Esther Amino and Salome Njeri are from Pwani Village in Kenya’s Rift Valley. There they attend Keriko Mixed Day Secondary School. It’s a small school where 95% of the students are from poor families, and many face issues like drug abuse, teen pregnancy, high drop out rates, and more. The school only has one computer, poor internet connection, and a student-teacher ratio of 58:1. In spite of all this, these two girls created something that is getting worldwide attention.
They developed a device called the Essamete, an invention that helps visually and hearing-impaired individuals to accurately measure distances and angles. They built this device using only locally sourced materials from their school and homes. How the device works is shown below.
With a little help from their teacher Peter Tabichi, winner of the Global Teacher Prize, the two girls have since won the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal Award and were finalists in the International Science and Engineering Fair, a competition produced by the nearly century-old Society for Science & the Public.
But they are not stopping there.
I had the privilege to speak with Esther and Salome through email recently and I was able to ask a few questions about their project and plans for the future. They told me, “In our village, there are approximately 600 girls above 14 years old and 30% of them go to school. Due to female empowerment, so many girls have started showing interest in science at our school about 20% of these girls participated in science projects.” Clearly, their involvement in this project has already had a great influence on the other girls in the village.
Fighting gender inequality in science education has always been an uphill battle, but there is reason to be excited. At ISEF this year there was less than a 1% difference in the number of girls and boys. That’s really close and who knows maybe next year we will see more girls than boys.
I was excited to find out that Kenya has been sending a steady stream of students to ISEF every year since 2013. They have sent a total of 44 students over the years and 30 of them have been female. That’s not a typo, almost 75% of the students from Kenya who have competed in ISEF have been girls.
This information is amazing considering where these two girls are from; a place where most do not think highly of girls in many arenas, including the sciences.
“In our area, people perceive girls as incapable of performing well in the sciences,” Esther noted. “My participation in science has therefore encouraged many to educate the girl child more, especially in science and math. While our school was not able to support our project fully, due to lack of facilities and resources, we still strove and qualified to participate at the national and international levels.”
Esther and Salome have been looking for funding to take their project to the next level. After acquiring the proper funding they will be looking for some help producing more Essameters and distributing the device to schools for the visually and hearing impaired around the world. They say that a few people have approached them about mass-producing the device but so far a lack of funding has stopped this from moving forward. Regardless the girls remain focused on their project and are determined to see it through. If you would like to contribute to their cause you can visit their GoFundMe page here.