Expedition Subsahara has grown and changed significantly since it launched two years ago. From our business plan, to partners and products, we’ve continuously worked to make things better, more durable and cultural. We’ve made connections, kept building on our foundation, have met lots of new people and have seen many new faces. But one thing that has remained consistent and unwavering is our mission of building a boarding STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Math) school for girls in Senegal.
Starting out, I had a partner and we created a long-range plan in which she would run the business and I would run the school. That partner exited pretty early on, and running the business has proven to be one of the most challenging, yet rewarding, things I have ever done. I have learned so much about products and artisans, art and — in many ways — myself. In losing my partner, updating and creating new products, implementing and updating the website, I only feel stronger about the mission and how it will benefit girls growing up in Senegal just like I did.
Education has always been at the core of my personal being. My mom worked incredibly hard to send me to America so I could have an education. I am so thankful for her sacrifice and what it has allowed me to do. Before Expedition Subsahara entered my life, I was running another business and powerlifting. To make a long story short, I hurt my back and couldn’t constantly run around like I was used to. It was during this period of forced inactivity that I began thinking more about how I can make my home country better, specifically for girls and young women who don’t have the opportunities I have been blessed with. Senegal’s youth population is exceptionally large, with those 14 and under accounting for 41.5 percent of the total population. The high influx of youth coupled with widespread poverty has left more than 40 percent of the total population illiterate in recent years (source).
Growing up in Senegal, I loved math. After some family struggles, I ended up going to a school where my teacher didn’t believe girls needed to learn math. My love for the subject dwindled and within the year I hated the subject. I went from excelling and looking forward to school so I could practice math to a real disdain for it entirely. If you miss a little bit in math, you end up missing a lot, so that year ended up being one in which I stopped following a passion because of someone else’s expectations of what girls are good at. The sad reality is that, as much as I love Senegal, there is a patriarchal mindset in terms of the role of a woman. Many, many girls are taken out of school to fulfill a caretaker role at home. There’s nothing more important than caring for another generation, but women are capable of doing so much more. We’re incredible caretakers. When given the resources and ability to learn, we also are incredible in science, technology, engineering, art, math, and a whole host of other things.
Why STEAM? Because STEAM fields are important and evolving rapidly. Almost every facet of a person’s life has been impacted by technology and an expansion of knowledge in STEAM. And studies show that the earlier students are exposed to the STEAM disciplines, the better. In a study by Microsoft Corporation, it was shown that 4 in 5 STEM college students (78%) say that they decided to study STEM in high school or earlier, and one in five (21%) decided in middle school or earlier (source). Additionally, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts overall employment in the economy to grow by 7.4% between 2016 and 2026, while jobs in STEM fields are expected to grow by 10.8%. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, college-educated STEM job holders earn between 29% and 39% more per hour than non-STEM employees with equivalent educational attainment (source).
I always regretted not rekindling my love for math, and I can’t help but always think about what I could have achieved had I been allowed to nurture that love. In Senegal, there are so many beautiful people doing beautiful things, creating things to support their family. But it’s such a hustling mentality. I believe that if Senegalese girls were on a level playing field with the rest of the world starting at a young age, they could do so much. They could be the change makers and creators of industries. I believe that they can change the low poverty and illiteracy rates and help our economy grow. Our mission is to give Senegalese girls a strong educational foundation and nurture it through primary and secondary school.
We believe women are the future but we can't start at 18. We have to create a generation of young people with knowledge that will allow them to excel in the 21st century. We realize this is a lot and that it won’t happen overnight, but we’re in it for the long haul. We hope you’ll continue on this journey with us!