A 12-week remote-learning program for young people in Uganda, called AirScience, launched during the pandemic in September 2020. Developed by Erin Fitzgerald and Samzon Wambuzi, the cofounders of Yiya Engineering Solutions, it used radio broadcasts and an offline app that worked on the most basic mobile phones to teach science skills. Within three weeks, it had reached 10,000 users — including thousands of girls in a country where only 30% of them enroll in high school.
Despite the program’s initial success, there were hurdles. Fitzgerald and Wambuzi, for example, learned to adjust the time AirScience was offered. “In northern Uganda, girls and women do the work at home and in the field,” says Wambuzi. “We had to look through the data and see when students were engaging, what times they could access the radio and phone, and tailor our program.”
But AirScience’s lessons — such as basic engineering and business skills — produced some surprising results. Village girls without access to electricity and water were soon harnessing the power of the sun to improve their lives, making hand sanitizers, homemade solar panels, and solar food dryers with local materials. One of them, 16-year-old Akello Jemmy, even started a business with the dryer she built.
The program, which was selected for the 2020 MIT Solve Global Challenge, Learning for Girls and Women, is an example of how education can inspire creative and eco-friendly problem-solving among young people, especially girls, in poor communities with little financial and educational resources.
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Leading voices at international bodies like UN Women and think tanks like the Brookings Institution have long put forth that educating girls is among the single biggest things communities can do to help thwart the looming threats of climate change.
“Women and girls are among the most vulnerable groups of society when it comes to climate impacts,” says Christina Kwauk, research director of Unbounded Associates, which specializes in gender and international development, and a former Brookings fellow. “We know from a great body of literature that going to school, learning, and completing school is an important pathway to prosperity, individual well-being, and better outcomes for your family, your community, and your nation.”
Whether it’s activism in their local communities, such as campaigning against pollution, or creating a new process or product such as solar cells from local materials, the result is the same: Educated girls and women are becoming a frontline defense against climate change, as well as leaders in climate action.
The link between women and the climate
Research suggests girls’ education, including teaching them about reproductive health and family planning, can directly reduce CO₂ emissions, the main cause of increasing global temperatures. Malala Fund, launched by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai, last year described girls’ education as “one of the most powerful yet underused strategies” in the fight against climate change.