Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Four girls, an app and a trip to California


By Marc Henry - August 20, 2018
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Section: [Main News] [Features]
Tags: [technology] [Nablus]

You are in your kitchen, frying those lovely falafels when the oil catches fire. Within seconds the whole pot is on fire. What do you do?

That is just one of the questions that most Palestinians have a hard time answering. That is why four high school girls from Nablus have created the Be a Firefighter App. An app which earned them a spot among 19,000 girls at the finals and the People’s Choice Award at Technovation Challenge in San Jose, California.
 
The competition aims to help girls between 11 and 18 to solve a problem in their community through technology. The girls have to figure out what is the most critical problem that their community face, and eventually try to solve it by technology.
 
“When we got the news [that we made it to the final] we gathered all our families and had a great party,” 17-year old Wassan al-Sayyed told the Palestine Monitor.
 
Al-Sayyed, along with her friends Zubaida al-Sadder, Tamara Awaisa and Masa Halawa, is one of the creators of Be a Firefighter, that aims to teach young Palestinians about fire hazards and how to prevent and fight fire.

Making information entertaining

Getting information out to the people is not always easy. When the Palestinian Civil Defense (PCD) came to Kamal Junblat high school where the four girls attend in Nablus, they handed out small leaflets about preventing fire. But it didn’t go as planned for the PCD.

“The children just threw it away before even reading it,” Masa Halawa said.

“We decided to solve this problem in a creative way, so we [designed] a virtual reality game because it was interesting and interactive,” Wassan al-Sayyed added.

While the app is still in a beta version and has not been published yet, the reactions to the app have been great. As so, the Civil Defense invited the four high school girls to a course on firefighting and fire preventing, as well as helped the girls target and spread the game. When the game is ready to be launched, it will be used by the Civil Defense Awareness campaign, the girls revealed.

However, while the girls have immediate success with the app, it might take some time before the Palestinians will be able to download it to their phones.

“We want to finish our final year in high school, and then we will work on it. Maybe it will be out in a year or two,” Masa Halawa told Palestine Monitor.

While there is still sometime before the game will be on the market, the girls have already made plans for the future of the “Be A Firefighter”.

“We have made a plan for five years. We will continue to add scenes and missions to the game. It will keep developing and maybe allow people to compete on social media. It will take a lot of time, Masa Halawa said.

 
“When Civil Defense came they gave us small brochures, but the children just threw it away. That is why we decided to make a game.” Photo: Marc Henry.

Local mentor gives motivation

While the four girls have come up with the idea to the app, they have received a significant amount of help from their mentor Yamama Shakaa, who teaches at An Najah University in Nablus.

The group of girls is Shakaa’s second team to mentor in the Technovation Challenge. While both groups have been interesting to mentor, there is something special about the four 11th graders.

“They have been very good students, and they want to learn. Mentoring is different from teaching. I just have to tell them what to do, and they do it. This group has been so good and depended on themselves,” Shakaa said.

And the endorsement is returned by the girls, having had such a good experience with their mentor, they find it hard to be without her.

“We don’t know how we can live without her. We love her so much, so we will miss her,” Halawa said.

The girls and their mentor have been through a lot together since the creation of the app. For most of the girls, visiting America was their first time outside Palestine.

“It was so different. Everything was different. Even in the streets. You have to push a button before crossing the street while in Palestine you just pass,” Zubaida al-Sadder said laughing.

But the visit to America gave the girls more than just a view of the American life and a People’s Award. Competing with 12 groups of girls gave friendships and views of the world outside Palestine.

“It was so beautiful, and we met new people and saw an entirely new world,” Awaisa said.

“I think the most important is that they met other teams from different cultures, and learned about their problems. Technology is about solving problems, and the girls learned about the issues that other countries are fighting. It showed how the world is different in many ways,” Shakaa added.
 
A future together

With Palestinian unemployment among graduates reaching nearly fifty-six percent, the future for the girls could seem hard. However, the Technovation Challenge has been an eye-opener for the four girls. It has given them an opportunity to choose the right path, they revealed.

“Technovation has helped me to know that it is important for girls to know business and programming because it will help them in the future,” Wasan al-Sayyed said.

While the four girls are pursuing different dreams within health, programming and business, they hope to be able to work together in the future.

“We want to make our own company and program apps. We want to help people and to give them a chance of learning new things and make a change in their lives,” al-Sayyed explained.

Lead photo: The four Nablus-based girls behind the “Be A Firefighter” app, that won them a spot in Technovation Challenge in the USA. From left: Zubaida al-Sadder, Masa Halawa, Wassan al-Sayyed and Tamara Awaisa. Source: Marc Henry.

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