“Without Technovation, I wouldn’t be who I am today.”
Atwiine Sabrina is the middle daughter of three girls raised in a hilly region of western Uganda. Atwiine attended a public school but was often sent home from class for not paying the required tuition fees. As can be expected in under-resourced communities, the quality of education was low, and to reap the benefits, students often had to motivate themselves. Atwiine’s mother, Jackline, was her inspiration. Her mother worked tirelessly, taking any job—cleaning or doing whatever she could to get money—to support Atwiine and her sisters. Growing up in a financially-unstable family Atwiine said, “I didn’t have the luxury to be complacent.”
In high school, Atwiine entered a writing competition, and it became a turning point in her journey. It was a competition between students in five countries on how to achieve an integrated East Africa through social and economic inclusion—quite a lofty challenge for a high schooler to take on. Atwiine poured her heart and soul into drafting the 1,500 word essay. However, on the submission deadline, she was not in school because of her unpaid fees. The essay was to be submitted via email, but Atwiine did not have internet access and didn’t know how to send an email at the time. Luckily, a few of her friends told her teachers how hard she had worked on the essay and they allowed her to come to school to submit it. She won the competition, receiving an all-expenses-paid trip to Tanzania and a $500 prize that she used to cover her unpaid school fees.
Before joining Technovation, Atwiine had almost no experience using technology. Her school had a few old computers, but they didn’t work and there wasn’t instruction provided. Later, her school was selected to receive 40 computers from UNICEF. However, the class sizes were so big that there would be three people to one computer and they were only provided basic instruction like turning the machines on and off and how to use a mouse. Eventually, she learned basic word-processing in school.
Atwiine joined Technovation her sophomore year. She was introduced to it by an alumna from her high school, Charity, who had moved to the city and participated as a judge for Technovation. Charity thought it was a neat program and wanted to empower girls in her hometown to participate and learn more about technology. However, because the computer lab at the school was not connected to the internet, it was difficult for the girls to access the online curriculum. Atwiine convinced one of her teachers to reach out to a local university to see if they would allow her and her team to use their computer lab to access the curriculum. The university agreed and Atwiine did her best to make friends with the computer lab attendant so that she would be allowed back.
For that first year, Atwiine and her team did not have a local mentor, but persevered through the curriculum on their own. In future years, the regional ambassador, Phyllis, connected Atwiine and her teammates to mentors, who were able to help guide the girls through the process. Her team won the national competition twice. Atwiine credits Technovation as a key influence on her life. “It changed my life completely. It made my life meaningful. It gave me a sense of direction and helped me understand what I want to contribute to the world. Without Technovation, I wouldn’t be who I am today.”
After high school, Atwiine spent a year working with Oysters and Pearls, one of Technovation’s partners that implements our program in Uganda. Atwiine is now studying law in university. She would have liked to pursue a STEM degree, but to be eligible for those degrees, the university system in Uganda requires that students have specific STEM prerequisite courses from high school. Unfortunately, Atwiine did not meet those prerequisites. Atwiine said that gender norms are partially to blame—at her school girls were often discouraged from taking science courses like physics and instead steered towards history or literature classes. However, Atwiine has a positive outlook—she is grateful to be in university and believes that technology can be used in any field.
Given her own educational experience, Atwiine has always been passionate about education inequality. Seeing how the pandemic disrupted education (school closings and access to online instruction) and adversely affected students in her country, inspired Atwiine to take action. Together with friends, Atwiine, built a tool which addresses education inequality by helping investors and governments make data-informed decisions to best leverage their investments for the highest impact. Nimarungi is still in the early stages of development but has already won an accelerator in Uganda seeking tech-ed solutions to improving education. Atwiine credits Technovation with helping her get the foundational skills to become an entrepreneur, such as creating a business plan, doing market research, and developing a value proposition. “The things that I am doing now are deeply and wholly connected to what I was doing with Technovation.”
Atwiine is also giving back by volunteering as a Student Ambassador for Technovation. She has advocated for more resources and mentors for girls in rural areas to be able to access Technovation and has recruited over 200 girls from Uganda to participate in the program. In 2018, Atwiine was selected to travel to the US as an outstanding Student Ambassador. While in the US, she was able to visit companies and organizations like Tesla, Google, HP, Adobe, and NASA, a life-changing experience. “Technovation kept showing me that everything I thought was unreachable is actually reachable.” Her high school now uses her story in a radio advertisement recruiting students, letting them know that one of their students traveled to the US for Technovation. To hear directly from Atwiine on her Technovation journey and Nimarungi, check out her TechTalk on Instagram.
Updated in 2023:
Since we wrote this post, Atwiine has continued to work on Nimarungi and to advocate for equitable education. In July 2023, Atwiine visited the United States to give a speech at the UN, and to spend time with Technovation staff and supporters.