Limited access to an education is something that many EA students can't imagine.
The lack of educational opportunities for females in Sierra Leone prompted senior Riya Mukherjee to volunteer with the Tennessee-based organization Develop Africa.
As this year's Benjamin H. Read '43 scholar, Riya continued her work with young women in Sierra Leone through the generosity of the Benjamin H. Read '43 and Chuck Bryant Award Fund. Watch Riya's lecture presented in Chapel on Wednesday, Jan. 18.
"We are guided by the morals we learn here in Chapel, shaped by philosophies we hear in history class, and learn to problem solve with skills from math," explained Riya. "Different classes teach us different ways to think."
Riya applied that, "different ways of thinking," to her project with ten girls in Sierra Leone. The girls ranged in age from 14-21 years old, a time when they need to make important decisions about their future. "To better understand what specifically would be most useful to these women, I did research on the curriculums in their schools," said Riya. "I interviewed the girls individually, via Zoom, to learn what they wanted to get out of the program."
Riya worked closely with the Develop Africa co-founder Sylvester Renner. A top priority for the organization is to expose young women to various fields of study and work. Riya helped the team develop a curriculum and instructional videos for the students. "The curriculum centered around Lego's Mindstorm 51515 kits," shared Riya. "With these kits, the girls would gain experience with building through constructing a robot, then coding through giving it life and choosing its movement."
Six robot kits were funded through the Benjamin H. Read '43 scholarship. Before delving into the kits, Riya taught the girls how to use them and ended up adding written details to the instructions that accompanied the kits. She also filmed several videos the girls could use for help with constructing and coding. "In a series of five sessions, each lasting around two hours, the girls built the robots, coded their movements, participated in group discussions, and were taught introductory computer science," explained Riya.
During additional Zoom sessions, students shared their progress and talked about their challenges. In a survey, Riya inquired about the factors that limit their education. One responded that she did not have a health center or electricity in her community. Another shared that her "aunty" did not believe that school was for girls. "Reading their responses was eye-opening," observed Riya. "I had never spoken in such a similar yet different position as me. We are around the same age, yet our educational circumstances are so vastly different."
Riya encouraged fellow EA students to consider applying for the Benjamin H. Read '43 scholarship. "Here at EA, we have so many opportunities to engage in meaningful service, and if you have an interest in any one I encourage you to try it because you may find a new passion."
In 1994, The Benjamin H. Read ’43 Lecture & Award, established by the Class of ‘43 together with his family, friends and colleagues, honors the memory of their classmate who was a statesman, peacemaker, environmentalist, and scholar of world affairs. This program supports annual seminars or lectures by distinguished figures in public affairs as well as an award presented to an Episcopal Academy student in the V Form.
The Chuck Bryant Stipend Fund for the Benjamin H. Read ’43 Scholar was established in 2018 by Courtney B. Spaeth '92 to provide additional financial support for research and development of the Ben Read Scholars.