Mmaki Jantjies “The Mozilla Women & Girls clubs have become a space of trust — people open up about challenges they face on a daily basis.”

  • Regional Coordinator for Mozilla Women & Girls Clubs
  • Head of Department of Information Systems, University of the Western Cape, South Africa
  • Recruits recent university graduates to teach tech to women and girls
Mmaki teaching 12-16 year-olds from Mozilla Clubs Kika and Inkwenkwezi, Cape Town, as part of Africa Code Week.

Imagining careers in tech

“The girls who become part of our Mozilla Clubs are in grade nine, because that’s when they choose their final subject areas for high school. We wanted to stimulate the idea of having a career in tech. We want for the younger girls who come into their Mozilla Club to feel like, ‘Wow. This tech club, it’s similar to a debating club or chess club. It’s fun to be a part of.’

We support them, but it becomes their club — they own it and their school starts owning it as well.

Then you go to these sessions and listen to the girls asking you about ‘What exactly does a programmer do?’ you think, ‘Now I’ve got you! The word ‘programmer’ is in your mind, something that you would never have thought about before.’

Even if they don’t choose a career in tech, they get the basics of tech before going on to university, while also creating a safe space where they can talk about women and girls’ issues.

Connecting to university

We also have sessions where the Club girls — as well as other girls from the community — come into the university. They rotate through different sessions — motivational talks from women telling about their journey, workshops on how to program robots, website development — and then in the end we have a dance-off competition. This gets them thinking about the possibility of a career in tech. And beyond a career, playing around with tech themselves for their own personal gains.

Recruiting Mozilla Club captains

Club Captains come to me and say, “You don’t know how you changed my life, by me becoming a mentor to other young women.”

I see the Club Captains starting up their own initiatives in different schools and taking ownership of their communities. That’s what made me realize the impact of the clubs in communities.

I recruited the captains by sending an invite to our post-graduate honor students:  “There is this great opportunity of giving back to the community. Write a one-pager telling me which community you would like to give back using your skills, and how you would do it.”

They poured out their hearts, telling me about where they came from. These young women tell you about the challenges the teachers face. These are the environments that really, really need our help as a society.

Local approaches to web literacy

We try to meet every week with the Club Captains to sit together and brainstorm. We look 
at the Mozilla web literacy map and say, “OK, so this is what we want to achieve with this cohort of high school girl learners, and this is how we plan to impart these literacies and skills to them.” We hear what approaches have been used to introduce those concepts.

For example, in South Africa recently there has been an issue with schools not considering natural hair as acceptable for young black girls. During the group sessions with Club Captains, we discussed how we might embed this issue into teaching tech, using the everyday experiences of young girls.

Resource challenges

Resources are a big challenge. The schools we work in don’t have internet or computer labs. The girls don’t have phones. We sometimes have to come in with one laptop and demonstrate a lot of things just with that, so we can’t get as hands-on as we want.

You also have social challenges, both with the Club Captains and with the young girls opening up to you.

The clubs end up becoming a space of trust, and you get people opening up about challenges they face on a daily basis.

It can be challenging emotionally, being there and supporting them and being able to detach yourself from all these challenges they face.

Mmaki presenting on “Brokering Web Literacy” w. other Mozilla Club coordinators (video)

The Mozilla brand + partnerships

Mozilla is a brand that graduate IT people are familiar with and have always wanted to be attached to. The mere fact of our Captains saying, “We’re part of the Mozilla group and this is what we do,” is a great experience for them. Then you have the teachers who start saying, “what’s this Mozilla thing of yours? Can we be part of it?”

We have been able to take the university to spaces that they never really knew about because we have a presence within them through our partnership with Mozilla and Peo ya Phetogo [a local NGO].

The growth into other South African provinces and universities, and rolling out the possibility of a career in tech for young girls, has been a wonderful experience. Whether they go on to do tech or not, at least they know about it. They know what it means to go onto the internet. They know what a web presence means. They know how to program. It’s a skill that they keep for life.”

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