September 28, 2022

First batch of 125 Sierra Leonean Women and girls have yesterday passed out of Orange’s Digital Centre for Women in Freetown after completing various computer courses. The graduation ceremony which took place at the National Youth Commission (NAYCOM) headquarters was the first after the centre was launched a year ago.

Various dignitaries including the Chief Executive Officer, Aminata Kane Ndiaye and Minister of Gender and Children’s Affairs were in attendance. The the new skills will help women favourably compete for jobs in the digital age.

Orange Sierra Leone prides itself with a foundation that handles its corporate philanthropy solely for the less privileged and vulnerable. The unit was set up last year, and has achieved great result especially in times of crises.

It is headed by one of the company’s director, Jestina Betts. Betts who was addressing the young graduands saw the ceremony as the achievement of an important milestone in the empowerment of women saying 70% of women are illiterates.

Even among the educated women, she went on, only 5% had digital skills following the launch of free quality education scheme in 2018. Betts also pointed out discrimination of young women and girls, forced marriages and other harmful practices as barriers to women’s advancement. The training of women, she went on in digitalisation was the right step that  brought  about transformation in  women’s lives.

“The women who have been trained for successful careers have made themselves employable and they can now explore the world,” she emphasised.

Betts further spoke about the need for an increased commitment and investment in women and girls especially creating the digital space for them. She said the young women faced several challenges when they gained entrance in universities adding that the company is committed to providing the required support.

Orange SL CEO,  Aminata Ndiaye who oversaw the establishment of the centre said  it was  purely to improve the digital skills of women. She stated that NAYCOM was the best institution to partner with  to realize her digital dream.

“Digital literacy and numeracy is helping women gain employment in various fields,” she emphasised.

Orange CEO who is passionate for women’s advancement, urged the graduands to make themselves relevant to national development. The graduands must also take responsibility as agents of change in their communities.

“You have a responsibility not only to succeed, but to pass on the knowledge acquired from the digital centre to others,” she appealed.

The firebrand CEO sees the graduating students as women with the required strength and power they could use to advance themselves. The digital centre is one in a stream of major interventions the company has made to change the country’s sad narrative of the digital divide in Sierra Leone.

Mrs Ndiaye also spoke about key achievements which the company had recorded in the fields of education and health and other sectors of development during her tenure. Head of National Youth Commission (NAYCOM), Thomas Ngolo Katta described the graduation ceremony as a red-lettered day.

Katta refered to the digital centre as a commissioner’s project that would be replicated in other parts of the country.

“I wanted to see other digital centres opened in kabala, Bombali, Kenema and Bo,” he expressed hope.

The NAYCOM chief also informed the graduands that the women population accounts for about 51% of Sierra Leoneans thus making a case for the creation of opportunities for women to actively participate in national development. He called on Sierra Leoneans to reduce violence and prevent situations that lead to war so that an ideal platform could be created for women’s contribution to society. Katta also made reference to a study conducted by the International Labour Organisation whose key finding, he said,  was lack of digital skills in women.

The ILO report, he went on, explained how women could  be empowered in a male-dominated society. Government places top priority on education for development and the training of the women is in line with the Mid-Term National Development Plan, 2019-2023.

The NAYCOM commissioner called on community stakeholders to allow women interact with the environment well without any form of harassment. “Girls must be made to look special and open the latitude for them to compete with men,” he appealed.

Katta who said the commission worked in public-private partnership   promised the graduands that he would lobby for them to get jobs to show their skills they have acquired. A female parliamentarian who hailed from the eastern district of Kenema inspired the graduands to change the country’s narrative regardless of backgrounds from which they hail.

The MP pointed out some examples of men from humble homes who broke barriers to become successful.

She convinced the graduands to know that in every period, there is a fresh example of men who have risen from rags to riches. She also called on the  graduands to copy those good examples for their future successes.

One of the graduating students, Kassandra Bangura, a former pupil of Methodist Girls High School in Freetown expressed her gratitude for the course which she said had empowered her in the digital world. “During our days in school,  teachers gave us notes by writing on the blackboard. Now, I have learned something new,” she expressed joy.

With these skills, Bangura said the graduands would be honoured in society. The keynote address was made by the Minister of Gender and Children’s Affairs, Manty Tarawallie. The minister started her  address by showering praises for Orange SL for improving  telecoms services in her hometown in Koinadugu district in the north.

She also expressed her elation for certifying the graduands. The minister painted a picture of how women’s right of access to resources were restricted owing to long-standing gender roles in communities.

Skills development, Mrs Tarawallie said, was one of key priorities for government. “We need to close the gap between private sector aspiration and digital skills,” she said.

She reminded the graduands that they had acquired skills they could use for survival, and called on them to utilise the life experiences to influence others. The Gender Affairs Ministry was clear when she said absence of digital skills made women unemployable, but with the training, a new narrative is here.

“Women empowerment is one of the most urgent ways for national development,” she summed it up.

Cutting of the tape by the minister formed one of the most important events of the ceremony. The sponsorship of the women is one in a latest streams of interventions Orange SL has made to the education sector.

The company has constructed three early child development schools in five districts in Sierra Leone. Kambia, Moyamba, Pujehun, PortLoko and Bonthe were the districts that has benefitted.

These projects are led by Aminata Kane Ndiaye whose message to parents is to take kids of pretty-school age to the facilities. “I want to see the next generation of presidents and ministers from these schools,” she expressed hope.

The pre-school project is followed by key Orange Sierra Leone’s interventions in many sectors of development especially health. The company has been rolling out one of the biggest health projects in the biggest slum community in Freetown. It targets pregnant, lactating mothers and under-fives.