10 Things I’ve Learned at WiSci Girls STEAM Camp in Malawi

Education , Leadership , WiSci STEAM Camp

The following is a blog post by Ruby Rios, 17-years-old and a 2017 WiSci STEAM Camp participant from the U.S.

My name is Ruby Rios, and I’m from Kansas City, Missouri. However, I’m currently staying in the Malawi University of Science and Technology for the 2017 WiSci Girls STEAM camp.

I don’t think anyone really knows what Malawi (or Africa for that matter) is going to be like until they get here. There are so many stereotypes and ideas about what people and the scenery are like that it was difficult for me to know what I was walking into until I stepped off the plane in Blantyre, Malawi. We’re in the second week of camp and I’m going to share ten things I’ve learned so far.

#1: Girls from Malawi, Tanzania, Rwanda, Uganda, Zambia and Liberia also listen to the music I listen to in the U.S.

I was listening to Ed Sheeran in my room and was flabbergasted to hear some of the other campers I was hanging out with start to sing along. (That was a sentence I never thought I was going to get to say. As a girl from Missouri, I never thought I’d get the opportunity to go to Africa, much less in high school.)

#2: Girls, while they face different challenges than me… are just like me.

I’m a member of Cohort 10, The Game Changing Girls. Our cohorts are groups of 10 that we are assigned at the beginning of camp, and spend a large portion of time with during the course of the camp. Our cohorts participate in activities and classes together, eat meals together, and somehow always find a way into your room during the night to hang out together.

I can’t debunk all of the stereotypes, though I have learned that many of them are untrue. I don’t believe I could change anyone’s mind that way. What I can do, however, is to tell you about the amazing girls in cohort 10 and hope you can see what Africa is like through them, as I have.

Michelle is from Uganda, and she is incredibly caring. She loves to laugh and smile and makes others do the same. She was one of the first people to approach me at camp and definitely my first close friend from Africa. She takes a lot of selfies with me, and always makes sure she uses her “good side”, even though I constantly inform her she’s amazing at any angle. My favorite times we’ve spent together is when she’s come to my room and we watch John Mulaney’s comedy shows together on my phone, laying on my bed and eating the Hershey’s kisses I brought from home. She and I laugh and have a great time together.

#3: African girls understand American (or U.S.) humor.

Armella is from Rwanda, and is another close friend of mine. She is the funniest person I know, but she doesn’t tell jokes that often. I find myself laughing every time I’m near her just because she is laughing. I love how all I have to do is raise my eyebrow and she just bursts into a fit of giggles that leaves me laughing as well. During one of our cohort activities, she told me she loves how open and honest I am, and I told her I love how she can make anyone smile. We hugged after that, and I never want to forget how nice that was.

#4: African girls also like hugs, and they are always willing to hug you when you’re feeling down.

Rose is from Malawi and is a quieter kind of beauty in my life. She has a gentleness to her that makes her easy to love. She doesn’t talk very often, and when she does, she talks softly, but intelligently. When she opens her mouth, you want to listen. She’s also the best hugger I’ve ever met, and my favorite moments with her are when I can just sit next to her. We tie-dyed t-shirts at camp, and she hugged me as she laughed about my failure of a t-shirt and I ended up smiling with her.

#5: Some schools make the girls in Africa have short hair, which is one of the reasons why so many girls don’t have that much hair.

Also, while many African girls wear braids, none of the girls in my cohort could braid my hair. We ended up laughing at the failure my hair was.

Aida is from Uganda, and is spunky and fun, but also very serious. She speaks powerfully, and is unafraid to be herself. She shares her opinions openly, and asks the best questions. Aida will tell you when she thinks something is fake or deceptive or unfair, and I appreciate that so much. She is interested in photography, and takes the best pictures (ones that I’m hoping to snag for my photo albums later). Our conversations leave me thinking about the world more deeply and remembering that I have so much left to learn.

#6: School is not free for everyone in Africa.

Unlike America’s public school system, many students here have to pay for their education. Also, school is not as accessible everywhere, as one girl I talked to has to take the bus for 4 hours every day just to get to school.

Kate is from Malawi, and she looks out for me without someone having to tell her to do so. The best way to describe Kate is by sharing when we had the chance to buy souvenirs, she took my money from me when she thought I was spending too much and used the calculator on my phone to help me figure out how much I should buy. She tells me when she thinks my room is too messy, which is often, but also gives me hugs and asks me if I’m okay when I’m feeling homesick. She makes me feel better when I am down, but also isn’t afraid to tell me when I am not doing my best.

Grace is from Zambia, and is probably my favorite dance partner at camp. She loves Ed Sheeran and will dance with me to his songs in my room. She is always willing to try something new, and I vividly remember the time where she came to dinner with makeup because she let some friends put makeup on her during free time. She isn’t overly daring, as she is willing to say no, but she’s also not afraid to have a good time. She’s amazingly funny, as she is an avid user of sarcasm. She pushes me to be more courageous every day.

Dayanira is the other American girl in my cohort, but she’s originally from Mexico. She was the first friend I made on this trip. We met in Washington, D.C. and were roommates for the one night we spent there. She understands me and my homesickness best, and is both willing to hang around me when I need it, but also to give me space. We talk about how much we miss food, especially Mexican food. She and I walk to the library early every morning to try to get the wifi so we can contact our families, and it’s nice to have someone around who gets that the transition into camp isn’t the easiest.

#7: Many African girls go to boarding school here, and they commonly eat rice and noodles for their meals.

Asha is from Tanzania, and she is adorable. She is one of the cutest people I’ve ever met. She is intelligent as well; she told us she won a competition in technology which took her all the way to New York. She is willing to hold my hand as we walk through campus and cheers me up whenever I am feeling down. She is thoughtful, both about people and technology, and I love going to lectures with her, as she makes the best comments on whatever they are talking about it and will hold my hand the whole time if I need it.

#8: The girls in Africa love to dance, and not just traditional dancing. They move so well to any music, and know American dances too. I love to dance with them.

Berthia is my roommate, and she is from Malawi. She is an amazing person; she is willing to put up with me every evening, and that proves enough about how great she is. She is a great singer, but prefers to sing in the comfort of our room. She is humble, but very willing to compliment others on their abilities. I love watching her interact in the evenings with the girls in our room, as she laughs so easily. She is kind and caring and the best roommate I could ask for.

#9: Every country in Africa is different, and many countries have many different languages.

Every girl here is different, and I’m loving getting to know them all.

And then there’s Sonia, our Camp Counselor. She is from Rwanda, and is willing to laugh with the rest of us. She keeps in line, but also dances with us and is willing to have fun. She is a great counselor, and I’m definitely going to miss her when I leave.

And that’s just my cohort. I have other friends, like Ange and Queen and Joetta and so many others that I spend time with when I can. They are my friends, and I love them all so much.

I can’t disprove all of the stereotypes and ideas about countries in Africa, but I can tell you that there are 10 amazing people in cohort 10 who have taught me 10 things I wouldn’t have known if I had not come here. With that, I share the last thing that I’ve learned being at this camp so far…

#10: How much I’d love WiSci Camp and the people in it.