The Call from Security
In mid 2014, I received a call from Bank of Uganda: “Hello, is this Lillian Achom of AFCHIX Uganda?”
Me: Yes sir, you’re speaking to Lillian.
Voice: I am Victor Lubega [not real names], a security personnel at Bank of Uganda. You applied to receive computers to support the school of the deaf. Where are your offices located?
(At this point, I was nervous and wondered what a security officer had to do with my proposal to the Bank of Uganda.. “Will the fact that we do not have an office location affect our application?”, I thought).
Me: Thank you for reaching out sir. We do not have an office. However, my team and I normally converge at any public space for our planning and meetings
Victor Lubega: Okay. So can either you or one of your colleagues report to the Bank of Uganda. We have some computers to support your project.
Bank of Uganda joined Microsoft and Orange Uganda to supplement funding from the Internet Society (ISOC) Community Grant for the School of the Deaf project in Namirembe, Kampala, Uganda.
Such unique experiences and exciting news coupled with the positive impact we registered in the communities were endorsements to our efforts and a huge motivation factor throughout my 13+ years of volunteering with the organization. Even as I leave the organization at this point of time, I take with me the knowledge and the valuable experiences of working in dynamic communities.
LinuxChix Transitions to AFCHIX
The year was 2006. Being the only two girls in our class of Information Technology at the time and also very close friends, I was the first person that Evelyn Namara proposed to that we start up LinuxChix Uganda. Evelyn had attended an African Network Operators Group (AfNOG) workshop at Kalangala island, Uganda, from where the idea was conceived. LinuxChix Uganda then became a chapter of the bigger LinuxChix Africa and we practiced a decentralized kind of management. I was the country coordinator while my colleague, Evelyn was the regional leader for East Africa.
Still a student and with barely 2 years in the Information Technology class, I embraced my new role, for it was an exciting opportunity for me to practice the ICT skills I had only acquired for the first time. We advocated for open source among women, distributed ubuntu compact disks (CDs) and helped in installations, taught open office packages, customized and demonstrated open source software and organized Open Source days in partnership with East African Center for Open Source Software (EACOSS) and Uganda Institute of Information Communications Technology (UICT), where we were students.
LinuxChix Africa became defunct, which affected the rest of in-country chapter activities. It later transitioned to what is now AFCHIX.
Our approach was very simple. It was a chain of mentors, mentees, friends and supporters. The team consisted of students of Engineering, Computer Science or Information Technology and young women workers in the Tech space. We had no office location, so we met at any central public place for planning and discussions. Each of the team members was busy with either school, a full-time job or a side hustle but during our activities like mentorship programs in schools and community outreaches, those who could make it were always happy to participate and those who could not still supported in other ways. The student Engineers, Developers, Computer scientists on the team were at the forefront to encourage the young girls in high schools to take up Science Technology, Engineering & Mathematics (STEM).
Other activities included:
- Mentoring competitors of the Global Technovation Challenge,
- Supporting students to submit and present papers at the annual Grace Hopper Celebration (GHC) where over 20,000 tech women gathered annually,
- Up-skilling Technical workshops
- Seminars targeting university students and focusing on topics such as “How to write a good CV” and “Growing in the Software Engineering field”.
Over 10,000 students from Tororo Girls School, Bishop Cipriano Kihangire, Iganga Girls School, Kyambogo College School, Namirembe Hillside school, St. Elizabeth Girls School, Mary Hill School, Gayaza High School, Busitema University, Mbarara University of Science & Technology, Makerere University and the School of the deaf, benefitted from our mentorship & career guidance programs, seminars and International Girls in ICT Days events. At least 30 young women working in the technical space in Uganda benefited from our up-skilling training.
One of our key achievements was installing a brand-new computer lab with 20 computers, a projector and Internet subscription for one year at the School of the Deaf, Namirembe, Uganda. We also provided a Training of Trainers (ToT) to the teachers, who later taught the deaf students how to use computers and the Internet to support their entrepreneurial skills. To date, the computer lab is still benefiting the old and new students who enroll for the skills development programs every year. This was funded by the Internet Society Community Grant and implemented in partnership with the Internet Society Uganda Chapter.
Below are screenshots of chats from two of the excited students from the school of the deaf who had been introduced to computers and the Internet for the first time.
But behind all the registered success stories were a number of young ladies who I would collectively describe as resilient, optimistic, innovative and intelligent individuals who looked out for and supported each other. Supporting & guiding the whole team behind the scenes was our Patron -Ms. Nodumo Dhlamini. I would therefore like to use this opportunity to recognize and celebrate everyone on the AFCHIX Uganda team. Their unmatched spirit of togetherness, volunteerism and teamwork evidently made AFCHIX Uganda to be one of the most active chapters and their efforts contributed significantly to the growth of AFCHIX as a whole.
Everyone on the team participated in any role whenever they were not engaged elsewhere; visiting schools, organising events, resource mobilization, responding to technical questions raised, publicity, writing papers and proposals, photography, the role of master of ceremony, providing moral support, among others. However, each member naturally found themselves in particular roles.
Much appreciation goes to:
- Emily Namugaanyi (@EmilyNemy1) -Senior Software Developer at ThoughtWorks, Australia;
- Liz Mirembe -Database manager at CORSU hospital, Kampala;
- Esther Patricia Akello (@ekisesta) -Applications developer at Bank of Uganda and organizer of TEDx events;
- Lydia Akiriza (@rizalewis) -Director -Arise Open IT ltd, Executive Director -Rwela Initiatives and also Manager IT Infrastructure -Yo! Uganda Ltd
- Joan Nayiga -currently with Facebook;
- Lillian Kamara (@KamaraLilian) -Systems Support Officer at AAR and the current AFCHIX Uganda chapter lead and Technical person at AAR
- Sarah Kiden (@MsKiden) – Research Fellow, Northumbria University & Mozilla;
- Joan Kirunga (@kirungaj) -Senior Data Analyst at Bboxx
- Gabriella Consolata Wangwe (@ConsolataG) -Recently moved from Infocom to the International School of Uganda where she is the ICT Systems Administrator;
- Carol Namuddu (@carolpercy14) -NOC Engineer at Research and Education Network for Uganda (RENU);
- Chenai Chair (@chenaichair) -Research Manager at Web Foundation and formerly Researcher at Research ICT Africa
- Joan Apio (@apiojoan) -Founder of KAVIBE.
- Viola Bazanye (@violabazanye)
- Ndagire Shakira Seruwagi and
- Bonita Nanziri
In a special way, I would like to recognize Lisa Katusiime (@lisakatusiime), a very creative mind who volunteered to lead the rebranding of the Uganda chapter. She designed the logo meant for our Uganda Chapter, but it was later adopted by the AFCHIX board for general use. Lisa was a co-founder of agromarket day and had the opportunity to demonstrate her app at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES) which was presided over by President Barrack Obama in Kenya. Lisa is currently pursuing further studies in Italy. Below is the logo that Lisa designed.
”Af” on the logo is the short of “Africa”, hence the Africa map
Chix is a plural of “chic”, a slang referring to a girl, hence a girl’s face on the logo
AFCHIX Secretariat Role
The success stories that chapters such as AFCHIX Uganda recorded led to more opportunities for the AFCHIX as a whole. With a very lean team of five board members, I was later appointed to be the AFCHIX secretariat and managed its projects and day-to-day operational activities and communications.
I was privileged to have led in implementing the major projects below:
- 2018 to 2020: The USAID-funded, WomenConnect Challenge project: Gender-sensitive approach to connect the unconnected using community network models
- 2016 to 2017: AFRINIC-funded project: Building a pipeline of African Women in Computing through role models and information dissemination
- 2013 to 2014: ISOC (Internet Society)-funded project: Internet for the differently abled community in Uganda
- The annual mentorship and career guidance events in schools in Uganda
- Supporting the development and maintenance of the AFCHIX website and Social Media platforms
- Supporting in organizing techwomen summits alongside the Africa Internet Summit (AIS)
- Secretariat duties to support other activities and projects in AFCHIX and coordinating with other chapters.
Challenges and opportunities:
Like any other institution, challenges were part of the learning journey. Other than struggling with the issue of “location identity” and lack of financial resources among other challenges, one of the major challenges was the many expectations of material “rewards” like free computers for the schools. In addition to the intangible benefits of the mentorship we provided, a number of schools were always expectant to receive items such as computers. This was over and above our capacity, given the nature of our work and financial struggles.
However, I would like to thank the individuals and organizations that came through and provided support that addressed some of the challenges we faced: -Ms. Nodumo Dhlamini (@NodumoDhlamini), Director of ICT and Knowledge Management, Association of African Universities (AAU), who was our Patron and Richard Moon, Partner Technical Account Manager at DELL for the financial support; Organizations: – Bank of Uganda (BoU), Africell (formerly Orange Uganda), East African Center for Open Source Software (EACOSS), Uganda Institute of Information Communications Technology (UICT), Microsoft East Africa, Google Africa, Network Startup Resource Center (NSRC), Africa Network Operators Group (AfNOG), the Internet Society (ISOC) and Association for Progressive Communications (APC)
Additionally, I would also like to send my appreciation to the teams at Lanet Umoja Community Network (Kenya), Ait Izdeg Community Network (Morocco), Groot-Aub Community Network (Namibia) and WELM@ Community Network (Senegal). Thank you to BOSCO Uganda, Tunapanda Net and the many other Community Networks from whom we have learned and shared experiences.
Working alongside AFCHIX chapters, members, volunteers, funders, partners and AFCHIX leadership brought with it great lessons, great networks and professional growth. As a volunteer, having to work late nights and to sacrifice personal resources and time to meet the needs of our target beneficiaries has not been easy but when I look back to where it all started when I was still a student, I am happy to have impacted many communities and contributed to the growth of AFCHIX.