Category: Diary

No Party Without Music

CodeBus Africa is a celebration of technology and youth empowerment – and everybody knows there’s no party without music! From making songs on the live programming environment Sonic Pi to energetic dance-offs to the beat of freshly coded tunes and local bangers, music played a central role in CodeBus Africa. In Mozambique, local artists Regina, Klorokilla, Carmen Chaquice, Teknik and Stewart Sukuma visited workshops, performing their hit songs and inspiring the youth. In addition, concerts was organized by the Finnish embassies and local partners in four countries. In each one, a diverse line-up of musicians came together and provided a memorable evening to an audience of young listeners.

The first CodeBus concert took place in the Kibera slum in Nairobi, Kenya, where a bunch of local rappers and dancers got up on the busy stage one after another. Among the various performers were Kibera-born rappers Slavey da illest and Mikke Mzeyya, as well as Kenyan female rapper Pizo Dizo. A crowd of some 300 kids gathered ’round to enjoy the show. Slavey also acted as a MC in the workshops, getting the youth hyped up about creating their own songs by coding. Mzeyya, who is also a radio host, interviewed workshop attendees for his show.

The second concert was organized in Lusaka, Zambia. Local musicians Wezi Heartsound, Cactus Agony, John Chiti and Nasty-D joined hands with Finnish Paleface, Papa Zai and Biniyam on the stage of Manhattan Lounge & Restaurant in Mass Media. Two sets from the artists kept everybody dancing throughout the evening. Cactus’ upbeat reggae sounds literally got the youth jumping and Papa Zai’s more mellow tunes inspired swaying waves of arms. Later, the Finnish artists visited workshops in Livingstone, and Paleface MC’d a post-workshop jam session, leading the youth into a dope call-and-response.

In Windhoek, Namibia, an open air concert woke up the Namibia University of Science and Technology campus with flashy lights and cool sounds, as TheFutureIsGiggz, Bertholdt Mbinda, Samuel Myamba, Fesse Hamunyela, Rushour, Sakari Löytty and Ulla-Sisko Jauhiainen performed their music. Before her solo performance, a surprise guest appearance was made during Hamunyela’s show by local CodeBus instructor Stefanie Garsises, who moonlights as rapper RÖMI. Rumor has it even the concert organizers climbed on stage to sing a song or two.

The last concert was held in Cape Town, South Africa. After DJ sets by electropop artist Emma Kemppainen of LCMDF and Mehackit’s Tommi Toivonen, the evening culminated in listening to South African jams. The girls put on local tunes and got down on the dance floor to show off their best moves. “Hearing their favorite songs was what really got the party started”, Kemppainen says.

Before the celebration, Kemppainen held a 2-hour DJ workshop for a dozen girls. The workshop gave an introduction to a DJ’s work – what a disc jockey does and what the technical side of DJing involves. In addition to the girls getting to try out things like beat mixing on Pioneer decks themselves, Kemppainen talked about claiming space: being confident on stage and believing in yourself. “Kind of like coding, DJing is one of those things that’s seen as a ‘boy’s thing’, so empowering young women is especially close to my heart. I always try to encourage women to be bold – the space is there and all it takes to claim it is courage. It’s a message that can’t be underlined enough.”

Kemppainen believes that music is a great tool for youth empowerment because it brings people together and allows them to create something of their own. Her motivation to take part in the CodeBus Africa initiative was personal, as seeing an older female DJ was what once inspired her to give DJing a try herself. “The girls were really into it and they had their own taste in music and a clear musical vision”, Kemppainen says. “Based on the determination and self-confidence of the girls, I don’t see much getting in their way if they choose to pursue DJing.”

Check out LCMDF’s music video ‘Rookie’:

CodeBus Africa: A Look Back

Starting in February and spanning ten Sub-Saharan countries, CodeBus Africa’s journey moved through Ghana, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Zambia, Namibia and Mozambique, and came to its conclusion last weekend in South Africa. The youth empowerment initiative ran 1-day creative coding workshops for youngsters, providing them with a fun and memorable first touch to programming. Through celebrating technology and learning, the project encourages especially girls to explore technology’s possibilities for their future.

This photo journal offers a glimpse into the heart of CodeBus.

Behind the scenes in Nairobi, Kenya with Mwalugha “Douda” Bura from Tunapanda Institute. Nearly 100 kilos of equipment, among them laptops and headphones, traveled in suitcases with the project team throughout the ten countries. Setting up the classrooms was part of the early morning routine, so that eager attendees could dive right in. All hands on deck! © Anssi Grekula

 

Tadah! From stacks of hardware to a busy workshop. Instructors Sini Leskinen from Aalto University and Debra Choobwe from Hackers Guild making sure no one is left behind in Ndola, Zambia. Each workshop accommodates 40 students, who code their own songs in pairs to make the most out of peer-to-peer support. In addition, a majority of the workshop participants and instructors are girls; gender equality in technology can only be achieved through concrete measures. © Valter Sandström

 

“play 60” – first lines of code translating to audio on Sonic Pi in Addis Abeba, Ethiopia. The open-source live music coding environment utilizes a programming language called Ruby. With Sonic Pi, kids can learn the basics of coding and produce a creative end result in just one day. © Eyerusalem Adugna

 

Each workshop comes with its obstacles. Here both language and computer literacy barriers are being broken, as 40 girls in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania learn to navigate a computer keyboard with the help of song and dance. © Roope Kiviranta

 

What’s so funny? No matter – after all, the Rule #1 of each CodeBus Africa workshop is to have fun. These young coders’ laughter in Pretoria, South Africa is contagious! Volunteer instructor Zandile Masindi from Nokia joins in. © Sonia El Kamel

 

Minister of Science and Technology Jorge Nhambiu tones down the bustle of the workshop and tunes in to some freshly coded beats in Maputo, Mozambique. Part of the official program for Finland’s centenary anniversary, CodeBus Africa celebrates global cooperation and foreign relations. The workshops were often visited by distinguished guests. © Sonia El Kamel

 

We did it! Hard work comes with a reward. Ambassador of Finland to Nigeria and Ghana Pirjo Suomela-Chowdhury and Lady-Omega Hammond from STEMbees handing out certificates of participation in Accra, Ghana. The ceremony was followed by a dance-off to tunes created by the kids themselves. © Vilma Hämäläinen

 

Young ladies interviewed about their workshop experience by WazobiaMAX television station in Abuja, Nigeria. Throughout the spring, CodeBus Africa garnered press attention in the tour countries as well as in Finland. © Vilma Hämäläinen

 

Jamming to Rushour at the CodeBus Concert organized by the Embassy of Finland and Namibia University of Science and Technology in Windhoek, Namibia. In many of the tour’s countries, celebration exceeded the workshops. Additional events, like music concerts with both African and Finnish acts, were hosted by the local partners. © Valter Sandström

 

Team spirit going through the roof in Gulu, Uganda! A joint effort, CodeBus Africa is all about working together. Some 1,800 youth experienced the joy of discovery thanks to 15 local tech and innovation hubs, universities and community-based organizations, as well as Aalto Global Impact, the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland, Mehackit and Nokia. © Anssi Grekula

 

Alison Tshala from Aalto University and Tiyani “Uncle T” Nghonyama from Geekulcha goofing around. Up to six workshop instructors have been trained in each tour country by students from Aalto, so that even though the bus has parked, the music doesn’t stop. Local African partners will continue developing the CodeBus workshop concept and introducing more youth to the world of code. © Sonia El Kamel

 

For updates, keep an eye on our website and Facebook page! You can also find us on Twitter and Instagram @codebus_africa.

Wanted: More Girls in Tech

What?

Women make up half of the world’s population, but are a clear minority when it comes to the world of science, technology, mathematics and engineering. For example, in Aalto University, women made up only 12% of the students admitted to the undergraduate program of Computer Science in 2016. There have not been many signs of improvement over the years, which speaks to the fact that the causes of this phenomenon are deeply rooted in societal structures and that there is much more work to be done.

Innately, girls and boys are equally equipped to learn and apply STEM. The wide gender gap that troubles these disciplines is alarming because tech knowledge and skills are increasingly important in today’s world. It is only just that girls have equal access to the know-how that provides them with the power to understand, navigate and influence our technology-centered society. Bridging the gap and empowering girls both figuratively and literally is why CodeBus Africa is committed to have at least half of the participants in any workshop be girls.

Why?

The society is riddled with gender roles and stereotypes that deem STEM as masculine and consequently unfit for girls. Additionally, STEM fields are seen as uncool and antisocial – and the popular opinion is that girls must be social. According to research, girls, more often than boys, base their self-esteem on their social life as opposed to academic achievements.

These ideas underlie our culture and all of its aspects, starting with something as fundamental as language. They are actively maintained and pushed for by the media, where there is insufficient representation of women in tech. Furthermore, the little representation that exists is often unfavorable, depicting female techies as awkward or unattractive. For girls to see technology as a viable path to pursue, they need to believe that it is not only possible for them, but a desirable option as well.

Solutions?

Encouraging girls to seek education and even a career in technology starts with providing a fun and experiential touch point to it. For example, creative technology is an approachable, engaging and rewarding way of learning technological concepts and gaining technological self-confidence. The CodeBus workshop curriculum is based on these ideas, making music a low-threshold entryway to the world of code.

To further break misconceptions about technology being dull or non-collaborative, efforts should be made to highlight the vast and multidisciplinary life opportunities that technological education unlocks. It is important to provide concrete and comprehensible examples of ways in which one can help benefit the society through technology.

It is also highly important to lift up charismatic women in tech as role models: the inspiration and guidance they provide is instrumental in motivating more girls to delve into technology. By setting the example that girls, too, can be successful in technology fields, we can broaden what they see as possible alternatives for themselves.

Reminding girls of their potential on a personal level is not to be forgotten. Receiving words of encouragement from others can have a positive impact on how girls feel about going into technology – even to the extent of making or breaking whether a girl ends up seeking an education in tech.

Interested to learn more about the topic? Check out these articles:
How Harvey Mudd College went from 10% to 40% women in Computer Science in 5 years
Why STEM’s future rests in the hands of 12-year-old girls

Magic of the Workshops

Last week I had an incredible opportunity to visit Tanzania and see CodeBus Africa in action. I have heard so many inspiring stories of how much the students learn during the one-day workshops and how excited they are after producing their first songs, so naturally I was thrilled to see how the concept actually works.

The morning of the first workshop in Dar es Salaam was full of hassle. It was a new country and the first workshop for most of the instructors. On top of that, half of the students were missing. When they finally arrived to Buni Hub, we found out that most of them did not understand English very well and just a few had used a computer before. It was not a totally new situation during the CodeBus journey, but it definitely posed a stern challenge for the instructors.

You could see a mixture of excitement and puzzlement in the kids’ eyes, when they first sat in front of the laptop and looked at the screen and keyboard.

Then the magic started. Irena, with the help of Buni Hub’s Events and Corporate Partnerships Manager, Mariam, who acted as a translator, asked the kids if they had ever used a mobile phone before. Everybody raised their hands, so she continued by explaining that mobile phones are actually mini-computers – that they both work just the same. Irena told them that today they would be making new ringtones for their phones. The analogies make computers and the idea of creating a song of one’s own much more approachable.

Georgia, one of our local instructors, then took a keyboard in her hands and asked the kids if they knew what it was called and why. She continued by asking why they think a laptop is called a laptop. With the help of a white board, she then went through the basics of using a mouse and the important buttons in the keyboard including the arrows, space, backspace, shift and semicolon. This part included a spontaneous dance from Irena, titled “Shift-colon”. It is pretty easy to imagine the always lively Irena throwing her hands in the air and and singing shhhift, colon, shift

As I found out during the rest of the week, rhythm, dancing and games are an extremely important part of the Codebus concept. They are used for setting the mood right in the morning, before the actual workshop begins. They are used to help the children understand and remember important parts of workshops, and most importantly, they are a key component of the after party, where everybody jams to the freshly made tunes.

After a little over an hour, the children had learned the basics of using a computer and were ready to continue to learn coding with Sonic Pi. I was left with my jaw dropped and marvelled at how incredibly well the instructors handled the challenging situation.

As Irena later said to the kids: “You all are geniuses. If I learned as fast as you do, I would probably be an astronaut or a president.” I definitely agree with Irena, and to add to her words, I have to say that the instructors are also doing a genius job.

– Roope
Designer for Aalto Global Impact and CodeBus Africa

Mid-Tour Recap

Last week marked the halfway point of CodeBus’ tour, when Uganda beautifully wrapped up an intensive streak of five countries. We cannot wait to jam with the remaining five countries, and we are more determined than ever to advance our mission of inspiring youth to discover and make use of technology in their lives!

On Thursday evening, the Aalto instructors’ bunch came together to hear stories from those that had returned, ease the nerves of those yet to go and just share the love. The vibrance of positive energy of the stories could almost be felt! Here are snippets of some memorable moments:

In Ghana, a DJ playing the youth’s own songs and local hits each day, and the awesome dance sessions that followed,

In Nigeria, inspirational women in tech giving motivational speeches to further encourage girls to learn science, technology, engineering and mathematics,

In Ethiopia, using just Sonic Pi to teach basic computer skills to children who had never touched one before, and in just 3 hours, them advancing to writing their first line of code,

In Kenya, 300 Kiberan children gathering to listen to the Sonic Pi songs created the same day, and local rapper Slavey taking the role of an M.C. to get everybody super pumped up,

In Uganda, successfully overcoming the challenge of language barriers thanks to the wonderful local instructors.

The instructors described the workshops as dynamic and diverse, each group often consisting of students from various different schools. In one instance, a 9- and a 19-year-old formed an unlikely, yet truly synergistic, pair. Anssi, who had just landed back in Finland the previous day, said he feels grateful to have been part of an important project and to have witnessed the joy of discovery strongly present at the workshops. There was a general consensus that one of the best parts about being an instructor was seeing the children take leadership by co-teaching and sharing their knowledge with others.

This week kicks off a set of workshops in Tanzania. Today, our Aalto instructors met their amazing local colleagues, and now they cannot wait to meet the youth next!

Aleksi’s Pre-Trip Thoughts

Hi! I’m Aleksi, and tomorrow, I will be landing in Dar es Salaam, which is Tanzania’s and, in fact, the entire Eastern Africa’s most populous city. On the scale of the whole project, my trip is just the short leg of a long journey, but it sure feels huge to me. I have never been to Tanzania or to Africa at all, for that matter. I am approaching the trip with a curious mix of excitement, confusion and uncertainty – a familiar concoction that has accompanied me since day one of this creative adventure called CodeBus. I have a faint clue of what to expect: awesome people, sweltering heat and unforgettable experiences. Apart from that, I am probably in for something wonderfully unforeseeable, which, of course, is part of the charm.

But this project is not just about me, which has become very clear during the last few months. Our Aalto University instructors’ group is a wonderful bunch of interesting personalities, and the amount of people involved in the project altogether is astounding. From the core CodeBus team, mehackit, Finnish embassies and companies to African tech hubs, universities and instructors, the list seems never-ending. Oh, and not to mention all the super cool kids we are going to make music with! The size of the project just blows my mind, and I am grateful to be a part of it.

Speaking of making music, one aspect I have been pretty interested in is Sonic Pi, the Ruby-based coding environment we use to teach the youth to code, make music and think programmatically. I feel like Sonic Pi makes both music-making and programming a breeze, and the Finnish students we have held our first workshops for have said the same. Despite its simple user interface, Sonic Pi really packs a punch. Don’t believe me? Check out Sonic Pi’s creator Sam Aaron (who gave a shout-out to CodeBus on Twitter) giving 2 hour live gigs using only Sonic Pi. I myself gave two 20 minute ones for an audience not too long ago, something I definitely had not imagined doing any time soon.

So, all in all: life is full of surprises and it is very interesting to see what lies ahead. For now, I just have to wrap up all my pre-travel preparations before I get to unlock the next chapter of this exciting journey!

– Aleksi
Aalto University instructor for CodeBus Africa

A Successful Press Day in Helsinki

With our kick-off right around the corner, the travel preparations are in full swing on Helsinki’s side. An important part of prepping has been sharing our story with the public, and yesterday we had the pleasure of doing so for the first time with Finnish media.

Last morning, intrigued journalists from the main national publications arrived at Aalto University’s Töölö campus to learn what CodeBus is all about. We offered the press insight into the project from the multiple perspectives of all our key Finnish partners: representatives from Aalto, the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, the project’s main sponsor Nokia and corporate partner Mehackit took turns on the stage to speak about their roles, goals and motivations for being part of CodeBus.

Tommi Toivonen, the father of the Sonic Pi music programming curriculum at Mehackit, used the opportunity to also demo the workshop software for the audience’s delight. There is hardly a better way to grasp the ease and immediate feedback of Sonic Pi than seeing a line of text produce a sound at the press of the Enter key – unless, of course, you are typing the commands yourself. This is what the guests were able to try out at the end of the session, assisted by our newly trained instructors from Aalto University.

We would like to express thanks to all the media present, and we look forward to updating you as our tour soon commences in Ghana!

See CodeBus featured on Helsingin Sanomat and Tivi (articles in Finnish).

– Vilma
Communications Lead for CodeBus Africa

Training Day Thrills

While they had dipped their feet in before, our fantastic Aalto University coding instructors – or our Band of Nerds, as we lovingly call them – truly took the plunge into the world of Sonic Pi at an intensive training camp held by Mehackit last week. With the guidance of Mehackit’s Tommi Toivonen and Mikko Eloholma, the group of 10 quickly learned to navigate the coding environment and create their own songs. They gradually moved up from dog-paddling to breaststroke in their knowledge of Sonic Pi, while also learning how to lead a workshop in an inspiring and fruitful way. “We could not have asked for better trainers than Tommi and Mikko. They are the best”, says Sonia, who will be instructing CodeBus workshops in May.

At the start of the one-day camp, a hint of nervousness could be sensed in the air. After all, it was a day of firsts: first time properly learning Sonic Pi, and the first time spending time together as a group. However, it did not take long for the butterflies to subside and be replaced with excitement and a strong sense of team spirit. According to Ronja, who hops on the CodeBus in April, there was a warm atmosphere at the camp. “We all had a blast and there were good vibes all around”, she says.

When asked to name one take-away they gained from the camp, both Ronja and Sonja stress the importance of letting go of one’s inhibitions. “I learned how important it is to be unafraid of making mistakes. Trying to figure out what went wrong and how to fix it is the best learning experience”, Ronja elaborates. “It’s all about self-expression, not perfection. We’re not here to create symphonies, we’re here to have fun”, Sonia adds.

The Aalto instructors’ enthusiasm and motivation to advance CodeBus’ mission seeps through their speech as they describe what they wish to pass on to the children. Their hope is that approaching an abstract thing like coding through an intuitive method like music will help the children understand that technology and programmatic thinking is for everyone. A strong desire to empower through encouraging creativity and facilitating feelings of accomplishment is apparent.

“I really hope this experience can have a lasting effect on the children”, Ronja says excitedly.