Fatima had an idea. Inspired by her US education, she wanted to bring a hands-on learning experience to children in Afghanistan - something that is not a common component in much of the Afghan curriculum. Fatima's STEAM program, first taught in 2018 was designed to teach 5 modules, biology, computer science, biomimicry, art and chemistry in a fun and creative way, allowing the students to learn through tangible real-world experiments. The camp had the added bonus of being taught in a co-ed environment with equal participation of girls and boys. The success of the program has led to the further development of the curriculum for the future summers.
Fatima's 2019 report:
“A little foam will do” one of the staff in Kabul’s Science Museum for Kids instructed. We were going to set my soap covered hands on fire. Apparently, dish soap can act as a fire-proof sort of protection layer. I was excited; like every young adult, I had a slight craving for a little risk and adventure. As I was standing there in front of a black table with a few cylinders and some cool-looking chemistry related tools, I widened my eyes and raised my eyebrows as the methane gas created bubble and foam in the bowl of soap water in front of me.
I was going to take just a little foam as the instructor had asked me to. As I was reaching out, a familiar firm voice demanded that I take it all. Shoaib, one of STEAM students, wanted more thrill. So, I took it all; regretted a bit right after but kept a poker face. We set my hands on fire which awed the students and filled their faces with wide open smiles, but after a few seconds my hands felt a slight burn and I realized that I had taken too much foam for the amount of soap that was protecting me; I deserved that first-degree burn. But the kids got a kick out of the whole scientific process and my reaction to pain. Standing in the middle of 20 kids being laughed at, I realized I actually liked kids and they can in fact be lots of fun. I smiled and demanded to be taken to a sink to run some cool water on my hands.
I launched STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics) Camp Kabul in the summer of 2018 when I was visiting home in Afghanistan for the summer break. I initially started the project because it was an independent work; at least more independent than interning for another company. I liked the idea of being my own boss (who does not?). It is slightly more ideal than waking up every day at 7:00 AM to get ready for work, so yes, I got a lot of sleep this summer. I also wanted to work with Afghan kids because they are over the top polite and in most cases shy, so even if it happened that I was not going to do that much of a great job, I would not have had any idea. Given the culture of strongly respecting elders and teachers in Afghanistan, I was confident that they would have just smiled and thanked me 10 times a day regardless. I turned out to be more than right, if that is possible. Our kids were inquisitive, motivated and most importantly humorous. Characteristics that surpass bending to the cultural and social norms.
I wanted to teach something to my community’s children through fun, practical activities, motivated counselors and a learning environment that they enjoyed being in; something they looked forward to every morning. What I was not quite expecting was to be educated myself. I had the privilege of learning firsthand honesty and mindfulness from these kids, the best specialists in those areas.
It is a quite a task to come up with one example, but I remember Hasin coming up to me and informing me that he had made smoothie for everyone at home the night before; after our “whole food” module. We had tried to make the most nutritious smoothie from our local fruits and products. “Did they like the smoothie?” I inquired enthusiastically. “I did not ask” he shrug his shoulders. I smiled regardless because that day he had dragged his cousin who was not part of the camp with him. Therefore, I took it as a positive sign that his family (a bunch of educators themselves) had came to respect STEAM Camp and the awareness it was bringing to the daily lives of its participants.
My top priority and first goal for this camp was to create a safe environment for the kids to play, laugh and have fun. Something we, Afghans during the past decades political and social turbulence have struggled to encourage and cultivate. The kids thought of us as friends and mentors, and most importantly returned our smiles and did not leave our high fives hanging. I found a student in me that learnt a great deal from the teachers within each of the STEAM Camp kids, and in return I am very positive they still remember some of the educational experiences we integrated in our modules—at least when I risked my life(!) to demonstrate that dish soap in its appropriate portion can indeed partially protect them from fire. They may take that piece of knowledge however they wish.
This precious experience of mine would not have been possible without AGFAF’s generous funding and Joe Highland’s compassionate mentorship. Thank you AGFAF for helping little sparks of hope and young wild spirits light up our relatively dark nights.
Last but not least, thank you Jonathan Greenburg for your delicate edits on this blog, but more importantly elegantly asking for credit further reinforced to implement one of my favorite sayings in Dari “ your rights are not given, but earned.”
To make a directed donation in support of future STEAM summer camps, click below.
This program was designed to teach kids science in a fun and creative way. It was an honor to be able to include 19 kids in our inaugural session who were passionate enough to come to the classes during their very short summer break. There were 9 boys and 10 girls in the program. The boys were from Marefat High School and the girls were introduced by the librarian of the Baale Parwaz Library in Asef Mayel High School. Most of these kids were already the top of their class but some were there because they had the curiosity to try out something new with science.
The Program consisted of 5 modules of biology, computer science, biomimicry, art and chemistry. For the biology module the kids learned the nutritional values of different foods and how important it is to eat organic and natural by letting the kids make their own smoothies. During the computer science module, the students designed and played a computer game on software called scratch. A trip to the zoo helped to explain biomimicry and how we learn from and are inspired by animals daily. For example, we highlighted how birds' wings were the inspiration for the human brain to build the airplane. An experiment in chemistry with air pressure involved the kids making their own hovercraft with a balloon, a CD and a water bottle lid. Finally in art the students painted with watercolor and learnt about mixing colors and how they are formed. On the last day of the program, the parents were invited to see their kids accepting their certificate of participation.
This program has proven very beneficial for the community, especially in triggering the curiosity of the kids that were involved. Designed and taught with tangible materials with real world applications the program was designed to be interesting and relatable. In a country where summer camp is not an option, this program was a way to make the children’s summer break productive and educational and provided one of the few opportunities for a co-ed environment where the participation of both genders was equal.
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