Abisoye Ajayi-Akinfolarin, the Proprietor of GirlsCoding, recently completed the International Visitors Leadership Program (IVLP), a professional exchange program funded by the U.S Department of State Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.
The aim of the program is to build mutual understanding between the U.S and other nations of the world through short-term visits to the States.
Ajayi, an IT solutions expert has been celebrated over the years for her vision to equip young girls between 10-17 years, with computer coding skills, started this intensive program way back in November 2015. Her works are even more applaudable because the girls that are involved in the GirlsCoding program are those who have experienced the hardships of life and would otherwise have no chance at doing such a great thing if it wasn’t for Abisoye’s determination to make a difference.
She started Pearls Africa, her NGO, in 2012 and GirlsCoding was born as a result of her own experience growing up and getting an education in the tech field.
With her making different moves to better the lives of the girl child, it is no wonder she was selected to be a fellow at the IVLP. She attended and successfully completed the three-week program which ran from January 29 to February 17, 2017.
The program started in Nigeria with a briefing on what to expect as an IVLP fellow. The hospitality received from arrival, to the stay in the hotels and attendance of events left no doubt in Abisoye’s mind that this was a truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
The IT Solutions expert was in a group with 21 other participants from countries including but not limited to India, Nepal, Kenya, Australia, Israel, Egypt, Russia, Switzerland, Afghanistan, Australia, Barbados, Russia, Sri Lanka, Morocco, Uganda and South Sudan. The focus of her group was: Education and Activism for Young Women.
For the 3 week duration of the program, which began in Washington D.C, Abisoye visited, in no particular order, Seattle, Minnesota, Florida (where the group was split into three cities).
These visits included going to political institutions for women in Washington D.C and experiencing firsthand, the steps taken to introduce and implement young girls into the inner workings of democracy and politics. In Seattle, where she stayed for a week, there was a Leadership Workshop with Cathy Allen where Abisoye learnt how to build action plans for implementing empowerment strategies for women in Nigeria.
Next was Florida. Here, the PACE Centre for Girls, an NGO that runs a program for girls between 12 – 18, who are otherwise considered to be runaways, delinquents, truants, dependent or in need of academic skills, was visited. At this organization, Abisoye learnt how an educational program could be used to nurture and build the self-confidence and leadership skills of at-risk girls. There was also a High school visit where a discussion on the leadership roles for girls and the purpose/function of a student government association, was held with the Escambia High School Students Government Association.
Abisoye’s last week was spent in Minnesota where she explored creative partnerships between non-governmental organizations, community groups, public and private schools and government agencies in addressing the development of young women.
The conversations on Young Women and Education with Senator Pappas (Minnesota State Senator), Councilwoman Viagran, Suzi LeVine (former US Ambassador to Switzerland) and Councilwoman Sherri Myers (City of Pensacola), on different occasions, made all the difference as Abisoye’s team of 22 learnt more and more about the work that is ahead of them in fighting for young women.
The stops made to the Space Museum, the Ballet, restaurants, the American mall, etc., to balance out the equation of acquiring knowledge and learning more about the places visited, really opened Abisoye’s mind to just how friendly, unassuming and ready-to-help Americans are.
Besides the fact that fellows get to meet and share ideas with professional counterparts, gain a greater understanding of the workings of the U.S and experience the richness of the American culture, the most outstanding thing about the IVLP, would be the diversity of fellows that just shines through which helped Abisoye Ajayi to understand the other cultures of the individuals in her group.
Abisoye Ajayi not only learnt from the many roundtable discussions and experienced the American culture, but she also managed to represent Nigeria so well that she could convince a couple of people, who were adverse to coming down to Africa, to pay a visit.
With her new connections and knowledge concerning the best practices in leadership for women, she will be making more attempts to infuse the programs and sessions attended at the IVLP program for girls and women to build on leadership skills, self-expression, confidence and critical thinking.
In her words, “after seeing the various Girls’ focused institutions in the United States, I am motivated to expand the program of my organization to include Leadership and Politics and I am already working with some IVLP Alumni on how to expand the impact of my work”.