Wahjay-STEM: Liberian students persevere through tough circumstances to be represented at the ‘Olympics of Robotics’ to showcase STEM ability

We made it Liberia! We made it to the VEX World’s Competition as team, Ahjay.   We had a middle school team of five students, from Buchanan City, Liberia’s World Wide Mission Academy School. The students took us all the way to what is called the ‘Olympics of Robotics’. We could not be prouder. The students had a fantastic American experience, thanks to the city of Louisville. The students were welcomed by the Louisville Liberian Association. The President of the Liberian Association of Louisville, Blyden Kennedy, Orsay Karnga, Ms. Emma Dunn, and Ms. Robertha Richards took care of the students’ meals to welcome them to the Louisville. Ms. Maryehdiah supervised the students upon their arrival for one week. Jenny Spalding, Board Member at large, treated the students to Thunder Over Louisville, to witness the best fireworks display in Kentucky and a baseball game. The Louisville Convention Services Manager, Brad Knapp, welcomed the students with a large brunch and complimentary tickets to the Sluggers Museum, downtown Louisville.

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The entertainment around Liberia’s first time getting represented in the World’s Competition came with its own set of trials.  Founder, Giewee Giah, discovered that although the students practiced the computer code given to them during their in-school lectures while in Liberia, the students were not prepared to compete in the autonomous section of the VEX Competition. The VEX World’s Competition required the completion of three competing sections: team alliance, autonomous, and teleoperated. Autonomous and teleoperated sections required some level of coding to be successful in scoring field points while competing against the other represented countries, Ethiopia, Egypt, Bahrain, China, USA, UK, etc. The story did not end well. The students missed their window for displaying their robot’s autonomous movements for points because they wanted to tweak their codes to their satisfaction.  However, there was an overwhelming feeling of fulfilment for Giewee in this instance. She believed that Wahjay-STEM accomplished what it had set out do.

Once Giewee found that the students were ill prepared for their autonomous skill component, she took some time with the students and teacher to explain how autonomous movement was done.  This time she was not hands-on, this is because she wanted the ownership of competing to belong to the students. She felt that she had done all that she could do in terms of equipping them, students and teacher, with the skills necessary to take their coding knowledge to the next level.  What she did was to showcase to the teacher what she meant by autonomous programming.  She set the robot on the field and asked the students, what code they would implement if they wanted the robot to turn left or right or to grab a hexball. The concept of what an autonomous program was came to life in front of the teacher, and a fire came into the children’s eyes. Once Giewee believed that the students and teacher understood the concept, she monitored the students’ progress and encouraged the teacher to follow her lead.

Each evening, the students had an 8:30pm bed time. Each evening the students prepared for bed to start an early morning for the following day. There was one evening, the last night before the last day of the competition, where the students stayed up past their bedtimes without the knowledge of the teacher, Mr. Onana Glassco and Wahjay-STEM founder, Giewee Giah. The last day of the competition arrived, and one of the students, Nyundeh Gorwor, chatted with Giewee while unpacking the rental car of fruits and sandwiches for lunch that day. He bragged, “We stayed up pasted our bed time.”  Giewee, concerned, asked for a reason why that occurred. Nyundeh responded, “We really needed to get our autonomous program done. We could pick up a hexball and make points. It even sat on the bridge to score the max points!”. Giewee smiled at Nyundeh. She was so happy that the students showed such a strong desire to finish their code and took their own initiative to make it happen.

When the students were turned away from competing in the autonomous section of the competition because they arrived too late to compete, Giewee, at first, felt disappointed on behalf of the children. Then she took a minute to think. “We won. Who could have done what these kids have done in such a short period of time, and under the circumstances that they had. Internet was spotty, teachers did not understand how to research for information to enhance their robot, some did not have basic email skills. Some teachers could not envision ideas past the lessons that were directly taught to them. Once the teachers understood that a manual could provide them with answers, they became too dependent on them…yet we still won. In three days the kids understood how to set up the coding for their own autonomous robot! The teachers now know that a manual is only a guidebook, creativity takes you further. I now understand that the teachers require better computer skills to take our students where they need to go. We won, in the midst of dry,  hard sand and dust, we planted a seed that grew one beautiful flower… we won.”

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Liberia came in last in the competition, yet we showed up. With the lessons learned from this competition, we hope to do much better in the next. Thank you for your support. The students are learning modern day skills necessary for tomorrow’s job market. Robots must be controlled by knowledge of programming, cypber security, etc.  Our students are already on their way. Liberia is now visible to the world, we are a country, committed to providing our students with skills necessary to thrive in the modern world.  Wahjay-STEM for Liberia! Thank you Nyonblee Cares Foundation for this partnership and opening up your school for Liberia’s first pilot on this scale. Senator Nyonblee, we appreciate you and your desire to push STEM in your county and nation.

 

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The Louisville Liberian Association welcomes Wahjay-STEM kids!

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We want to issue a huge thank you to the Louisville Liberian Association for welcoming our Wahjay-STEM students.  Members, Emma Dunn and Robertha Richards quickly embraced our Wahjay-STEM students by providing groceries on the students’ night of arrival and taking the kids to the Liberian Association community the following day. The students are already so happy because they were able to take their first trip to McDonalds. We think they enjoyed it!

 

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We are grateful that they enjoyed McDonald’s because the following night, not all of the kids were too fond of the American favorite, pizza. We ordered a 4-meat pizza for the kids and some asked for a cultural staple, pepper soup and rice.

As the kids prepare for the VEX World’s competition to be held this weekend, President of the Louisville Liberian Association Blyden Winston will have a meeting with a Wahjay-STEM representatitve to discuss the weekend’s upcoming agenda.

Founder Giewee Giah and board member, Jenny Spalding will meet with the kids to prep them for what is to be expected this weekend. The kids will review their computer code, test the operation of their robot, and ensure that their robot meets the required specifications of the VEX Worlds 2017 competition.

It has been a two-year journey to get to this stage.  Giewee Giah approached Senator Nyonblee Karnga in January 2015, by March 2015, the two women made a deal to partner on this STEM initiative at the World Wide Mission Academy. The Senator recognized the dire need for critical thinking in her county. Due to the partnership, the students at the World Wide Mission Academy were introduced to Wahjay-STEM in January 2016. The program was implemented in September 2016.

A documentary was created in January 2017, which you may find here. This documentary notes the kids’ progress within three months of having the program. Now that we are in April 2017, the kids have completed eight months of the 9-month program.  The selected students participated in Liberia’s first national robotics competition in March 2017, the winning students are now in Louisville, KY for what is known as the ‘Olympics of Robotics’.

 

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Video Summary of Wahjay-STEM

Wahjay-STEM has been working on a documentary since January 2017.  The pilot for Wahjay-STEM began at the World Wide Mission Standard Academy in September 2016 and will continue until June 2017. Liberia’s first VEX IQ competition was held in March 2017, and a snippet of that information is shown in the video below.  We understand that there are edits to make, but under the circumstances that we are in to raise the money necessary to book hotel rooms, transportation, food etc. for the kids; we thought we should share the video to the public as is. We hope that you enjoy and find it in your heart to donate to this worthy initiative that can affect more students for the upcoming 2017-2018 school year. The budget and video are below.

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We want to thank our board members for the 2016-2017 year:

  • Patricia English (’16-17)
  • Ama Koram (’16-17)
  • Jenny Spalding (’16)
  • Emmanuel Johnson (’17)

We also want to thank our board consultant for her ideas and help in preparation

Zarana Sanghani (’16-’17)

We want to thank our partner, Nyonblee Cares Foundation!

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Lastly, we want to give a huge thanks to our sponsor, Lonestar MTN!

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Thank you for our first advertisement videos from Rolando Guajardo founder and owner of a videography and marketing brand,  Constell Media.

Thank you for our first large check, St. Timothy’s Anglican Church, from Fr. Stan Gerber.

Thank you to our Liberia support:

Thanks for the administrative help via the Nyonblee Cares Foundation:

  • Abba Karnga (’16)
  • Rochelle Bernard (16-17′)

Thank you for the support via the Ministry of Education:

  • Saku Dukuly (’16)
  • Yukhiko Amnon (’16)

Thanks to our committed teachers, Peter Gowor and Onana Glassco.

Thanks to our first local media representation in Liberia! We appreciate your support!!

Thank you to all of our independent donors who will remain nameless. We, honestly could not do a thing without you filling the financial gaps during this pilot for registration and books.

Wahjay-STEM was founded in 2015. It succeeded because of the organizations and individuals listed above who believed in it. For that we say thanks!

Thank you most to Ms. Maryehdiah Giah for your guidance, advice, and cheerleading from the very start of our program!

Liberia is represented in the VEX World’s Competition

We received fulfilling news on March 13th:

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We had a mini fundraiser on facebook in which we were able to raise 350 out of the 850 USD that it would take to register. Our founder, Giewee Giah covered the difference on behalf of Wahjay-STEM. Thankfully, we were able to register right on time:

 

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The team is so excited! Please see their group photo below along with our founder:

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Our team, representing Liberia is called, Ahjay, meaning, for our sake! In this context, this team’s representation at the VEX Worlds 2017 Robotics conference is for Liberia’s sake! Team logo below:

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We will be attending the VEX Worlds Competition April 19-25th.

We had a great year first year, please view our video, filled with photos below that should give a great summary of the year. Please stay tuned for our next post that will feature our documentary.

We are currently making plans to partner with another school for the next school year. Instead of an additional 600 students, we will add 25 because of some operational deficiencies that need to be overcome in the new school. We want to show Liberia what a standardized curriculum in robotics can do for Liberia’s children.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From Bishop John W Foster Elementary and Jr. High School

During Wahjay-STEM launch week in September 2016, Senator Nyonblee Karnga-Lawrence hosted an awareness and fundraiser program to solicit support for Wahjay-STEM from her peers, who were senators of the different counties in Liberia.

During the function, Giewee introduced herself and introduced the not-for-profit to the community. Those in the audience were parents of the students and community citizens. , In summary, Wahjay-STEM was introduced as a gift to the community and not another aid program. The program would survive only by the effort put in by the local community because Wahjay-STEM was going to train teachers, orient students, and provide the STEM curriculum.

The attendees took the statement to heart, that Wahjay-STEM was a gift. Wahjay means for the sake of the people. Therefore, Wahjay-STEM means, for the sake of the people, science, technology, engineering, and math. Giewee strongly believes that STEM will provide Liberian students with the 21st-century skills in order to thrive financially. Autonomous robots are aggressively replacing blue-collar labor and subsidizing the time of experts in various industries.  The duties of the 21st-century worker is changing quickly. Workers are now required to know how to manipulate programming language and create new robots to complete tasks that once upon a time, only a human being could complete.

The Wahjay-STEM introduction moved a few of the young community students at the Bishop John W Foster Elementary and Junior High School. The students gathered together and donated L$1,500 (Liberian dollars). This donation did not go unnoticed and the donation, by these young students, sealed the character of Wahjay-STEM. Wahjay-STEM is for the people’s sake, and the fate of Wahjay-STEM is sealed by the collaboration of the local community that it serves.

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Wahjay-Kids: Information that you miss in standard profiles, who they are and how we met them

This is a request for all Wahjay-STEM supporters to write a note of encouragement for our Wahjay-STEM students as they embark in an unknown territory. These students were a part of the first Wahjay-STEM pilot and will showcase their new talents at the first national Wahjay-STEM robotics competition on March 8, 2017. Our top students will go to the international robotics competition to represent Liberia for the first time. Here about Wahjay-STEM’s background in relation to these students, and please write a note of encouragement. Hardship stories are welcomed so that our Wahjay students can see that each human being is an overcomer and everything is obtained through perseverance!

In 2015, Giewee Giah, founder of Wahjay-STEM requested a profile of her perspective students and found that her students come from different socioeconomic backgrounds, similar to the public school systems in developed nations. She learned that some of her students were orphaned, she learned that some students came from the ideal two-family home structure, and she found that like her, some students were growing up in single-parent homes.

Ironically, during this time, Giewee Giah was completing her second Master degree in Analytics had never visited Liberia, West Africa. She depended on her partner organization, Nyonblee Cares Foundation for the student profiles. The student profiles came to life once she was able to engage with the students in 2016. Here is what she found:

One day, Giewee explained to kids the importance of a good breakfast before coming to school, here is what she learned:

  • Some students had parents who were not able to afford three meals a day, and those students came to school hungry and desperately awaited lunch during a rigorous school-day

One day, Giewee requested that each parent sign a publicity waiver so that student profiles and images can appear in Wahjay-STEM marketing material, here is what she learned:

  • A majority of the students’ parents were illiterate in both the native language, Bassa, and the English language and were unable to write out permission for their child.
  • All of the parents were grateful for the Wahjay-STEM program at their child’s school and wanted to allow their children to advocate for Wahjay-STEM publically, so the school administration received several calls the following morning asking what they could do.

In the profiles, Giewee found that the student’s grade level was disproportionate to their ages. Some children were 16 years old, and in 6th grade, etc., very few children were in a grade appropriate for their age. This disproportion highlighted how devastating the Liberian Civil Wars were to the country’s education system. After the war, many children sat idle or were required to work because school was not an option due to no funding or no place to host their studies. Now that these students have a place to host their education, and a few have the funding to support their studies, the problem to solve becomes quality.

Academia is supposed to provide some standard level of preparedness for the available opportunities in the community. Giewee found that those offered opportunities were unable to be taken by the local residence because the quality in their education was not there. This widening gap between the quality of education and the roles to be filled by STEM-related companies persists because quality STEM education is not mandatory in schools. Teachers lack regular training and standard testing to scale and replicate an acceptable level of quality to deliver to all students to prepare them for the career of their choice. Students do not have the same degree of access to material that would quench their curiosity outside of the classroom, leaving Liberia’s education in a distressed state. In this distressed position, Liberian citizens have a harder time adjusting to the demands of the modern world. Without a basis of quality education, Liberians are left with careers that they did not choose, for those who may desire more income, they are left wondering what choices they could have made for a different circumstance. Unfortunately, they may have made the right decisions, i.e., choosing to go to school and seeking higher education, but the system may not have been able to offer to resources that they needed to thrive they way they would have liked.

Our Wahjay kids have lofty ambitions, meet a few of them. With an impact-driven roadmap, persistent implementation, and proper administrative and teacher training, we have planted 25 seeds with a growth projection that will lead our student’s satisfying careers.

Meet four of our Wahjay-STEM students:

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Introduction to programming for kids

The student orientation during January 2016 was ambitious. By the end of the orientation, students learned how to spell over 140+ words. The scores for each student ranged but a majority of the scores were either exceptional or satisfactory. Some students improved their spelling tremendously over the period of four days.

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Students also completed building the advanced robot and were relentless in asking Giewee when they will learn programming. Giewee left the students with a introduction of what they will be doing for the rest of the program on the computer. The students were trained on how to handle the batteries and how to manipulate code to control their robots.


Photo credit: Ahmed Jallanzo

That evening, Giewee and Onana (teacher) sat with each other to develop the lesson plans that would make computer programming successful for the students. The students have one month to get an understanding of the code for their national robotics competition and select group have two months to get a comprehensive grasp on the coding language (C+).

The students have proven that their minds are malleable and can absorb new STEM related topics within a short period of time amidst logistics challenges. Students were able to go 4 months without books and yet still managed to understand the robot’s components as taught in class. They were able to get a grasp of the logic in the physics of getting a robot to move within a month’s time without booklets . Now that the students have books, our Wahjay board await the ultimate success of the kids that they are serving at the World Wide Mission Standard Academy!

Wahjay-STEM prepares to take five students to the VEX Worlds 2017 competition in Louisville, KY

Wahjay-STEM is a program implemented at the World Wide Mission Standard Academy in partnership with the Nyonblee Cares Foundation in Buchanan City, Liberia. Wahjay-STEM is an in-school robotics education program in Buchanan City, Liberia that trains teachers in teaching the VEX IQ curriculum and provides lesson orientation for the students.

By March 12, 2016 the World Wide Mission Standard Academy 4th through 7th- grade students would have built several robots and participated in several computer programming activities, lesson plans and games to prepare them for the International VEX Worlds 2017 competition held in Louisville, KY in April 2017.  We invite you to help us to raise the funding needed to lodge and feed the selected students at the competition.

The challenge game for our students will look like this:

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The teacher training is a hands – on learning activity. Wahjay-STEM does not replace teachers but empowers existing teachers to enliven the curriculum in a way that will keep the attention of the participating students.

All students at the World Wide Mission Standard Academy from 4th  to 7th-grade participate. It is not an honor or gifted course for the top students. It is an opportunity for all students to excel in science, technology, engineering, and math in a non-traditional classroom setting: students are encouraged to speak up, teach previously taught lesson plans, build, debate amongst their teammates, and explore the possibilities of robotics in the classroom and the real world. Robotics is the best way to incorporate previously learned lessons from traditional science and math courses.  It enhances a students’ recall, meaning that students have references to help them absorb new lessons.

Wahjay -STEM continues to remind students to pay attention to what they enjoy about the course and their everyday lives so that the students can begin thinking about which professions they would like to explore. We want to open the world of Liberian students through KNOWLEDGE, therefore, there is always a real life example tied to the in-school lessons.

 

 

 

Wahjay-STEM – The students have books after a successful fundraiser

In November 2016, Wahjay-STEM started a fundraiser to raise 500 USD for students to have books to compliment what they learned from the teacher in class. From September 2016 to December 2016 the kids had to begin the Wahjay-STEM program without booklets of their own to study from. While the students were able to make significant progress, learn different components of the robot and understand how the parts worked using lessons in physics, it was not without a struggle. This showcases the students’ of the Wahjay program insatiable desire to learn more. Some students could afford print outs of the e-manual provided to the teachers and many could not. When Giewee visited the World Wide Mission Academy in late January, she found that 4 out of the 25 students were able to afford photocopies of a few of the lesson plans from the book.  The ultimately meant that although all students were increasing STEM knowledge in the classroom, a few were excelling because they had access to the written material when most of their classmates did not.

Fortunately, this problem was caught early, and Wahjay-STEM worked with various organizations to get financial support to get books. Unfortunately, those organizations were unable to act quickly enough to help Wahjay-STEM equip the students with books within the 2016-217 school  year. Wahjay-STEM owner, Giewee Giah, reached out to her family and friends to start a fundraiser. See her original: Storytime here:

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It reads:

Storytime: Wahjay-STEM visited Liberia in September 2016. The kids were taught basic engineering via building a base robot. Each student wrote about their experience in constructing that robot. They worked as a team and were encouraged to articulate the concepts that they learned and their sentiment toward the program to a large congregation of onlookers on the ‘Launch Day’ hosted by Senator Nyonblee Karnga-Lawrence.

My heart tore a bit after reading their experiences on paper. It was not what they said. It was HOW they said it. They were not able to spell their references correctly. They were unable to conjugate and use standard English grammar (The national language of Liberia). I took a look around and realized that there was no way for them to know these things. They did not have books. They learned via only lecture.

I remember going home with a pile full of books in my backpack when I was a young student. My in-school curriculum required me to spell terms correctly and use correct grammar to articulate a variety of concepts. The experience is what has given me the necessary skills that I need to do any job.

Buying a single book for these Wahjay-STEM students will be a stepping stone toward enabling those basic communication skills for our students while they learn STEM concepts.

Wahjay-STEM was not able to raise all that it needed (235 out of 500 USD). However, it was able to raise enough to cover books for all 25 students participating in the in school Wahjay-STEM program. We truly appreciate our donors and hope to obtain an office color printer to use for next year so that we would not have to purchase books and instead print for half the cost of supplying each student with a book.

On the last day of the four-day training, right before the students received their books, the students asked Giewee when they would have the books in order to refer back to the material learned in class. Giewee explained to them the reason that they did not have the books and that they would get the books that they needed in a short time. If you, the reader, could only see the exasperation on their faces. They really wanted to learn more, they wanted to retain the knowledge from class, they wanted ALL of the information. It was heart-wrenching. However, through the help of the community, we were able to supply them the books that they needed on February 2, 2017. If they made substantial progress without the books, we cannot wait to see the progress that they will make with the material. A heart filled thanks from Wahjay -STEM to you, our supporter, for your financial support. You ARE making a difference. This a small step in the grand scheme of the foundational education challenges in Liberia, but it is a GIANT leap forward.

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Special thanks to our individual donors. For privacy, they will not be named here.