Tech-savvy girls aim to make a mark in Burma

Tech-savvy girls aim to make a mark in Burma

Before 20-year-old Moe Moe participated in a computer literacy programme she only knew the basics – little more than how to turn on a computer, she admits.

“You know we girls aren’t used to technology,” she explains. “Many of my friends have Facebook accounts, but they don’t know about the security settings or that you should use email for professional use, not Facebook.”

She is taking part in a new technology training programme — the Tech Age Girls (TAG) — which provides young women with leadership skills as well as computer literacy.

Moe Moe says she feels lucky to take part in the programme and wants to share her new knowledge with others who aren’t as fortunate. “I want to tell teenagers they should be careful with security when they post things online, and what to do if you get hacked.” Under the TAG programme, the trainees visit schools and share what they have learnt with other high school students.

TAG Regional Director Asi Katz says they were overwhelmed with the interest when they first advertised the programme, but could only accept 100 applicants. The course is implemented by International Research and Exchanges Board (IREX) with support from The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

“What we noticed when we first looked at the libraries in Burma was that they were mostly being used by males,” says Katz, speaking to DVB on Thursday. “Since we started the programme the girls have said they want to use their skills for problems they see in the community such as updating the education system with technology, infrastructure projects, and even building new recreation spaces.”

The 100 participants range in age from 16 to 20, and take part in workshops that are run at their local libraries in five regions across Burma.

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They learn how to use Microsoft Word and PowerPoint, basic graphic design, proposal writing and project planning, as well as other IT skills. The young women also establish their own blogs and conduct research projects that identify pressing community needs that they can address.

Librarian and local project manager Daw Ah Win said they were careful in looking at what projects already existed in the community so they wouldn’t duplicate ideas. “We found that female empowerment and technology programmes were run separately, but there were none that did both and targeted specifically a young women’s age group.”

She retells stories of how shy the girls were at the beginning of the course but how gradually they built the confidence to work creatively in groups and voice their views. “These girls are going to be leaders and agents of change — as one student recently said, ‘Daw Aung San Suu Kyi cannot develop the country alone, we have a lot of human resources so we can help’,” recalled Daw Ah Win.

Phase III of the programme is a short internship where the students meet influential, national-level women leaders. The last stage invites the participants to expand local projects such as training their peers in key technology and soft skills.

Twenty-year-old Thet Myat Noe says she hopes to take a job in human resources after she finishes the course. “I believe I can match people with the right skills in the right job and I think we need more services.”

Thet Myat Noe wants to launch a handicrafts project to empower the girls living on the street in her area. She believes she is now in a position to do that because she now has the skills to set up a webpage where she can sell the handicrafts online to provide small earnings for girls who cannot afford to go to school.

When asked what she’s learnt about leadership she says, “It’s not a position, it’s an action.”

Although this programme is only funded for a year, Daw Ah Win hopes that the training can be expanded in the community. She adds, “Boys can go to teashops for discussions, but for girls there isn’t a unique space that is just for women, so I think the library — which is a safe space — is the perfect house for generating knowledge and the intensity of a lady network.”

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