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Help make this App a reality, world’s Technovation girls beg Nigerians

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Before technology announced them in the global arena, they were just six quiet teenage girls attending school in the commercial city of Onitsha, a male-dominated culture where women are hardly seen or heard loud. In this ‘close-up’ with one of the girls, The Guardian’s News Editor MARCEL MBAMALU discovers some of the traits that helped the Save-A-Soul team on the global stage.

The six teenage girls of the Regina Pacies Secondary School Onitsha, had, two weeks ago, mounted the global podium where they claimed the golden trophy at the World Technovation (programming) Challenge. They had, with their App called FD-Detector, beaten the US, China, Turkey and Spain, among others, in the final phase of the competition held at the Silicon Valley, San Francisco, United States of America.

They returned to Nigeria through the Murtala Muhammed International Airport on Sunday, August 19, after a tour of the Silicon Valley and other parts of the US under the sponsorship of the Anambra State Government. The Save-A-Soul team successfully evaded plans by The Guardian to “sound” them out at the airport as they quietly made their way to Southeast. Initial efforts to reach the girls while in the US had been unsuccessful as their managers insisted they were having sessions with segments of the Nigerian community. They were also too busy to respond to questions mailed to them.

Anambra State’s Commissioner for Information and Public Enlightenment, Mr. C. Don Adinuba, last night, told The Guardian that the one- week tour of US was facilitated by the Willie Obiano administration. “The governor sponsored part of the trip. The girls had a tour of Silicon Valley and other parts of he US and it is the governor that picked the bills,” he said.

Like celebrities, the teenage girls (Jessica Ostia, Promise Nnalue, Nwabuaku Ossai, Adaeze Onuigbo and Vivian Okoye) will be meeting with Governor Obiano and other government officials in Awka today (Monday) for a heroic welcome. The sixth member of the team Igboke Oluebube Miracle will be part of the reception.

“I need help to further my education and to make our App a reality,” Jessica told The Guardian in a telephone conversation last night. “Any organisation (government, pharmaceutical companies, NAFDAC or World Health Organisation) is most welcome.”Born in Achalla, Awka North Council of Anambra State to local Onitsha cosmetics traders Mr. and Mrs. Osita, fourteen-year-old Jessica is the last of seven children. Her mother, Caroline Osita, in a chat with The Guardian, disclosed that two of Jessica’s brothers — aged 27 and 21 — recently lost heir lives in an auto crash along Minna Road while attending their older sister’s wedding in Niger State.

“Today, I’m very excited, knowing that God can do all things,” the 52-year-old mother said in a rather shaky voice. “Since I lost my two kids, I take whatever I see in my life as God’s will; this is God’s will, she said amid sobs.” Mrs. Caroline expressed confidence in Jessica, who she said had shown sparks of great feat, even during her primary school days. “ She has always been interested in education, even during her primary school days. She is very competitive in nature, to the extent that even before the session closes, she already knows her position.”

Now in her Senior Secondary School One (SS1), Jessica wants to own “the biggest pharmaceutical company in the world” upon completion of her education. And she has a piece of advice for teenagers who she refers to as “my peers.” She wants them to “make use of their ample time now to make a better tomorrow. Don’t think that the world is a bed of roses. Even if it is, roses do bear thorns. So, to make this thorn not to be painful, education is key; we can join hands to make a better tomorrow. To remove any obstruction hindering literacy and development, we need to be focused, determined, consistent, persistent and hug (embrace) God.”

Speaking about the run-up to the global competition that saw the team sweep through more than 2000 applications to reach the finals in the US, the teenager said she learnt great lessons on the strength of the girl-child. “ We had real challenges, including discouragement from bad friends who told me that we couldn’t make anything from it because such things are meant for boys; other challenge I had was combining the preparation with my studies and other extra-curricular activities like playing my organ.”

Jessica was full of praises for the Government of Anambra State, the Archbishop of Onitsha His Grace, Most Reverend Valerian Okeke, her former director Jerome Ezenwelu and current Director, Rev. Father Vincent Ezeaka. “Please, also help me to say a very big thank you to my dear Aunty Uche Onwuamaegbu-Ugwu, our mentor; tell her that I will never let her down.”

Technovation programme offers girls around the world the opportunity to learn the required programming skills for tech-entrepreneurship. Girls all over the world are invited to identify a problem in their communities and are challenged to solve it with an Android application. The Nigerian girls’ Save-A-Soul team then developed the FD-Detector to tackle challenges associated with fake pharmaceutical products in the country.

The team was led by the director, Rev. Fr. Ezeaka and Mrs. Onwuamaegbu-Ugwu, as mentor.Under the tutelage of Onwuamaegbu-Ugwu, the girls spent five months researching and developing FD-Detector, which swept through over 2000 competing applications to get to the finals in San Francisco. 115 countries participated in the qualifiers but only 12 teams from all over the world were selected as finalists for the pitch in Silicon Valley.

Governor Obiano had personally sent them off to the US in a brief ceremony at an Executive Council Meeting where he charged the girls to put Nigeria and Africa on the global technological map with their “rare talent.“We thank the Almighty God and our blessed Virgin Mary for granting us success in this competition,” Rev. Fr Ezeaka told The Guardian. “My gratitude also goes to Governor Willie Obiano for his support.

He listed those who played major roles in the success of the children as Archbishop Valerian Okeke who gave him privilege to become the principal of Regina Pacies Secondary School and offered fatherly advice. Others, according to him, are the Commissioner for Education, Prof. Kate Omenugha and the Education Board of the Archdiocese; the former Director of the school Jerome Ezenwelu and mentor of the students, Mrs. Onwuamaegbu-Ugwu.


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