Semira Ahemed: Triple Identity

Semira is a recipient of the 2018-2019 MALA Scholarship Program.  In accordance with MALA’s mission, this program awards scholarships to individuals demonstrate ambition, integrity, and leadership through the art of storytelling. To learn more about MALA’s Scholarship opportunities, click here. 

My parents wanted a son as their first child and fortunately for one week, their dream came true. The doctor mistakenly told my parents I was a boy. Since it was their first time having a child, they could not recognize the reality. After one week my grandmother came and told them I was a girl. However, the happiness did not last because they thought girls cannot support a family as boys.

Ever since I heard this story, I wanted to prove my family wrong. Nevertheless, this meant abandoning the social stereotypes and norms that women are supposed to follow. Girls are expected to help with house work while boys enjoy the outdoors. I became involved in male-dominated activities even if I did not get any support from my family and the community. In my village, I was the only girl to play soccer, but I had to hide from my family and neighbors. One day I decided to join the soccer training team in my school even if I was the only girl on the team and I kept my practice as a secret from my family.

Luckily, I became the leader of a sub-city female soccer team, but it putted so much pressure on me in balancing education and house chore with exercise. I did well in all the three without my family knowing the truth about my soccer training. My family found about my love for soccer when I came home with gifts after winning a sub-city soccer competition. They asked about the money and I had no choice except, to tell the truth. However, even if I saw the pride in my parents’ eyes, I was not allowed to continue my soccer training.

Then programming become my passion even if all the coders I knew by the time were male. One day I was sitting in computer class as my teacher announced a typing competition. Without access to a computer, I had to concoct a quick and creative solution to learn every key on the keyboard. So, I decided to draw the keyboard on paper to fit my fingers. I practiced on my fake keyboard and I won a scholarship to learn coding. Working with the coding expert exposed me to different programming languages. This honed my passion, and in early 2018 I entered the Global Tecnovation Challenge for Girls. The challenge required developing a mobile application to solve a community problem. In choosing a problem in my community, I looked at the challenges I faced growing up in my village.

One challenge that stood out for me was obtaining the appropriate information about local colleges and universities in Ethiopia. In Ethiopia most of the colleges have websites, but they are outdated and not include relevant information that helps students to decide which school to go. I understood that information gap could deny students the opportunity to find the correct fit to pursue their passion. Therefore, I developed a mobile application that solved the problem students faced in selecting, applying and attending local colleges. In addition, most of the student in Ethiopia cannot get a job after graduating from college because they do not have any work experience. So, in the mobile application I also included an interface for students to choose and apply to internship in their summer breaks.

While making this mobile application I was also applying to abroad colleges. To unleash my potential without resource limitation I decided to study in the USA. I am now a first-year student at Hofstra University double majoring in Economics and Computer Science with a 3.94 cumulative GPA. My birth story will always be my inspiration to represent my identity as a black Muslim woman. I do not know the future ahead of me, but I will continue disproving stereotypes and labels.

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