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 hands that were covered in dish soap on fire. Apparently, dish soap can act as a protection layer and delay any burn. 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 the 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 bubbles and foam in the bowl of water and soap right in front of me.
I was going to take just a little foam as the instructo wanted me to and as I was reaching out for it, 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 I burnt my hands a little and realized I had taken too much foam for the soap layer to fully protect my hands. 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 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 I was not doing a good job, I would not have known. They would have just smiled and thanked me 10 times a day. I turned out to be more than right though, if that is possible. Our kids were the best and the coolest, characteristics that goes beyond manners and being quiet.
I wanted to teach something to my country’s children through fun, practical activities, motivated counselors and a learning environment that they did not have to be in, but wanted to be in. Something they looked forward to throughout the day. What I was not quite expecting was to be educated myself. I had the privilege of first-handedly learn honesty and mindfulness from these kids, the best specialists on those field.
It is a difficult task to come up with one example, but one of the first times I actively saw the meaning of STEAM work was when Hasin came up to me and informed me that he had made smoothie for everyone at home the night before, after our nutrition module where we talked about nutrition. We tried to make the most nutritious wholesome smoothie from the organic non-gmo fruits and products we could find in Kabul. “Did they like the smoothie?” I asked enthusiastically. “I did not ask” he shrug his shoulders. I smiled regardless.
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 tend to forbid youths from. 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 these kids and in return I am very positive they still remember some of the education we integrated in our modules at least when I risked my life to show them dish soap can in fact protect you from fire.
This precious experience of mine would have been possible without AGFAF’s generous funding and Joe Highland’s mentorship. Thank you AGFAF for facilitating for little sparks to light up in Afghanistan."
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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