Ringing in the Year Ahead

September 1st marks the first day of school all across Moldova. Every school starts out the day with some sort of special celebration complete with welcoming the new 1st grade students to their first day of school and acknowledging the seniors as they begin their last year of school.

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The seniors walked in to the first bell ceremony holding the hands of the 1st graders and walked them around the circle. 

The celebrations are typically complete with special music, dancing, singing, and/or reciting poetry. I had the opportunity to go to the first bell with my host sister from pre-service training (PST) and see her start her 10th year in school.  This was all shortly after I had arrived back in Moldova and was grateful I could join in this tradition as it also marked beginning my 3rd year as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Moldova.

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Young girls presented a traditional bread on a traditional hand-stitched cloth to the director of the school.

You could sense the anticipation of the school year from all the various ages, including the parents. I had learned that many of the children are not even from this village as they are transported in from other nearby villages so they can attend school for the year.

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Genuine excitement for the 1st graders since they got their first books for school during the ceremony. 

At the end of the first bell ceremony, the tradition is that a senior boy carries a 1st grade girl on his shoulders as she rings the bell… literally ringing in the start of the school year.

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Here’s to a bright school year ahead for all the students and teachers! Noroc!

Inspirational Experiences from the Technovation World Pitch Summit

Part 3: This is the third part of a series about our recent journey to San Francisco for the 2016 Technovation World Pitch Summit. The first and second parts of this series were shared earlier this week.

From Moldova we had 3 different programs going on during the Technovation World Pitch Summit. I was attending training for the new Master Educator program while another girl was attending a similar and new training but for Student Ambassadors. We met with others from around the globe and discussed how we can grow the programs in our respective countries and learn from one another. In addition, we had a group of girls from Moldova attending as a visiting team, they had won the regional pitch event and as the grand prize they advanced to the semi-final round and had the opportunity to attend the Technovation World Pitch event along with their mentor. All of this was possible thanks to local generous sponsors Girls Go IT, Sun Communications, Tekwill and the many individuals who supported the Indiegogo campaign. You can read more about their app idea here from a previous post. We’ll be sharing more in detail about all the “cool” things the girls from the visiting team had the opportunity to see and experience.

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All of us sporting the new Technovation Moldova t-shirts before departing for San Francisco.

The first part of the World Pitch Summit started with a tour of the city for the girls from the visiting team. They visited the Golden Gate Bridge, the De Young Museum, Fisherman’s Wharf and the Crookedest street. Time during which the girls had the chance to interact with all the other visiting teams and the Technovation staff.

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All of the girls and mentors between the visiting teams and finalist teams from all over the world.

The first day ended with a panel discussion at Twitter where 6 successful women from project managers to programmers and engineers shared their professional paths that got them to Twitter. Most importantly, they advised the girls on future steps to take in order to build stronger CVs.

The second day of the Conference was all about Silicon Valley and inspiration. The girls started with a trip to Intuitive Surgical, a company that designs and produces surgical robots. They got to try using a robot and to see how it is produced giving them more insights into operation processes.

The day continued with a programming workshop at Intel.

Next in line were a couple of workshops at Yahoo, where the girls got useful insights about their app’s design and accessibility.

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The girls are having their app tested and were given feedback on ways to improve it for useability

In the evening, the girls attended the World Pitch Conference where they met the finalists and had the chance to talk with them about their apps and business ideas they developed.

But the learning didn’t stop here. The following day, the girls attended 2 workshops of their own preference. They had a list of choices including a Women in Tech Panel; Enabling Voice Driven Smart Home Experiences with Amazon Alexa; How to Tell a Visual Story; Imagination in Virtual Reality; Technovation Alumni Panel; Data Science: Finding Hidden Treasures in Piles of Messy, Chaotic Data; Python and the Twitter API; and Meaningful User Journeys.

One of the girls, Sanda shared with us about one of the workshops she attended; the panel of Women in Tech. During this panel she met some amazing women whose careers were connected to technology or entrepreneurship and they gave advice and shared their stories. Some of the things she had learned and taken from this unique panel of women included “Life is a journey and every moment in life is teachable.” Also that “Failure is a part of success.”

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The conference ended with leading to the evening of the World Pitch Event that was open to the public. The girls from the visiting teams along with the finalists teams had the chance to showcase their app ideas during a table-top exhibit. The girls did an amazing job with their table-top presentation and interacting with all the people that came by to learn more about their idea.

The World Pitch Summit ended with an extraordinary breakfast at Autodesk, where besides saying goodbye to all the participants the girls had the opportunity to discover more technologies and innovations in different industries, sports, medicine, constructions, cars, physics and many more.

On the last day before leaving for Moldova the girls were able to make a quick visit to the California Academy of Sciences. The girls saw a planetarium and an aquarium for the first time. They found the experience to be very enlightening.

The girls are grateful for the opportunity to have been able to meet others in the tech industry and see places and experience things they dreamed of. They are eager to continue to learn and further develop the Technovation community in Moldova. We look forward to the year ahead as they inspire others to continue to learn and grow and look at things in a new way.

Coming up over the next couple of weeks – interviews from the girls and their mentor!

Special thanks to Ana Efros, the girls’ mentor for helping to write this post.

A Whirlwind Visit to San Francisco with Moldovan Girls

I recently returned from a week-long trip in San Francisco along with 4 Moldovan girls and their amazing mentor. This is will be the first part of a series about our recent journey to San Francisco from Moldova. There is so much to share and it would have been a really long blog post, so I’ll be sharing it in a few parts along with some follow-up interviews with some of the girls later.

For some of them this was their first time flying on an airplane, as well as their first time being in the US. So I had the opportunity to see so many things through their eyes for the first time.

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First time flying on an airplane…

Although we were all there for Technovation, it was a bit different schedule for all of us throughout the week.

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All of us at the final pitch event at Intuit in Mountain View, CA.

Moldova had a visiting team attending the Technovation World Pitch Summit they got to connect with the competition finalist teams as well as 5 other visiting teams from around the globe. The finalist teams were from USA, Canada, Mexico, Kenya, India, Kazakhstan, and Cameroon while the visiting teams included Uganda, Australia, Tunisia, and of course Moldova. The girls made new friends and learned a lot of new things about the cultural differences and similarities between them.

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Diana with some of the girls from Tunisia. (photo from Diana Marusic)

There was also an 18 year old student ambassador representing Moldova who was able to connect with 14 other student ambassadors from around the world. Their goal is to continue to develop and promote the Technovation program in their communities and gather more girls interest.

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First time flying on an airplane…

As for me, I was attending as part of the new Technovation Master Educator program along with 30 other educators from around the world. We went through a great collaborative training that helped set us up for the next 2 years of expanding Technovation within our communities. I enjoyed getting to know the other educators representing various parts of the world including Uganda, Bolivia, Mexico, Palestine, Turkey, Peru, Canada, Tunisia, Cameroon, Australia, Nigeria, Spain, India, South Africa, Rwanda, UK, Vanuatu, Cambodia, Morocco, Rep. of Georgia, Moldova and USA. I wish we would have had more time to spend together in person as it was a valuable resource to discuss similarities and differences of working with teams in our communities.

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All of the Master Educators (promoting Morocco’s eSTEM program) [photo from Ayoub Rahmouni]
It was an incredible experience. Visiting San Francisco and even California was a first for me and I LOVED it. It was an amazing opportunity as it opened the girls’ minds even further into the field of technology. They got to meet women working in Silicon Valley who shared their stories about their journey within the tech industry. They had the chance to attend hands-on workshops and to discuss their app idea with other teams and professionals in the industry.

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The girls at Yahoo discussing their app with other girls. (photo from Ana Efros)

These impressions will last a lifetime and I can see first-hand the impact it has had on them and how they will be able to take this and share it with so many other girls and their peers to inspire them in their futures as well.

I will be sharing more details over the next couple of days/weeks about this experience and the insights shared by the girls about their experience. Stay tuned, more to come soon!

A huge THANK YOU to the Technovation and Iridescent staff and all the sponsors who made this all possible in addition to the local partners Girls Go IT, Tekwill, and Sun Communications along with all the Indiegogo campaign funders who made it possible for the girls from Moldova to attend! 

My bags are packed & I’m ready to go…

Where to now?
My bags are packed, and I’m ready to go!  I’m heading to the US for the first time in 2 years! But… I won’t be going home to Pennsylvania just yet…
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I have the amazing opportunity to travel to San Francisco for about a week for training for the inaugural Master Educator program with Technovation. It just so happens that the training will be happening at the 2016 World Pitch Summit. That means I’ll be in San Francisco at the same time as the girls who are participating as a visiting team to attend this global event. I’m thrilled to be able to experience this along with them!

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Also, in addition to the visiting team, a girl from Moldova was selected to participate in the first-ever student ambassador program and will be attending a similar training in San Francisco at the same time. We’ll be traveling together and she’ll be experiencing her first plane ride and probably by the end of the week she’ll be tired of my jokes.

I’m so excited for this opportunity especially for all the girls and their mentor. For most of the girls this is their first time flying on an airplane and traveling to the US. Plus, they’ll get to connect with many new people from all over the world in addition to learning all sorts of new things relating to technology.

What will the girls be doing at this event?
The girls will be participating as a visiting team, which is possible thanks to the amazing local partner sponsors: Girls Go IT, Sun Communications, and Tekwill. Also possible thanks to the many individuals near and far that made it a reality through the fundraising campaign that was launched a few months ago. As a visiting team, they get to attend the World Pitch Summit just like the 10 finalists teams except they won’t be pitching their app idea. They’ll be one of 7 visiting teams from around the world who will get to meet other inspiring girls who are interested in tech and have the opportunity to build connections with other teams and learn from one another. The girls will also get to tour tech companies in Silicon Valley and also will share their app idea during the showcase event (like a tabletop expo). In addition to this, we hope to be able to connect them with some women in the tech industry who are from Moldova as well, but those details have still yet to be worked out.

What will I be doing?
As for me, I’ll be attending a training for the new Master Educator program where I’ll get to meet other Master Educators from all over the world to connect and collaborate on ideas and ways to encourage and engage girls in the Technovation program. I’m looking forward to meeting them all and learning from them! I’ll also get to attend the World Pitch event and see the top 10 finalists teams pitch their app ideas. The results will be announced the following day, in addition to hearing from keynote speaker, Debbie Sterling, Founder and CEO of Goldieblox (if you hadn’t heard of her and this product yet, you should check it out!)

What’s for the future?
So then, what? All of this is great, super exciting and full of all sorts of connecting and learning for all of us. The girls from the visiting team will take away ideas on how to improve their app idea and will be part of the 2017 edition of Technovation in Moldova. Then, both the student ambassador and I will take from the training’s an action plan for the year ahead for Moldova along with lots of ideas from others on what has worked or not worked for them in their communities. We’ll work on implementing them starting in the fall. I’ll share more about the work I’ll be doing in the next year ahead another time, but as you can see from this, Technovation Challenge will still be a part it. 🙂

I’ll share more once we return from San Francisco!

Inspired by Girls in Technovation Challenge

I continue to be inspired young high school girls during my Peace Corps service.

When I think back to when I was 14 or 15, I was definitely not as motivated or driven as many of the the young ladies I met last weekend. On Sunday, April 24 we hosted a big Technovation Challenge Moldova regional event where teams from all over the country came together to share their projects on ways to solve problems in their community through a cell phone app and business plan they created.

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Team App Queens from Chisinau and Ungheni with their amazing mentors.

We had 9 teams from Moldova successfully submit projects and 8 teams presented their projects at the official regional pitch event where local teams competed for the opportunity to move to the semi-final round of the global competition. This is the 3rd year that Moldova has participated and each year the interest continues to grow.

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Teams shared their projects and mobile apps in approaching solutions to issues in their communities such as tourism, reducing plastic bag use, teen suicide, corruption, and migrant workers.

We had a wonderfully diverse panel of judges who volunteered their time to come and learn about all these projects and to determine the winning semi-finalist Moldovan team. All of the girls were acknowledged for successfully submitting their projects with fancy Technovation certificates. Honorable mention, second place was awarded to team “Do it for Bunica” who has recently been making waves with their business idea in Moldova.

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Steve, fellow Peace Corps Volunteer with his girls from team “Do it For Bunica” from Orhei.

The “Do it for Bunica” team created an app that offers an online platform for migrant workers from Moldova to hire local youth helpers to assist their elderly parents with household chores. Recently they had also gone through another competition, Diamond Challenge where they made it to the finals and traveled to Delaware. They pitched their business idea and were awarded 1st prize and brought home $10,000 to help make the business idea happen!

Team HAI, composed of three high school girls from the capital city of Chisinau were awarded 1st place and a spot in the semi-final round of the Technovation Challenge. Their app, “Handmade Goods Moldova” is a shopping app, designed for social centers in Moldova to sell handmade goods produced by disabled persons. Socially-minded shoppers are able to browse photos of the products and proceed to buy them through the app.

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Team App Queens from Chisinau and Ungheni with their amazing mentors.

As a surprise, we announced to them at the event that they will have the opportunity to travel to San Francisco to attend the Technovation World Pitch Summit in July! Currently we are in the crowdfunding phase of reaching our goal to raise funds so we can send the girls along with their mentor so they can attend workshops, showcase their project, network with other girls around the world and tour tech businesses in Silicon Valley. This is an incredible opportunity for these girls, who for some of them, this was their 2nd and 3rd time competing in this challenge.

Help make this a reality for these girls! Click on the campaign link below to support these girls. A number of fun perks are available for supporters. Plus, each dollar given will be matched thanks to our partner sponsors: Tekwill, Sun Communications, and Girls Go IT!

https://www.indiegogo.com/project/send-technovation-moldova-team-to-san-francisco/embedded/9945721

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I’m sharing with the girls the surprise that they’ll be traveling to San Francisco for the World Pitch Summit as attendees.

The more I continue to work with these girls and their mentors and see the impact it has not only on them as individuals but also in their communities, the more I am inspired to keep learning and encouraging others to do the same.

The journey has just begun, these girls will make a greater impact on those around them!

Changing a nation with Technovation

This post was originally shared through the Peace Corps Passport blog. Technovation Challenge is what I have been spending most of my time on lately. Last year I had the great opportunity to work with a team of 4 girls as mentioned in this post from Peace Corps.   It was one of the most challenging and most rewarding things I had done in my service. This year I have been working with two different teams here in my community. In addition to working with those teams, I am leading the Technovation Challenge Moldova initiative at the national level with an amazing group of individuals who are passionate about inspiring and empowering girls in technology and STEM.

You can read the full post HERE.

Thank You! Mulțumesc mult!

I had previously shared last summer about a project I was working with my primary organization on in two rural villages in the northern part of Moldova. I am happy to share that this project has been successfully completed many thanks to a Let Girls Learn grant, local contributions both financial and in-kind, and many generous people from home.

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Fourteen 3-part beds making a total of 42 beds were purchased and delivered to two rural kindergartens in the northern part of Moldova. In addition to the beds, chairs were also purchased for these rural kindergartens with the remaining funds. As a result of this project, a wonderful local person saw the needs of these kindergartens within these communities and is personally working on purchasing tables for the kindergartens as well. By acquiring this furniture for these kindergartens, this not only impacts the early-education and care for young children ages 2-7 but also the families as well. By providing furniture this helps to keep the doors open for these local community kindergartens and allows families to send their children here during the day. This provides an opportunity for the family members to work during that time, especially for the mothers. In addition to this, the kindergartens are now able to have more children attend since they have the resources to support and care for more children and provide an early start to their education.

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Also as a result of this project, mothers and grandmothers had the opportunity to discuss with the local village doctor and among themselves on ways to keep their children healthy and in kindergarten, especially during the winter months. An activity was also coordinated and facilitated by a local woman who works in the IT-professional field in Moldova. This activity focused on gender-equality and involved both mothers and children from the kindergarten.

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The school director, teachers, children, and their families are all very happy with the outcome of this project. They are now able to attend a full day of kindergarten, nap comfortably in a warm bed, and there is no need to fight over the limited number of chairs anymore. Thank you on behalf of these two communities for making this a possibility in Moldova!

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Enjoy a little video of some follow up interviews that had been done after the project was completed.