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Fly for the Future Project Takes Flight in Senegal & Kenya

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March 8th, 2022

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....I feel the (practical) skills taught in the program are something everyone should learn but most importantly young girls because we live in a world with stigma. We have to deconstruct certain stereotypes, especially at this age so that we can get youths to believe, have faith in their abilities and succeed. ~ Dr. Diamanka, Noor International Academy, Senegal

These were the words of Dr. Diamanka, who had just participated in the Fly Like A Girl Program, organized by Senegal Flying Labs in Dakar, November 2021. An educator with years of teaching experience under her belt, Dr. Diamanka believes hands-on programs like Fly Like a Girl are ideal for helping students understand the potential of new technologies and a refreshing step away from theory-based learning. 

Fly Like A Girl is a half-day program that introduces youth aged 10 - 18 to different aspects of drones and applications behind them. These aspects include:

  • An introduction to mini drones and drone technology as a whole;
  • Local role models who are present and thriving in the field to boost confidence and raise awareness;
  • Safe and ethical flying;
  • Real-world applications of drone technology, particularly ones that are familiar to and applicable in African countries;
  • Manual Flights; and 
  • Coded flights, where youth use block coding to apply their knowledge and solve a real-world problem.

This program is just one of the many activities for capacity building under the Fly for the Future Program, and what Dr. Diamanka had experienced were the fruits of one of the week-long training sessions. These training sessions and programs were undertaken and later conducted by drone experts and remote pilots from Ghana, Morocco, Senegal, Kenya, and Tanzania Flying Labs. The program has been run several times with different Flying Labs (like Philippines Flying Labs in 2020), but this was the first time Flying Labs in Africa adapted it.

Equipped with Tello drones, tablets, and large-scale maps, a total of 15 Instructors from these five Africa-based Flying Labs participated in the week-long training sessions, which were remotely supported by the She Maps team as well. 

Throughout the training sessions, instructors practiced perfecting their roles and exchanged feedback with their colleagues to help them better their program delivery. In addition, since there were different countries, cultures, and languages in the room, the program was modified where necessary to better suit the audience (youth) and the local context. The first session, for example, was held in Dakar, Senegal, and in French, while the second session was conducted in English in Nairobi, Kenya. 

Since safety is paramount, the program modifications began here. First, the preflight checklist, which is a list of checks made before the first manual flight, was changed to match the drone regulations of the respective countries. This was done to raise awareness about drone regulations while encouraging safe practices while flying drones. 

Once this was completed, the coding aspect of the program was adapted to reflect challenges that the youth faced in their daily lives. One which stood out for both Dakar and Nairobi was flood-related issues. For this, large-scale maps of affected areas were printed out and used for creating a flooding scenario that the youth could visualize and relate to on the day of the program.

Young participants brainstorming for their block coding exercise with a large-scale map in Dakar, Senegal. Young participants brainstorming for their block coding exercise with a large-scale map in Dakar, Senegal.

On the final day of the training, instructors practiced what they’d learned with participants from nearby schools, who were invited to the program. 

For Dakar, a total of 62 participants from Lycéé Malick SY de Thièsand Educ’Action de Thiès,  attended the training of which more than 50 percent were female. For Nairobi, 42 participants from Nairobi Academy, SOS Hermann Gmeiner Primary School, and The Nairobi Leadership Academy attended, of which 14 were female and 28 were male. 

The Instructors efficiently delivered the program in both French and English but not without some surprises. The first surprise was the sheer number of questions that the participants had. Everything from different types of drones to practical applications was asked. Questions like these are always anticipated, and the instructors are ready, but questions about privacy and responsibility are rarely asked. A few very young participants had carefully done their research before attending the program and asked some intriguing questions. This gave the instructors a chance to share their knowledge and experience as professional drone pilots, an added boost. 

However, the second surprise was challenging with weather issues and unexpected power cuts. Despite this, the team quickly thought on their feet and made the best use of available resources while pivoting when needed.

Overall, the program was a success, and it would not have been possible without the help of Paul Mead, co-founder and CEO of She Maps, and his team, who provided continuous support remotely. We also want to give special thanks to IAM (Senegal) for providing the venue and extra hand for organizing the training sessions.

A special vote of thanks also goes to YMCA  Central Nairobi, school administrations and Teachers from Nairobi Academy, SOS Hermann Gmeiner Primary School, and The Nairobi Leadership Academy for catering and providing logistics for the kids.

We also want to sincerely thank Kenya Flying Labs for stepping in and hosting the second training session in Nairobi when the ongoing pandemic complicated traveling and logistics. 

This program was made possible through the generous support of Fondation Botnar, a Swiss-based foundation which champions the use of AI and digital technology to improve the health and wellbeing of children and young people in growing urban environments. To achieve this, the foundation supports research, catalyses diverse partners, and invests in scalable solutions around the world.

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