What started as a desire to help fellow girls who are targets of female circumcision has earned five from Kisumu recognition in not only Africa, but also globally.
The girls, who developed a mobile application aimed at ending female genital mutilation (FGM), are the new winners of the prestigious African of the Year Award 2018.
This was after a selection committee of the Daily Trust’s African of the Year Award, headed by former President of Botswana Festus Mogae settled on the five as the award winners.
They will bag $25,000 (about Sh2.5 million) prize money in addition to a specially-made plaque, and will be awarded and honoured at a ceremony in Abuja, Nigeria, next Wednesday.
The programme was started by Daily Trust Newspaper 11 years ago with the first winner being Congolese surgeon Dennis Mukwege, who recently won the Nobel Peace Prize.
In a press statement by Gift Ilesanmi, head of brand marketing at Media Trust Limited, Stacy Owino, Purity Achieng’, Ivy Akinyi, Synthia Otieno and Macrine Atieno, former and current students of Kisumu Girls High School, were selected out of several dozen nominees, for innovation of a mobile application called I-cut.
Although FGM is illegal, it is still widely practised in the country and many other countries in Africa and around the world.
The innovation has become a useful tool in the war against the vice, which is viewed as a rite of passage and has thrived for ages despite the risk it poses for the victims.
The teens, aged 17 to 18, call themselves “the Restorers”. As one of them, Synthia Otieno said, they adopted the name because they want to “restore hope to hopeless girls”.
I-cut is a mobile application that connects girls at risk of circumcision with rescue centres. It also gives legal and medical help to those who have been subjected to FGM. “The Restorers” are partnering with several non-governmental organisations in their mission to eradicate FGM.
They were Africa’s only representatives at Google’s 2017 Technovation challenge, which took place in Silicon Valley, California, USA.
According to 18-year-old Stacy Adhiambo, the story dates two years back when they were at Kisumu Girls.
Ms Adhiambo, who is currently a first year student at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology studying computer science, said they were concerned about the plight of the girls in rural Kenya, and had to do something to change their situation.
She said she was approached by her computer teacher asking her to be part of a Technovation Challenge organised by LakeHub, a technology innovation centre in Kisumu providing an open space for entrepreneurs, technologists, investors and marketers.
At first she was reluctant, but later thought about her tutor’s choice of her. In their first attempt in 2016, they were not chosen, but managed to be picked from 67 other participants in 2017.
“When we got the chance, we established the app after we realised that the efforts of activists against FGM were not being complemented. We wanted to offer our help to the targeted girls so that they are helped and not run away their entire lives,” Ms Adhiambo said.
She indicated that the app has various segments, a place to call, text, inform the public on the effects of FGM, get feedback rescue button and ‘donate feature’, where well-wishers contribute to help rescue centres.
Someone may ask how the girls in the remote areas may reach the platform without mobile phones. Ms Adhiambo says that they reach the girls through anti-FGM champions, who are able to map out risky areas and access those in trouble.
The Technovation Challenge, which is held in schools in Western Kenya, through which the five girls were selected, is spearheaded by Ms Dorcas Owinoh, who is the programmes director at the LakeHub.
To Ms Owinoh, getting more girls, especially at a tender age to venture into software development, is key.
“The awards the five girls have attained only re-affirm that African women can be game players in technology,” Ms Owinoh said.