with the young inventors while they were in San Francisco about the inspiration behind their “Hands Out” app and their hopes as finalists in the high stakes Technovation Girls competition.
ABS: Tell me about the inspiration behind your “Hands Out” mobile app.
The Brain Squad: “We came up with the idea of the app when we heard a story about a girl who was sent out of school because her school collapsed and people died. They closed the school. Also, we see many children every day selling food to make a living instead of being in school. So we wanted to make an app that allows more people to go to school and get a good education.” — Muna Chigbo
ABS: About how long did it take you all to come up with the idea for the app, develop the code and create a business plan to pitch to the judges?
The Brain Squad: “It took us about 3 months to think about the problem we wanted to solve, what app, and to code the app and create the business plan.” — Jade Kassim
ABS: What role did each of you play in developing the app?
The Brain Squad: “I was the researcher doing all the statistics and getting all the figures.” — Ayo Ariyo
“I was the tech geek. I was coding the app and doing the design and the buttons and coding the app. I coded it we, all coded it together, but I did the main aspect of coding the app.” — Jade Kassim
“I was the creative manager. I specialized in the colors, the name and the look of the design.” — Pandora Onyedire
“I helped Jade code the app and the main aspects of the app.” — Muna Chigbo
“I am the communicator, and I was helping with how to talk about the app and our program.” — Ivana Mordi
ABS: Each year, the Technovation Girls competition invites young girls from across the globe to find an issue in their communities and create a mobile app to solve it; what issue(s) do you hope to address with the “Hands Out” app?
The Brain Squad: “The way problem we want to solve is lack of children’s education in Nigeria and other places and hands out will help that problem.” — Pandora Onyedire
“We want to help the less privileged children on the streets. We also want to help with clothing and medical bills.” — Ayo Ariyo
ABS: Let’s talk pits and peaks — what has been the hardest part of creating your app? On the flip side, what has been a triumph /accomplishment for you all?
The Brain Squad: “The hard part was starting with Scratch and moving to App Inventor. It was hard because we were using the basics of Scratch and we didn’t know how to do all the coding and so it was hard moving to App Inventor.” — Ivana Mordi
“There were many wonderful things; working together and working as a team was really fun.” — Ayo Ariyo
“Another amazing thing was knowing were going to help children [with our app] and especially, doing it for children that are less privileged.” — Jade Kassim
ABS: What are you plans if you win the Technovation Girls competition?
The Brain Squad: “If we win, we hope the app goes global to different countries, not just Africa or Nigeria, but worldwide to help every single child that can’t access education and help more kids go to better schools.” — Muna Chigbo
“I actually believe when we win the competition we will be able to go worldwide and help children and we can help impact children anywhere all over the world and help them.” — Ayo Ariyo
Watch more in the video below.